The Implications of Finding Amelia Earhart

by Niko Mackey

Tampa, Florida’s Bay News 9 is playing in the background as I tidy up the library in anticipation of the eager morning patrons. This is when I heard the dreadful announcement:

A $2.2 million expedition is hoping to finally solve one of America’s most enduring mysteries: What exactly happened to famed aviator Amelia Earhart when she went missing over the South Pacific 75 years ago?” (Garcia)1

Why?” I said out loud. I felt embarrassed, not so much by the sheer quantity of funds involved, but by the audacity of the researchers willing to embark on such an expedition.

Later, wanting to preserve a sense of journalistic integrity, I looked up the AP article on the aforementioned local news channel’s website and found my answer. Ric Gillespie, the man heading the search, is indirectly quoted, answering my question and confirming my fears:

“Earhart’s standing as an American icon — especially to young women — and fascination in her story means it’s important to solve the mystery, he said.” (Garcia)

Fears? What fears? My fears regarding the implications of solving this mystery, and how it can negatively impact the image of one of the greatest women in history. What a dreadful mistake this search is destined to become!

For years many have already assumed that either Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan had died a violent, merciless death, or that they managed to land on some isolated Pacific island with no chance of survival. Imagine the grieving masses seated beside their radios as they hear news of the crash. All admired the national icon who was assaulted by friendly mobs and applauded by presidents. All missed the woman who was stricken down by fate in a manner unjust, though not unexpected.

Perhaps there was a national pandemic of denial when the search parties returned home after more than two weeks of searching, clueless as to where Earhart and Noonan had crashed, and whether they had even survived; perhaps they wished–hoped–that the pilot-navigator pair managed to safely land on an island too distant from the massive search party, a new home where they would eke out a short life followed by a complacent and reluctantly accepting death. These same people would have been seriously misguided.

Yes, these same people who hoped for Earhart and Noonan to spend their last dying days amongst exotic wildlife and relaxing Pacific sands straight from the latest travel monologue know naught of the implications of their desire. I say that because to desire such a happy ending to an otherwise dreadful story, one has to ignore the human condition.

By human condition, I explicitly mean the need for comfort amidst impending doom and the intimacy that is destined to emerge between a man and a woman when stranded alone, yearning for the company of their significant other. Can Amelia Earhart remain an American legend when slandered with this implied tragedy, a degradation of her great character into the most barbaric of human emotions?

As she currently rests–peacefully, I hope–Earhart is an organic monument to feminism; she defied gender roles by succeeding in a male-dominated realm where all women before her have failed. Three women, in fact, had died in 1928 attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean before Earhart would manage to become the first to do so. The aviator set a standard of equality for all those to follow. Although tragic, her life’s legacy is untarnished by scandal, and it deserves to remain as such.

Earhart died attempting the impossible. Her ambiguous ending allows us all to write her final chapter. At least in my version, it is grand finale:

I like to think she wore a proud smirk that calmed her otherwise frantic navigator as they both spiraled into the unforgiving Pacific while gradually accepting their fate, knowing they will forever go down in history as eminent pioneers in both aviation and feminism. Allow Earhart’s official website to reiterate:

There is no doubt, however, that the world will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements, both in aviation and for women.” (Biography)

Gillespie and his explorers imagine something a bit different. They like to think the duo managed to survive, as did the 1937 public. They like to think Earhart’s tomboyish persona and upbringing would have aided her in a struggle to survive the desolate tropical wilderness; it would be a testament to her strength, a symbol of her persistence to succeed against all odds. It sounds romantic, and indeed it is, but, as stated previously, it is severely misguided. Idealistic notions that disregard an inevitable truth are based entirely in ignorance.

Perhaps the explorers mean well, selflessly hoping to close the history book and to give the Earhart and Noonan families some closure. Perhaps they are selfish, and giggled with glee upon learning that Discovery desires to televise the expedition in August, thereby granting them a moment of televised fame. Unwittingly, these men wish to destroy the legend that is Amelia Earhart; to warp a cliché: their means will fail to justify their end.

I do not consider myself a pessimist, so allow me to enlighten my opposition. Let us assume the wreckage is found, so as not to have the exploration end in vain. Let us further assume that the evidence leads all to believe that Earhart and Noonan did somehow manage to land relatively safely, so as not to have the exploration end in an embarrassing no shit, Sherlock moment. Let us advance even further into this hypothetical nightmare and play out the last days of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

There was little food, and even fewer items of comfort. The radio was either broken, or neither of the two succeed in contacting someone for help (there were surely Coast Guardsmen manning all available radios). Devoid of all hope, they worked together to build an SOS from rocks and various debris, but only for the passing of time and their own desperate amusement. It was not long before they realized they would die of starvation, a painful death, while hoping that the mild discomfort of dehydration would take them first.

They yearned for their lovers, Amelia for her beloved George, and Fred for his dearest Josephine, and it was not long before they resorted to shameful acts. The two spent a month together alone on their voyage, pursuing a shared passion. Undoubtedly they would share moments of intimacy as they recounted their tales of flight and shared aviation dream. Chances are they scheduled plans to meet up every so often–perhaps every other Christmas–to share smaller adventures. To the despair of their respective spouses, Earhart and Noonan grew incredibly close over their month alone, whether they intended to or not.

Earhart’s tomboyish charm broke down, revealing a damsel in distress. Noonan, a handsome, chisel-faced man with a gentle smile, was too good of a character to sit idly by as the woman wept unconsoled. They were simply too irresistible to each other; everything that happened in the preceding month only invigorated their loins.

Soon they were in a romantic embrace, their chapped lips nipping at each other’s necks, the accumulated odor of their final days, unsuccessfully repressed by saltwater baths, encircling their motions. They broke away in shame, and separately begged for forgiveness from both God and their lamenting spouses, only to return to each other time and time again in a fruitless grasp for comfort. They make excuses for their actions, downplay its severity, tell one another that their behavior is only natural, but to no relief of their consciences. Together they die, alone and unforgiven.

Maybe I am wrong; maybe they were in love and felt no shame in their actions, having committed exciting acts of adultery before. In this case, they would have died together, but one before the other. Imagine watching your lover die before your eyes while you are unable to help . Selfishly you pray for your heart to stop first.

It is a tragedy that rivals Macbeth. I must admit, it does appeal to my dark romantic faculties and my appreciation of the human affliction we all call loneliness, but it can only do Earhart harm. It may embody itself in a riveting, psychologically insightful novel to the fascination of many readers, but it can only do Earhart harm.

Where is her intrepid innovation, her unabashed struggle against the patriarchy of American accomplishments, everything that contributes to the character that is Amelia Earhart? It is lost–no–annihilated by shame and a debased struggle for survival. The great legend is gone, sullied by the same innate human desires that can ruin the most virtuous of men. Look at all the greatest of American legends, and just try to find one man or woman who failed grievously in his/her final moments of life.

Let us hope this disastrous search ends in disappointment, for it would be the best of possible outcomes. A waste of time and money is surely better than a waste of such an iconic feminist figure and her many accomplishments.

Amelia Earhart is a legend, and legends by their very nature transcend the common man. For the sake of Earhart and all the women she has inspired over the many years, her death should remain a mystery and her legend remain untarnished. Mystery is a greater fuel for imagination.

Well, the search is on, both for Earhart and a validity for my melodrama.

1 Unable to locate the original video, I decided to directly quote the article on which the report was based. The essence of what I heard on television remains intact.