Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unscheduled stops

The long-speculated fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart may soon be known, thanks to DNA technology. Human bone fragments (photos in this slideshow) may reveal that her last unscheduled stop was a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 9 years earlier, she had landed unexpectedly in the Utah desert. This earlier forced landing provided a family with some interesting lore, whereas Earhart's ultimate touchdown may finally result in some answers:

The desert near Eureka, Utah, September 30th, 1928
Here's how Annie Feidt tells it on NPR: "It's my favorite bit of family lore. As the story goes, Amelia Earhart...apparently ran into engine trouble over Utah and had to come down quickly in the Tintic Mining District... As she touched down near Eureka, the plane nosed over, mangling her propeller and that's where my family comes in. My great, great grandfather owned the largest mine in the area and the only truck big enough to haul away Earhart's plane. The plane went to Salt Lake City for repairs, but Earhart stayed in Eureka for a while. The story is that Amelia Earhart especially hit it off with my great, great aunt, Mon Hinsdale, who was a pioneer herself [and] unconventional for her day....A letter Amelia sent to Mon backs that impression up. In a 2-page note thanking Mon for her hospitality in Eureka, she writes: I shall always think myself fortunate in tumbling into Tintic, and you don't know how deep an impression was made. The feeling was certainly mutual and even several generations removed, that impact still lingers. I study the family pictures of Amelia and her wrecked plane and can't help but feel a small connection to the famous pilot."

Uninhabited Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro, July 2, 1937?
Here's what is reported in The Guardian: Amelia Earhart disappeared while attempting to circumnavigate the equator with her navigator, Fred Noonan. Without solid evidence, it was thought that they had run out of fuel and crashed into the sea, or that they had been held prisoner by the Japanese for spying, or that they had secretly returned to the U.S. under assumed identities. Excavating on Nikumaroro where British colonial authorities found 13 bones from a human skeleton in 1940, an international team has uncovered bone fragments and an array of artefacts - part of a mirror from a woman's compact, travel-sized bottles made in New Jersey, and a pocket knife listed on her aircraft's inventory - all manufactured in the 1930s. This evidence, along with the remains of small fires and empty oyster shells laid out in a row as if to collect water, suggest that Earhart and Noonan endured lingering deaths on the atoll. The Earhart family has provided a DNA sample for testing if the suspected finger bone is determined to be human, even though they hope the story ends differently: "A crash at sea, that's nice and clean and a quick ending. Ending up as a castaway on a waterless atoll, and struggling to survive for a time and failing and ultimately being eaten by crabs is not nearly as pretty. They're hoping that we're wrong and I can't blame them for that," said director of the search, Ric Gillespie.

Incidentally, another pioneering female aviator and contemporary of Earhart's, Elinor Smith, lived a much longer life and only died in March of this year.

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