When I was a little girl, I wondered many a time what had happened to the brave girl pilot? High above the billowing clouds, I would look and squint from my own small square window and imagine she had escaped the world, rather than drowned in the sea. Escaped perhaps, but the dream appears to have ended there.
She was just 39 years old when her plane disappeared off the map and five months later she was declared deceased. She was the girl from Kansas, second of three children (the first was stillborn and her sister "Pidge" came along two years later). The girls were raised quite unconventionally in the early1900's, their English mother was a free thinker and they were cloaked in bloomers rather than dresses, the century old answer to sports clothes.
Her childhood was marked by freedom, ransacking the wilderness, a proper lady, she was not encouraged to become. After a year as a pre-med student at Columbia University, she dropped out and returned to her family, by then in California. A few days after Christmas in 1920, her father paid $10 for his oldest daughter to fly for a glorious ten minutes and she was a goner. A year later she had saved enough money to begin flying lessons. Nearly a year later, she had set a world record amongst women pilots, flying to 14,000 feet and six months later, became the 16th female to be granted a pilot's license. Interestingly enough, three years later, applied and was accepted to MIT's aeronautical engineering program, but was unable to attend when she was not awarded a full scholarship.
She moved to be near her sister in Massachusetts and ten years later, the year was then 1932, she listened to opera and crossed the Atlantic Ocean solo on her second attempt. By the time she disappeared on July 2nd, 1937, eighty years ago, she had flown 22,000 miles and had 7,000 to go of her attempt to fly around the world. Final communication from Earhart reported that she was at a thousand feet. Though signals seemed to be coming from the plane for several days after it was lost, no one could be sure and the transmissions were never verified. Four million dollars was spent on a nearly three week search and the search and rescue mission centering around Howland Island in Japan, though no sign of Aerhart, her navigator Noonan or the plane was discovered until now.
It's just a photo, but is believed to document three critical links and was discovered in the National Archives; the photographer is thought to have been a spy for the United States. Though the Japanese have said there are no records she was taken into their custody, that response seems vague, at least to me. In addition to this photograph, taken in the Marshall Islands, eyewitness reports, long dismissed, reported that Earhart and Noonan were seen after the plane had vanished. Facial recognition experts have determined that the photo does in fact offer strong evidence of the two persons and plane and so, those bits of evidence all support the strange radio signals, that could only have been sent from a plane that was not submerged in water.
Oh, Amelia, where art though? Read more of the mystery in the Washington Post and watch the full story this Sunday evening on the History Channel.