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An Octogenarian Mystery

She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean with an aircraft, alone! When Amelia Mary Earhart (b. July 24, 1897; disappeared July 2, 1937; declared dead January 5, 1939) had achieved this feat, a few men used to fly aeroplanes. Amelia had made it possible in the 1930s with her resolute nature, and courage. Later, this US aviation pioneer encouraged many women to emulate her.

Amelia, who was born at Atchison in Kansas on July 24, 1897, spent her childhood with her grandparents. She had a great affection to sports during her childhood. Amelia started staying with her parents in Iowa in 1908. Later, she spent a few years in Chicago and Philadelphia before working as a nurse in Toronto (during the First World War). As various countries used to display fighter jets during the war, Amelia used to visit air fairs in spare time. That was when she fell in love with aircraft.

In January 1921, Amelia recruited Neta Snook to be her flying instructor, with an initial contract of USD 500 for 12 hours, and had her first lesson on January 3, 1921 at Kinner Field on the west side of Long Beach Boulevard and Tweedy P Road, now in the city of South Gate. Then, she decided to buy a plane of her own. Amelia, indeed, purchased an aircraft with her saved money later that year. In the year 1928, she flew an aircraft from the US to Europe over the Atlantic, and carved a name for herself as the Queen of Air.

Four years later, Amelia flew across the Atlantic Ocean alone. She was supposed to fly from Harbour Grace at Newfoundland in Canada to Paris. However, she landed the aircraft in Ireland after 20 hours due to bad weather, and mechanical problems in her plane. No female pilot before Amelia had achieved this feat. Even before her, only one male pilot had successfully flown from the US to Europe over the Atlantic Ocean. Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964), the then US President, honoured Amelia with an award for setting the new milestone in aviation history.

Amelia flew from Honolulu to California in 1935. She set another record in 1935, as she flew from Honolulu to California in a rare first. A couple of years later, she decided to embark on a more difficult trip… travel around the world in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10-E Electra at the age of 39. Amelia, along with her co-pilot Frederick Joseph ‘Fred’ Noonan (born April 4, 1893 – disappeared July 2, 1937), started the 46,671km-long journey (or 29,000 miles) from Miami on June 1, 1937. During their long voyage, they landed in Karachi (Pakistan) and Kolkata (India) for resting. They reached Papua New Guinea on June 29. Amelia had to fly another 11,265km (or 7,000 miles) to achieve her goal.

Amelia and Fred left Howland Island for Lae (New Guinea) on July 2, as the distance was 4,113km. The biggest challenge of the entire journey was hidden in the final leg of the flight. Incidentally, Amelia and her navigator Fred disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island, as the two were last seen in Lae on July 2, 1937. Their disappearance remains a mystery even after 80 years of the incident. The weather was bad at that time, and the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) suddenly lost contact with Amelia’s aircraft. Experts were of the opinion that Amelia lost her way, and ran out of fuel, resulting in a crash.

Some believed that Amelia landed the plane on a small island in Japan. However, the Japanese Army thought that they were US spies, and detained them. Amelia and Fred were imprisoned in Japan for the rest of their lives. After the disappearance of Amelia, her husband George Palmer Putnam penned her biography, titled ‘Soaring Wings‘. Hundreds of articles and books have been written about her life that are often cited as a motivational tale, especially for women, as Amelia is commonly regarded as a feminist icon.

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