More than 76 years after aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished during an attempt to fly around the world at the equator, their fate is still an unsolved mystery. The two were presumed lost somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, along with any trace of their Lockheed Electra aircraft.
While many theories have surfaced over the years, no conclusive evidence has ever been found to indicate what really happened to, “Lady Lindy,” a woman who was well aware of the potential dangers she faced as a pilot.
On AameliaEarhart.com, the official website commemorating the aviation pioneer, there are passages from a letter written to her husband, publisher G.P. Putnam, in case a dangerous flight proved her last. One particular section fully demonstrates her bravery and total acceptance of the risks she took in the sky.
It reads, “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
Earhart was a ground breaker, driven by a desire, not only to set an example to women who wanted a piece of man’s world, but also to meet a public expectation created by her husband. She was a risk taker at a time when flying was still young. Even now the risks associated with flying are still quite real but there is a reasonable expectation of safety in modern commercial aviation.
Still, no one could have predicted the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370. As of the time of this writing, there is still no trace of the plane.
One needn’t be an aviation expert or pilot to know that a Boeing 777, one of the most complex flying machines ever built, cannot simply vanish into thin air. As with the Earhart disappearance, conspiracy theories are running rampant. Was it sabotage, hijacking, or might the plane have been shot down by terrorists? So far, there are no answers.
Other than the tragedy and sheer mystery involved, there is little similarity between the Earhart disappearance and this most recent incident, with one exception: the sheer lack of telemetry data in both situations. Like Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, the Boeing twin-turbofan is a well-tested, commercial passenger aircraft. But, in order to stay aloft longer with fewer stops, the Electra had been stripped down to what amounted to a flying gas can, even leaving behind two parachutes and a life raft to save weight.
Earhart also left behind key equipment that might have aided in pinpointing her position when she went down; the equivalent of disabling satellite tracking systems and radio transponders used on modern aircraft. Officials are reasonably sure that virtually every piece of telemetry technology aboard Flight 370 was intentionally deactivated making it, like Earhart’s Electra, nearly impossible to track.
With a possible search area stretching north into Central Asia and almost as far south as Australia, finding a needle in a haystack would be a piece of cake in comparison. Malaysian officials have requested electronic and satellite data, as well as search and rescue assistance, from more than two-dozen countries. What data does exist suggests that Flight 370 most likely crashed, either in the Bay of Bengal or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Whether in pieces at the bottom of the sea or parked on some secret tarmac, someone knows where Flight 370 is and how it got there. The real trick will be to find out who orchestrated the plane’s disappearance and what security flaws exist which allowed it to happen.
The mystery of what really happened to Amelia Earhart may never be solved but the search for answers continues. It seems easier to accept the loss of two people in a primitive aircraft than that of 300 in a modern commercial jetliner, but the lack of information invites uninformed speculation. Until some hard evidence is uncovered, however, all anyone can do is let the investigation proceed … and wait.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business contributor to WDTN-TV2’s “Living Dayton” program.