9: Vanished Amelia Earhart: "Last Flight"
"If they never find her, having her life end with a mystery is still fascinating; in fact, it might be the most fascinating ending that you can have in this case."
On June 29th, 1937 a tired Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan touched down in Lae New Guinea having reached the 3-quarter mark of their record attempt at circumnavigating the globe. Long days of flight had brought AE and Noonan to the likes of Brazil, Dakar, Bangkok, and Darwin Australia just to name a few. Though she was anxious to complete her long journey and fly into the record books, the next day, June 30th, 1937 AE sent a telegram to her husband, George Palmer Putnam that read “RADIO MISUNDERSTANDING AND PERSONNEL UNFITNESS. PROBABLY WILL HOLD ONE DAY”. What these personnel problems meant has been debated for many years. Were they related to Fred Noonan? Whatever the issues might have been, AE didn’t let them derail her plans – she and Noonan took off from Lae on July the 2nd 1937 at 10 AM local time.
It was the last that anyone would ever see them.
While Earhart's plane was in the air, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca was waiting to guide her into Howland island. However, due to AE’s friend Gene Vidal no longer being at the Bureau of Air Commerce to direct subordinates to smooth her way — some of the ship's communications were on bandwidths that she didn't have the ability to receive. There were other difficulties: a radio direction finder on Howland that would work with Earhart's higher-bandwidth equipment required batteries, which were drained by the time she was in the area.
Fourteen hours and 15 minutes into her flight, the Itasca received a first, somewhat garbled transmission from Earhart about "cloudy weather." Though the messages themselves would grow clearer, their content remained worrying, as when Earhart radioed, "We must be on you but cannot see you." She apparently only received one message from the ship, though the Itasca had been transmitting for hours. While continuing to broadcast — the radio strength of her communications indicated she was close — Earhart remained unable to see Howland Island.
The weather around Howland was clear, but there are reports of clouds about 30 miles northwest. And if Earhart had flown into clouds and bad weather along the way, it could have prevented Noonan from taking the sightings he needed to navigate precisely (the charts he was using were also not entirely accurate). Earhart's last transmission, made 20 hours and 14 minutes into her flight, indicated they were going to continue "running north and south." The plane never made it to Howland.
Tonight, we dive into the events that occurred while AE and Noonan were at Lae, some controversial and some head scratching. We’ll also climb aboard the Electra with AE and Noonan and try to unravel the beginnings of one of the greatest mysteries of all time. What actually happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan? Tonight, the trial continues as we bring someone to the stand that you’ll never see coming. Time to go to work.
- Smith & Vinson's Official Website
- Jennifer Taylor @ Smith & Vinson
- Jennifer Taylor on Twitter
- Smith & Vinson on Twitter
- Smith & Vinson on Facebook
- Generation Why's Official Website
- Aaron Habel on Twitter
- Generation Why on Twitter
- Generation Why on Facebook
- The Itasca & the Search for Earhart @ "The Coast Guard Compass"
- The Original Radio Logs from the Itasca @ TIGHAR
- "The Sound of Wings" by Mary S. Lovell
- "Vanished: Amelia Earhart" was recorded in its entirety by the Zoom H1N microphone. Get yours here.
- A special thank you to Amber and Andrew from the "Into the Portal Podcast" podcast for recording tonight's exit script