on November 26, 2006
Those of you with an interest in the fate of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, probably are aware that there are three credible competing, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, theories:
(1) They simply ran out of gas over the Pacific (probably to the northwest of Howland Island, her intended target), landed in the drink, and fell to the bottom. Absent any other information, this is the most logical (and least interesting) conclusion, and is the one favored by Elgen and Marie Long (see their book "Amelia Earhart - The Mystery Solved" ISBN 0684860058). Nauticos, a deep sea salvage firm, has looked for the Electra (her plane) on the ocean floor but has not found it. This theory is based in part on radio signal strength indications aboard the Itasca (stationed at Howland Island awaiting her arrival), which they used to determine her approximate location, and which Gillespie references indirectly only once in this book.
(2) They were captured by the Japanese (either it was planned this way in advance or the Japanese just took advantage of the situation when it arose). Before you roll your eyes and put this in the crop circle/bigfoot category (as I did when I first heard it), be aware that there is credible evidence supporting this, some of which Gillespie mentions in this book (although he never once mentions that the Japanese might have captured her). For example, in the book he mentions that Fred Noonan's wife said the most likely thing Fred would have done would be to backtrack to the nearest known island, which would have been in the Marshall Islands (under Japanese control at the time), and the Amelia Earhart Foundation also believed she backtracked (see page 235). Other evidence, not presented in this book, includes many eyewitnesses in the Marshalls and Saipan (most of whom did not know each other, and most of whose testimony does not conflict, and many of whom are credible people). Books exploring the Japanese angle (which generally suppose that she, Fred and the Electra wound up in Saipan after a stop or landing in the Marshalls) include "Amelia Earhart - The Final Story" by Vincent Loomis (ISBN 304531014), "Witness to the Execution" by T.C. Buddy Brennan (ISBN 1558381082), "Age of Heroes" by Henri Keyzer-Andre (ISBN 0803893515) and "The Amelia Earhart Incident" by Thomas Devine (ISBN 0939650487).
(3) She crash-landed on Nikumaroro (then known as Gardner Island) in the Phoenix Island group (southeast of her intended target), and eventually perished. This is the theory clearly favored by Gillespie, although he is very careful not to say so explicitly (why, I don't know). Prior to the publication of this book, he appeared on some television programs advocating this possibility, displaying a sole of a shoe recovered from Nikumaroro that was the same size as Amelia's shoe size and probably made circa 1937, and also a piece of aluminum that could have been the Electra's kickboard. Gillespie is the executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Rescue (TIGHAR), which has sponsored 6 expeditions to Nikumaroro and plans another for July 2007 (the shoe, kickboard and prior expeditions curiously are not mentioned in the book, nor does he ever refer to Gardner Island as Nikumaroro). See their web site for more more direct assertion that Amelia and Fred landed on Nikumaroro.
I really have to take my hat off to Gillespie. He poured over an amazing amount of documentation, more or less resolving conflicting evidence by the two radio operators aboard the Itasca and the Itasca's commander, Warner Thompson. This gives us an very thorough and nearly exhaustive minute-by-minute account of what took place and why things went down the way they did. This clearly lays out the reasons for her disappearance (a confluence of poor planning and communication, basically). Especially invaluable is who knew what and when they knew it. For example, nobody aboard the Itasca knew that Noonan was aboard the Electra until well after they went missing.
Some of the more compelling evidence he presents for the Nikumaroro theory includes: (1) Nikumaroro is on the same 157/337 degree arc from Howland that Amelia said she was on in one of her last transmissions, (2) it makes sense that they would have turned south after failing to find Howland, because there were nearby islands south but not north of Howland, (3) the majority of bearings on the radio transmissions received after her disappearance intersect at or very near Nikumaroro (one of the other bearings that did not was unreliable), (4) some of the radio transmissions were clearly made by turning the radio on and off to produce Morse code-like dashes (not by pressing a button, as any hoaxer almost certainly would have assumed, as nobody knew Amelia's radio didn't have the button but could only make dashes by switching the radio on and off), and (5) the Electra necessarily had to have been on land (not in water) in order to transmit a signal.
I do have a few problems with the book. It starts out with the requisite background information, which is not thrilling but is necessary for understanding what follows. However, about a quarter of the way through the book he really gets bogged down in describing coordination of weather information (which mostly turns out to be irrelevant) and radio communication (volumes of pages easily could have been condensed into a paragraph or two without losing any relevant information). It's as if he wrote this just to demonstrate that he had done his research (boring us in the process). It got so boring I nearly gave up on the book. Later on, he gets sidetracked with useless details about equator-crossing hazing and other trivial pursuits. I contemplated giving the book a 4-star rating based on these problems.
On page 193, he criticizes Thompson for "selecting and interpreting the ones that seemed to fit his theory and rejecting others," apparently without a hint of irony! For example, he portrays as credible reported ham radio receptions by Dana Randolph of Wyoming, even though he heard the transmissions at 16,000 kilocycles, which is not on a harmonic (integral multiple) of 3,105 kc, which is the frequency Amelia reported she would use, and therefore is unlikely to have been Earhart. He also spends much time reviewing the transcripts of Betty Klenck of Florida, even though the probability (as reported by Gillespie) that she could have received the signals is less than 1%. Also unanswered is why nearly all of the possibly authentic radio reports from the mainland heard Amelia speak her name, while none of the supposed transmissions received by the government (Coast Guard, Navy, etc.) or Pan Am or any other reliable source ever heard her or Noonan's name spoken.
In the end, though, I can't fault his biases. It is a well researched project and definitely worth the read if you're at all curious about the fates of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. The added resources of the included DVD back up all of his assertions and make a nice bonus.
on September 10, 2006
Unsolved mysteries are a surefire way to get published and possibly turn a fast dollar or two. All it takes is a theory about what happened, bolstered by assertions presented as facts and some talent for writing the story. That's why the market is saturated with books that promise the reader "the True Story".
Amelia Earhart's disappearance on one of the last legs of her 1937 round-the-world flight is no exception. Theories, books and True Stories abound. What is exceptional and noteworthy is the approach Ric Gillespie and the organization he heads, TIGHAR, takes to solving this mystery. The TIGHAR approach is refreshingly, relentlessly fact-driven. Over the course of more than a decade, Ric and TIGHAR's members have laborously chased down primary sources of information about the flight, and and have carefully constructed a theory based on these facts that unravels -- minute by minute -- what happened. The TIGHAR theory is that Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, couldn't locate their destination (a tiny speck of land in the Central Pacific, Howland Island) and used their emergency fuel reserve for a flight to an alternative landing site, fetching up on an uninhabited tropical hellhole named Gardner Island. This theory is detailed on TIGHAR's Web site, and in the book "Amelia Earhart's Shoes" by Thomas F. King (also highly recommended as a companion volume to "Finding Amelia").
In "Finding Amelia", Ric provides the thoroughly-researched story of the Coast Guard and US Navy search for Amelia that took place over the entire month of July, 1937. The first part of the book covers the whole history of George Putnam's (Amelia's husband) and Amelia's attempts to organize her World Flight, including several neverbefore-told stories about the relationship they cultivated with the Roosevelt Administration and the government assistance that they received gratis -- your tax dollars at work. Along the way, questions you probably never thought of about Amelia's World Flight are answered in detail (for instance, why did the US Government decide to build a landing strip and refueling station out in the middle of nowhere, on Howland Island? Just in time for Amelia's flight! And who knew how to get a state-of-the-art US Coast Guard cutter pulled from regular duties and sent thousands of miles into the depths of the Central Pacific to be the World Flight's support team? As a courtesy to Mrs. Putnam, of course.). This part of the book ends with a description of the 20 hour flight from Lae, New Guinea to Howland, and the events of the morning of July 2.
Then begins the book's main story; of the Coast Guard-Navy search and rescue operation. Ric uses analysis of the original radio traffic -- including Amelia & Fred's post-loss messages, heard all over the Pacific and across the United States in the days following the loss -- to let this part of the story unfold. And if you really want to dig deep into the primary material supporting this story and the Gardner Island theory, the book includes a DVD with files and Web links containing the original documents, photos, film clips and maps. This DVD alone is easily worth the cost of the book.
"Finding Amelia" makes a persuasive case that Amelia's loss (and probably wretched death) is an example of how many small human errors, omissions and miscommunications can cumulate in an unnecessary, avoidable catastrophe. If it had been possible for Amelia and the Coast Guard personnel at Howland to communicate in real-time for even a few minutes, they undoubtably could have created a plan that would have guided the plane to a safe landing. If either Amelia or Fred had been more familar with the communications equipment that they carried -- instead of assuming that everything would come together when needed -- they could have worked around the problems that arose and made contact with Howland. And if those responsible for the post-loss search operation had taken a systematic look at the facts that they had in hand, this story might have ended with an exciting rescue rather than trailing off into self-serving reports that "everything that could be done had been done".
"Finding Amelia" is a great piece of historical detective work. Anyone who has an alternative theory to TIGHAR's Gardner Island scenario will be severely challenged to assemble the same depth of primary information in support of it. Definitely 5-stars & highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the deconstruction of a good mystery with hard facts.
on September 25, 2006
Everyone knows that Amelia Earhart did not finish her around-the-world flight in 1937 - and that is about the ONLY thing that anyone interested in finding out what happened next can agree on. Did she and navigator Fred Noonan crash at sea? Were they executed by the Japanese after a secret spy mission? Did Amelia somehow survive and end up living in the US under an assumed name? Was that Star Trek: Voyager episode the true solution?
Up until now, more than a dozen books have hashed out numerous theories, with various degrees of credibility, but all have had one thing in common - they "solve" the mystery with a mixture of carefully selected facts, speculation unsupported by any contemporaneous records, unscientifically-interpreted evidence (photos, etc.), and not a few WAGs.
"Finding Amelia" strips away the legends and myths that have grown up around Earhart and her last flight, and for the first time all of the contemporary records from the actual time are laid out in chronological order, explained and then left to stand on their own. All of the post-loss radio messages. All of the hoaxes. All of the painfully inept attempts by the US government to find Amelia in time to save her from herself. To his credit, author Ric Gillespie makes no attempt to say the mystery is finally solved.
While not solved, the mystery of Amelia and Fred's disappearance is in many ways finally REsolved, because all of the information is laid out in the same order that it happened. Facts are not selectively used, broad assumptions are not stated as fact, and all of the materials used to prepare the manuscript are available for the reader's immediate review on the accompanying DVD. It's a good read that will keep you turning the pages until the very end, where a surprising Epilogue sets your mind wandering down a whole new path.
on August 30, 2015
I read somewhere once that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It seems that that's kind of what Mr. Gillespie and TIGHAR are doing with their search for Amelia Earhart. They've just completed what I believe is there 13th expedition to Nikamuroro (sp) Island because that's were they believe Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan ended up....they haven't found her, nor have they found any definitive proof that she was ever there.
Now, even taking into account the difficulties involved in such a search, and the limitations of funding, surely after two decades, millions of dollars and 13 expeditions you either have some kind of proof or you don't. If you don't it may be time to move on to something else.
Look, I love the mystery of Amelia as much as anyone, I'm a pilot, it's how I once made my living and I still fly for fun and sanity, and I'd love to know, at long last, what happened to Amelia and Fred. But I no longer am willing to consider that the answer is on that island or in the waters off of it. You gave it your best shot Mr. Gillespie, time to move on.
And yes, they did suck me in once again, after buying Amelia Earhart's Shoe several years ago and now this book, I got snookered again, I admit it. And this book did have some very interesting stuff in it regarding that final flight and especially the disputed distress calls from Amelia that were reportedly received hours and even days after she would have run out of fuel. But in the end this book is just one more justification by Mr. Gillespie for yet another wasted trip to the South Pacific...
If he ends up finding the Electra sitting on the sea bottom off of the island I'll eat my words, but I don't think there's much chance of that. I have no idea what happened to Amelia and Fred, no theories of my own. If I was forced to guess I would probably say that the simplest explanation is probably the right one, they ran out of fuel, ditched (or crashed) and sank to the ocean floor and that's were they sit at this moment.
I will add that, as a pilot myself, with a commercial ticket and thousands of hours logged, I do have a theory about how it happened; Amelia was an average to below average pilot, her record of crashes and other mishaps bears that out, her ambition and fearlessness (maybe foolishness too) were constantly putting her in situations that were beyond her abilities as a pilot and it finally caught up with her. If you'd like to learn about a really good female pilot and a contemporary of Amelia's check out Amy Johnson from the UK, she never got the press Amelia did because she wasn't married to a newspaper magnet but she was a hell of a lot better pilot. She came to a bad end as well but not through any fault of her own.
Back to this book, if you're an Amelia junky it's worth getting just for the research Mr. Gillespie did, if you're just interested in what happened and the chance that someone will someday solve the mystery, keep looking.
on September 9, 2006
I have been obsessed with finding out what really happened to Amelia Earhart for a number of years, and have read at least 20 -30 books written about her disappearance.
This book is written in a sometimes humorous and folksy way that at the same time leaves you stunned by the seriousness and human
failures of the final days before Amelia's disappearance. I was left yearning for this narrative to continue, because the story doesn't end on July 2, 1937. I'll bet Ric Gillespie's next book tells us "the rest of the story".
This is the only book that combines all of the documents, maps, and radio logs in chronological order and tells the story almost minute by minute of the last days of that final flight. It makes you feel as if you are actually in the cockpit with her, feeling the fears, frustrations and desperation that a weaker pilot might have succumbed to.
It includes a DVD of all the documents, maps and source materials that makes this the most credible version I've ever read. If you have questions, look it up on the DVD. The author doesn't expect you to take his word for anything.
Ric Gillespie is a great storyteller, and he truly understands the attitudes and pre-conceived notions of the people involved in that last leg of the flight.
I now KNOW why Amelia didn't find Howland Island, as you will also after reading this book and studying the source materials on the DVD.
I'm telling you "YOU GOTTA READ THIS BOOK"....
Jackie L Tharp
on September 10, 2007
This highly technical read is not for the mere curious reader or fan of this great American woman. This book contains a vivid picture of the search for America's sweetheart of 1937,Amelia Earhart and her navigator ,Fred Noonan. An intricate compilation of radio transmissions provides a picture of an overwhelmed search party, miscommunicated information and an under skilled pilot. This is not the whole picture and if one seeks a glimpse into the woman behind the incident this is not the book for you
"Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance", by Ric Gillespie, lives up to its title. This expertly researched book retells the story of the crash of America's most famous aviatrix. Not knowing much about the Earhart crash, I was surprised to learn that she disappeared on her second attempt to fly across the Pacific. Gillespie chronicles the events between Earhart's first trans-Pacific flight through the conclusion of the two-week search effort.
In some opinions, Amelia Earhart was a very accomplished self-promoter and average pilot. In the opening pages of the book, Gillespie documents the political maneuvering required to make this flight happen. The high-level support of Eleanor Roosevelt led to the creation of an airfield on uninhabited Howland island; originally proposed as an emergency airfield for naval aircraft, the only planned use of this field was in support of Earhart's flight.
Gillespie then moves on to Earhart's first attempt, which was to flow east-to-west. After her flight from Oakland to Honolulu, this attempt came to an ignominious end after Earhart ground-looped the aircraft in Hawaii.
Next, Gillespie chronicles the political maneuvering of Earhart as she persevered to coordinate support for a second attempt. In this section, Gillespie briefly strays from his factual accounting of events and opines on the necessity of this flight.
The author chose to focus on the communication between Earhart and the support system in place to support the flight. The reader will see the obviously incomplete planning that went into this portion of the flight. In this section, Gillespie sticks to the facts and does not offer any opinions as to why Earhart did not have a complete communications plan. Did Earhart have such faith in the skills of Captain Fred Noonan that she wasn't worried about establishing contact?
The other person painted in less than flattering light is Commander Warner Thompson, commander of the USCGS Itasca, the ship designated to be the radio beacon for Earhart's flight to Howland. After the airplane's disappearance, CDR Thompson led the first few days of the search effort until being relieved by the USS Colorado, which was subsequently relieved by the USS Lexington. Gillespie highlights where CDR Thompson adjusted the official record when inconvenient or confusing information did not support the course of action the Itasca was pursuing.
Gillespie based the book on numerous primary resources, including the original telegrams, and logs of the radiomen aboard the USCG Itasca, the ship awaiting Earhart's arrival on desolate Howland Island. In addition to these official government sources, Gillespie shares the incredible stories of average American citizens who heard Earhart's cries for help from thousands of miles away.
Earhart enthusiasts may criticize this book for unfairly tainting her reputation. In most instances, Gillespie stuck to the factual representation of events, leaving it up to the reader to make his or her own conclusions. Overall, it is an outstanding story, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about one of the possible theories surrounding the disappearance of Earhart.
[This review is from the paperback version, which does not include the DVD provided in the hardback edition.]
on August 16, 2007
"Finding Amelia: the True Story of the Earhart Disappearance," Ric Gillespie, Naval Institute Press, Maryland, 2006, ISBN 1-59114-319-2, HC 242 pges., Notes 44 pgs., Index 8 pgs., Content & Forward 10 pgs., plus 40 B/W photos, map & DVD (for computer) to access photos, maps, logs of the Earhart misadventure.
A captivating narrative & chronicle of the flying life and times of pilot Amelia Earhart, both researched 18 years and written by Exec. Dir. of TIGHAR, an Internat. Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. We are provided detailed accounts of Earhart's two world flight attempts, neither successful, with the aviatrix's last contact being July 2, 1937 while enroute to Howland Isle from Lae, New Guinea and thence to California.
Glimpses are given of Amelia Earhart's quest for notoriety during her earlier years which found her intrigued by flying machines, seeking adventure, finding celebrity status & desiring increased role for American women. But, it is not a bibliography or even a book about Amelia. It is a book of Amelia's monomaniacal attachment to flying, her aeronautical skill confines, that emphasizes her attempts to encircle the globe, imprima her 2nd attempt going Eastward, departing Oakland, California on May 19, 1937 accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan in her Lockheed Electra 10E twin engine aircraft. There is detailed & documented accountings of the massive search by US Coast Guard and Naval ships & planes and detailed reference to ships' logs of communications, etc., and interviews with Ham Radio operators who credibly appear to have identified her signals. The many B/W photographs, maps and the DVD are commendatory to this scholarly study. A few readers may find the detailed readings, etc., of the ships' logs and radiocommunication transmission times and references to frequencies and harmonics confusing & tedious, but the author's intentions to present the factual data is preserved.
on September 6, 2006
Amelia Earhart, most famous female pilot of the 1930s, did not know Morse code. That surprising fact, combined with a tragic mix of complacency and confusion, led to the 1937 disappearance of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan. This book sets the record straight on what really happened on July 2, 1937, and how radio technology contributed to the disappearance. Ironically, radio messages are also part of the solution. Ric Gillespie describes and examines the "post-loss radio messages" and whether they originated from Earhart. Most of the messages were probably authentic, meaning Earhart and Noonan were alive after July 2. Why weren't they rescued? That's the real mystery--the solution was there all the time.
This is an exhaustively researched and compellingly written book. (An added bonus is the DVD with scans of all source documents cited in the text.) Many old myths are shattered and new questions raised. Startling new information is revealed--teenagers in Florida and Wyoming heard startling messages believed to have come from Earhart herself. Why were the post-loss radio messages not believed? The answer may surprise you...
"Finding Amelia" is a must-read for history buffs and Earhart fans alike, a brilliant look at how human frailties and technological limitations can make, or alter, history.
on March 18, 2007
The book is a good chronicle of the last flight, and what is (and isn't known). While there isn't anything really new that hasn't been covered before, the book is a good compliment to others previously published on the Earhart story. The focus on (mis)communications highlights the thread of errors that lead to the tragedy. The inclusion of the disc (a nice touch!) containing the source data allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.