The leg­end lives on

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

By mid-July 1937, the search for Amelia Earhart and her twin engine Lock­heed Elec­tra air­plane had come up empty.

The heroic Amer­i­can pilot and her nav­i­ga­tor, Fred Noo­nan, were miss­ing for weeks in the cen­tral Pa­cific. They should have landed at tiny How­land Is­land in early July and then hop­scotched home to Oak­land, Calif., thus com­plet­ing the first round-the-world plane voy­age via the equator.

Earhart knew the 2,250mile flight from New Guinea to How­land was the trick­i­est part of the jour­ney; find­ing that speck of land us­ing ce­les­tial and ra­dio nav­i­ga­tion would be a race against di­min­ish­ing fuel. The Itasca, a U.S. Coast Guard cut­ter, was sta­tioned near How­land to help her home in on the is­land, but Earhart and the naval ves­sel failed to con­nect. Crew aboard the Itasca, in agony, could hear Earhart, but she couldn’t hear the ship. “We must be on you but can­not see you—but gas is run­ning low,” she re­ported in one of her fi­nal trans­mis­sions. “Have been un­able to reach you by ra­dio. We are fly­ing at 1,000 feet.”

You’ve read to this point, and you’re in agony, too, right? Or at least cap­ti­vated by the mys­tery of what hap­pened 80 years ago this month to Amelia Earhart, icon of fly­ing and early-20th-cen­tury fe­male der­ring-do. It is a puz­zle Earhart ob­ses­sives have never stopped try­ing to solve. Which brings us to two new clues, in­volv­ing a pho­to­graph and four foren­sic dogs—Marcy, Piper, Kayle and Berke­ley.

Among other Earhart the­o­ries, one group be­lieves her plane by­passed How­land and landed 350 nau­ti­cal miles to the south on Gard­ner Is­land, now Niku­maroro in Kiri­bati. The In­ter­na­tional Group for His­toric Air­craft Re­cov­ery just made an­other trip to the is­land, where nu­mer­ous clues could prove Earhart and Noo­nan met their fate, lost and ma­rooned, on Gard­ner. Last month, the group, which in­cludes the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety, ar­rived at Niku­maroro with four foren­sic dogs ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing the scent of hu­man bones. Why? A Bri­tish doc­tor in 1940 re­ported find­ing such bones on the is­land. Other in­trigu­ing de­tri­tus turned up, in­clud­ing a U.S.-made jack­knife, a zip­per pull and a small jar that some spec­u­late con­tained freckle cream of the type Earhart used.

Na­tional Ge­o­graphic re­ports that the pups de­tected a spot that may hold traces of hu­man re­mains. A Ger­man lab­o­ra­tory will test soil from the spot for DNA that—if you be­lieve in long shots— could put Earhart or Noo­nan at the site.

Or this could be an­other clue that leads nowhere. Given that Earhart and Noo­nan were low on fuel, the most likely lo­ca­tion of the Elec­tra is some­where at the bot­tom of the Pa­cific.

Yet all these decades later, the story of Amelia Earhart en­dures. She was a record-set­ting pilot, the first woman to fly solo across the At­lantic, whose spirit of ad­ven­ture ul­ti­mately led to her doom. Her body and plane are still miss­ing, but be­cause Earhart’s leg­end sur­vives, she was never truly lost.

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