Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Hunt for Amelia Earhart

Book cover showing a biplane fighter taking off from the USS Lexington to join the search for Amelia Earhart

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email recently from Douglas Westfall, a book publisher in Southern California, USA, regarding a new book about the hunt for famed American aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

Apparently, Westfall caught my January 2007 piece on the Earhart saga in The National, and saved it until he got in touch with me and sent me an electronic version of the new book (e-book).

The year 2007 also marks the 70th anniversary of one of the greatest unsolved aviation mysteries of all time.

The mystery – that of the disappearance of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan – intimately involves Papua New Guinea as Lae was her last port of call before she disappeared somewhere over the vast Pacific Ocean.

Amelia Earhart, darling of American aviation, went missing in July 1937, after leaving Lae for the longest stretch of her around-the-world flight.

The mystery and a long fruitless search – costing many millions of US dollars - had begun.

Today, 70 years after her final takeoff from Lae, the mystery is still to be solved.

Old Lae residents used to recall entertaining the couple in the Hotel Cecil the night before their departure, and then seeing them off the next morning.

Their Lockheed Electra was so overloaded with its eight tonnes of fuel that it was still barely clearing the waves as it disappeared from sight, flying east along the Huon Gulf coast on its way to Howland Island, 4600km to the north.

Today, a plaque to her memory stands at the Amelia Earhart Park, opposite the famous old Lae airport.

Up the hill from the park, at the Melanesian Hotel, the bar is named Amelia’s after this great woman.

The just-released new book co-authored by Westfall and the late Richard K Mater, The Hunt for Amelia Earhart, tells the story of the 16 days following Earhart’s disappearance.

The US Coast Guard with the US Navy and nine ships, 66 aircraft, and some 3,000 men searched over a quarter of a million miles for the Electra and survivors.

The book contains seven first person accounts.

It has a man from most of the ships including a Navy man on the deck of the USS Lexington aircraft carrier (still alive) and an airman (also still alive) from the USS Colorado.

They all give such great detail within their account of the search.

The book has 260 illustrations including 160 photographs over - 100 unpublished - plus the diary of Associated Press reporter onboard ship James Carey.

The book has four hooks.

1) It's a first person account piece, with unpublished diaries, interviews, and memoirs.

There are seven first person accounts in the book, from the young men who were on the Earhart Search, three of whom are alive and the rest have family who can be contacted for interview purposes.

One of these young men was James Carey.

He was a student at the University of Hawaii, who was working at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and was a representative for the Associated Press.

His complete diary, photographs, and letters are included within the book including: a letter to Carey from AP’s Clark Lee, and a letter to Fred Noonan from AP’s Russell Brines.

Other than some web access, none of these materials have been published before.

2) It's a hero piece, what the boys did for Amelia.

“And I have seven of the boys; it's a real flag waver,” Westfall boasts.

Nine ships, 66 aircraft, and 3,000 US Navy and US Coast Guard men searched 260,000 square miles of open sea plus 24 islands within a 600 mile range of Earhart's target: Howland Island.

The book contains the accounts of sailors and flyers who in their early 20s were risking their lives on the Earhart Search.

“Two of these boys are still alive and can be contacted,” Westfall says.

3) It's a new theory piece, different than the two primary theories.

The splash-and-sank theory of Nauticos who have spent some US$3 million on three ventures to search for Earhart's plane at the bottom of the Pacific at 18,000 feet.

The book has the Lockheed man who built the aircraft, who is still alive, and can be contacted in Southern California.

The crash-landing theory of TIGHAR who have spent somewhat less on five trips to search for Earhart on Nikumaroro (Gardner) Island.

The book has the Navy flyer who flew over Gardner on the Earhart Search, who is still alive, and can be contacted in Utah.

4) It's a history piece, the story never told, with unpublished photos, charts, and maps.

A surprise ending where the Japanese officially tell Washington DC that they are out looking for Earhart, but never report back.

Two days after they would have picked her out of the sea, they attacked Beijing, China, on July 7, 1937, the start of the Pacific War.

Four-and-a-half years later on December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they bombed Howland Island - some 1900 miles southwest of Hawaii.

There were only a few shacks, four boys, and a three-tube radio on the essentially deserted island at the time.

The Japanese had investigated the island, six months before Earhart was to arrive.

The Hunt for Amelia Earhart. By Douglas Westfall and Richard K Mater. The Paragon Agency Publishers, 2007. 262 pages. ISBN 1-891030-24-8. Email: Paragona@Pacbell.net . Website: http://www.specialbooks.com/.

1 comment:

Liz Gerraty said...

The little blonde haired girl watching Amelia before her last flight, just before she leaves PNG, is my mother Heather Grace Kelly (nee Murray). She lived in Papua New Guinea for 13 years with her parents Rueben & Jean Murray. She was married there to my father Kevin Franklin Kelly. Their best friends there and for life were Bob Hannan, my godfather and George Woodward, my brother's godfather. They have all passed away, except my dad Kevin (Kel) who is still alive and well at 91 years of age.