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Amelia Earhart in the News

8/2/2009

The spiritual life invites us to draw forth the best in ourselves, to follow our highest potential, to inspire others. Aviator, feminist, author and lecturer Amelia Earhart set out determinedly to attempt what had never been done, to shatter one flight record after another, and to encourage other women and girls to follow their dreams in aviation and in other previously male-dominated fields. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan, as you probably know, disappeared in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean on an attempted around-the-world flight in 1937. Millions still wonder what happened, and we may be getting closer to finding out.

The recent news item concerns The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), long committed to solving the Earhart disappearance mystery. TIGHAR has undertaken several expeditions to Nikumaroro island in the South Pacific, becoming increasingly convinced that Earhart and Noonan, missing Howland Island where they were supposed to refuel, managed to land on Nikumaroro. The two probably did not survive long, as the island has no fresh water. For details on TIGHAR’s first several expeditions, read Amelia Earhart’s Shoes by Thomas F. King, and prepare to be amazed. They found the heel of a type of shoe Earhart wore, and a piece of glass that matches the thickness and curvature of the windshield on the model of plane she was flying. Such findings provide circumstantial, but not conclusive, evidence that these items belonged to Earhart herself. The team’s progress has been slowed because of the huge expense of these expeditions, due to the island’s remoteness—1,800 miles south of Hawaii—and the cost of specialized equipment needed to carry out their experiments. This necessitates constant fund raising in order to continue the project.

Now, following a 2007 trip to the island in which cosmetic items from the 1930’s were found, the team is hopeful that on their expedition next spring they will be able to obtain DNA evidence to make their case conclusive. A living Earhart relative has provided a DNA sample that can be used for comparison. 

My interest in the quest began in earnest last year when I visited the Amelia Earhart birthplace museum in Atchison, Kansas. From the upstairs bedroom where she was born, you can see the Missouri River rolling below, as though calling out, “Come away. Leave home. Explore.” After spending an afternoon close to artifacts of her life, I wanted to know more. 

For a general outline of her life, I read The Sound of Wings, by Mary S. Lovell. Lovell, a favorite biographer of mine, consistently chooses as her subjects women who fascinate me, and she tells Earhart’s story well. My curiosity was still not quenched after reading Amelia Earhart’s Shoes, so I continued with Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance, by Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR’s executive director. Here you can read the minute-by-minute details of radio transmissions at the time of her disappearance, and a thorough account of the rescue operation. Finally I could understand the factors that led to the tragedy.

Is TIGHAR about to solve one of the 20th century’s greatest mysteries, and lay the Earhart case finally to rest? I’m eagerly awaiting the outcome. For details about the 2010 expedition, and to become a supporter, see http://www.tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/AEdescr.html

In 1927, Earhart wrote this poem, “Courage”:

Courage is the price that
Life exacts for granting peace.

The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.

Nor can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul's dominion.
Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day,
And count it fair.