Sometimes I am compelled to go down some strange rabbit holes.
This is the first of a 2 part blog on Amelia Earhart….this part focuses on the external world and the research out there to discover what happened to the missing aviatrix…..part 2 delves into some thoughts on why we are fascinated with such mysteries.
A couple of weeks ago I started a personal research quest to understand what happened to Amelia. I have long held a fascination with the mystery of her disappearance in 1937. At that time she was attempting a trip around the world as she sought to become the first female pilot to accomplish that feat. I remember reading books about her as a youngster, tuning into programs about her as an adult and so on.
I am assuming that you, the reader, know the basic details of her disappearance. If not, you may want to skim her Wikipedia article. Another great resource for everything Amelia is https://www.ameliaearhart.com/
Back in July 2017, the History Channel made a big publicity splash with a new program offering new evidence that Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan were captured by the Japanese. Like many others, I watched the program which based its theory on the new evidence of a “lost photograph” that researchers had found. This photo purported to show Amelia and Fred held by the Japanese. Within a day of the program airing, the photo was shown to have been published in a book a couple of years before her flight and could not be her. I am sure they were embarrassed as The History Channel pulled the program very quickly. My recent return to thinking about the mystery may have started with that incident last year…..but any action was delayed until just recently.
Now there are 3 basic ideas as to what happened to her:
One–her plane crashed in the ocean and they perished shortly afterward.
Two–she landed safely but in Japanese territory to the north of her route and they held her in custody.
Three–she landed safely but died as a castaway on a deserted island.
The first theory was the accepted one issued by the military and our government back at the time of the accident. In order for this theory to be true, one has to discount the many valid reports of people (including the military) that heard radio signals from her after she supposedly crashed. The manufacturer of her plane said that she would not be able to send radio signals if she landed in the ocean.
The second theory is the most exotic and the subject of a number of books. At the basis of these theories are “eye witness accounts” from people who claimed to have seen her. There is little other evidence to support this theory….and a number of reasons to discount it. The nearest Japanese islands were the Marshalls and far from her intended route. Also there was no reason for the Japanese to “capture and hold her” as some kind of spy….although relations between the US and Japan were strained at the time, we were not at war for with them for another few years and still maintained diplomatic relations. In fact, they offered their help in the search which the US accepted in a limited way.
The third theory is, in my opinion, the most logical one….but it does hold some mental anguish over the fact that we stopped searching for her and presumed her to be dead when in fact she was still alive. Thinking about her struggles (along with Noonan) after we stopped searching can be depressing.
Yet, we give credence to the fact that many of the radio transmissions received after her plane went down actually occurred….then that means she landed safely and was not in custody with anyone. Yes, some of the so called radio messages were hoaxes, sadly…..but some cannot be discarded and contained some interesting data that the listener could not have known.
In 1988, a group called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR, pronounced “tiger”) was formed and began investigating the mystery. Their research has led them to believe that Amelia and Fred landed on a flat coral shelf next to Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro). This flat coral surface allowed them to land safely but it also was underwater for up to a couple of feet when the tide was in. Their theory goes on to say that they were able to broadcast help messages for a few days until their gas ran out to run the engine (necessary to charge the battery for the radio) and the tide and waves washed the plane over the edge of the reef to a deep area just feet away.
Since their formation, the group has visited Nikumaroro at least 10 times and gathered much evidence in support of their theory. It is beyond the scope of this blog to detail all of their findings. However, it is compelling and if you are at all interested in the mystery, I would encourage you to check out some of these resources:
Although they have gathered what I consider to be a lot of compelling evidence to support their theory and I believe them to be right…they have by no means produced that one “smoking gun” piece of evidence that one can point at and say definitely they are “right”.
Until then, the mystery remains a mystery…..
But all of this begs the question…..why has this mystery continued to fascinate us after 80 years? Why have so many people devoted so much time, energy and money to solving this (and many other) mysteries? What is it as humans that compels us to go down these rabbit holes trying to understand what happened? What mystery are we really trying to solve here?
Those questions I delve into next time……