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   Vol. 16 No. 58
Thursday July 20, 2017

Amelia Endures At 80
Amelia Endures At 80

     Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere between Australia and Howland Island on their attempt to fly around the world 80 years ago on July 2, 1937.
     It seems the fateful flight is recalled on every anniversary of the event, and somebody always has a different theory on what actually happened.
     For the record, Ms. Earhart was married to the publisher George Putnam, a publicity expert that trumped AE as a great aviator. The massive publicity campaign was devised as the “All-American” distaff answer to Charles Lindbergh.
     Of course, Amelia was brave and beautiful, but she most definitely was no Lindbergh—or Beryl Markham, for that matter—in terms of native and developed aviation skills.
     So while TV shows and other media outlets this month drummed up interest once again, in the ongoing “What really happened to AE?” enigma, we recall what our reporter, friend, and ex-Boston Globe aviation editor, the late Art Riley wrote in 1978 in our sister publication Air Cargo News.
Art was alive in 1937 when AE & Fred went missing.
     He also followed the story for years and finally concluding that Amelia—while talented in many ways—lacked some essential aviation skills. To top it off, Fred, the one time Pan American World Airways navigator who plotted a course for The China Clipper and other immortal first flights across the oceans, had a drinking problem.
     Art became convinced that despite all “the blurry sightings” of one or two of the duo in reports that continued to pop up after the disappearance, AE and Fred had simply flown their tiny Lockheed 10 until it ran out gas and was swallowed up by the giant Pacific Ocean.
     In truth, even in 2017 we find little wrong in the romantic story of Amelia Earhart.
     As we see it, her biggest problem is that she came up just a little short of land.
     Since that time in 1937, the public has been on a flight of fancy when it comes to AE and Fred.
     What a romantic and still invigorating and evervescent story!
     Here our editor, Flossie Arend, offers a hauntingly beautiful take on the last flight of Amelia Earhart.

Dreams And False Alarms

     I can remember, when I was very little, paging through one of the airport books my father had written and seeing a picture of a young woman standing next to a small airplane. I think I noticed her because, like me, she had very short hair—at the time, my older brother and I received our haircuts from our father’s barber, so my hair never grew past my ears. She was tall and lithe, possessing a gamine beauty I found enthrallingly relatable. I liked her smart bomber hat with its insectile goggles, her unruly, moppish hair, the ease in which she existed in a tight, cropped leather jacket and buoyant riding pants. There is a relaxed confidence and serenity in pictures of Amelia Earhart. For someone with everything to prove, she projects an air of having absolutely nothing to prove at all.
Smithsonian Cover      The cover of the January issue of Smithsonian Magazine features a gorgeously monochrome Amelia Earhart, and boasts “New Clues, New Controversy” regarding her disappearance. Again, Amelia appears calmly angelic in whitewashed tones of cream and grey and charcoal, and I can’t help but wonder if our fascination with her isn’t simply because she was the first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic, but because every portrait of her projects a dreamy, subdued quality, as if we’re catching someone not meant to be frozen in film. Her knowing look beguiles us. I challenge anyone to look at her picture and not read a chilling intelligence and sadness in those eyes—she looks as if she knew what was coming.
     The Smithsonian article vacillates between the believable and the utterly fantastic. A man named Ric Gillespie harbors a sheet of aluminum he claims originated from Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. The sheet was found in 1991 on Gardner Island in the Pacific Ocean, and Ric and his wife, who founded TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) are convinced it belongs to Earhart’s Lockheed Electra—a replacement piece for a window in the right rear fuselage. They believe Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crash-landed on Gardner Island. The only problem with this narrative is that, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “Navy planes searched the four-mile-long Gardner Island on July 9 without seeing Earhart.” Still, Ric Gillespie’s theory would fall under the ‘believable’ category.
Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan      Other, less savory, theories abound.
     A retired Pan Am navigator named Paul Rafford Jr., author of Amelia Earhart’s Radio, believes Earhart was working for the U.S. government (specifically, the Navy) and purposefully got lost so that the Navy would have an excuse to search the Pacific without raising any eyebrows amid the rising tensions there. There are other theories that involve Japan. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “In July 1944, Army Sgt. Thomas E. Devine arrived on the just-liberated island of Saipan. At the airfield, he met some Marines guarding a closed hangar they said contained Earhart’s plane.” Sgt. Devine claims he later saw the Electra fly over the island, and that it was later “destroyed by U.S. soldiers.” He believes “Earhart and Noonan flew there by mistake, were captured, imprisoned and executed as spies.”
     There are a few theories that involve Earhart and Noonan’s being captured: “after failing to make landfall at Howland, [they would have] turned northwest” and crashed “760 miles away in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands.” The theory has been accepted as fact in the Marshall Islands: in 1987, the Marshall Islands issued a set of stamps detailing her flight and crash-landing at Mili Atoll. Sgt. Devine’s theory was picked up by Mike Campbell, who wrote Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last. Amelia Earhart     Campbell believes Earhart and Noonan landed in the Marshalls in 1937 and were taken to Saipan, where they were likely executed as spies. He also believes we’ve all been fed a pack of lies in order to protect the reputation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who knew where Earhart was “but didn’t want to risk a confrontation with Japan.” In an email to Smithsonian Magazine, Campbell wrote, “Roosevelt could never have survived public knowledge that he failed to help America’s No. 1 aviatrix of the Golden Age of Aviation.”
     Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart, our fascination with her disappearance continues. For Dorothy Cochrane, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the obsession is enough to drive a person mad. “Now that she’s long gone, why are people holding on to this?” she asked Smithsonian Magazine.
     I can’t speak for all the treasure hunters, conspiracy theorists, historians, and others interested in finding Amelia, but for myself, there is something almost unnatural in how naturally she vanished. One of the most bizarre theories about her disappearance assumes that she survived the war and lived out the rest of her days as a woman in New Jersey named Irene Bolam. We seem to want to revive her in some way—she survived, and lived fully in New Jersey; she was forgotten by one of our most beloved Presidents, and perhaps if we debase him, we can exhume her; she slipped away into the Pacific Ocean, and if we reach deep enough we might raise her up from the watery depths of obscurity.
Flossie Arend Byline     For as long as I can remember, when the night gets very deep and dark, and the lights have been turned down in our home in Queens, and a fire in the hearth sends the scent of earthy wood careening across Cunningham Park, adjacent to our home, my father will put on Joni Mitchell’s watery dreamscape, “Amelia.” It’s a song that sounds like flying—it’s full of the hollow airiness of sound that accompanies flight, the soporific din of air passing over fuselage. But it also feels aqueous, as if Mitchell recorded it under water, or at least sang it while bobbing over passive waves at sea. Wherever Amelia Earhart may be, I take comfort in how much of her I find in that song, and those lyrics. She may elude us in every picture, but she can still be found in certain small spaces, if we look hard.
                         “A ghost of aviation
                         She was swallowed by the sky
                         Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
                         Like Icarus ascending
                         On beautiful foolish arms
                         Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”

Joni Mitchell song
Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend •
Film Editor-Ralph Arend • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend • Advertising Sales-Judy Miller

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