Sisters
Flying|December 2021
“ Women certainly have the courage and tenacity required for long flights.” —Mildred Doran
PETER GARRISON

A year ago, I wrote an article about the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart. In it, I mentioned—along with some general cautionary observations about range—the suggestion of a California Institute of Technology professor and a graduate student that the range of Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra 10 was less than is generally assumed. This mattered because much of the theorizing about what became of the famous aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan, depended on their airplane’s ability to fly several hours past Howland Island, the microscopic excrescence of coral on which they intended to refuel before continuing to Honolulu.

My article drew a testy reply from Ric Gillespie, who has probably devoted more time to this subject than anyone else on Earth. His basic complaint was that my comments about the fate of Earhart and Noonan were half-baked and firmly based on my far-reaching ignorance of the topic. This I conceded. There followed a cordial exchange of emails and a copy of his book Finding Amelia, as well as several issues of Tighar Tracks, the journal of the aviation-archaeology group of which Gillespie is the head.

Finding Amelia is a densely documented, finely detailed and well-written book. First published in 2006, it does not include accounts of subsequent investigations that have bolstered Gillespie’s theory that the Electra ended up more or less intact on a reef on Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, an atoll 350 nm south-southeast of Howland. A few shreds of physical evidence support this claim, together with a number of radio messages heard by ham radio operators in various parts of the world during the days following the disappearance.

Personally, I remain skeptical— not because of what was found but because of what was not. The absence of substantial wreckage, including two big Pratt & Whitney radials, while not conclusive, suggests to me that the Electra wasn’t ever there.

But Gillespie disagrees, and he knows much more about this than I do.

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