Monday, June 4, 2012

Finding Amelia Earhart's Plane: New TIGHAR Expedition

The Internet doesn't think very highly of Amelia Earhart. As a girl I was fortunate enough to do school projects on some great female role models. One that stands out in my memory was Amelia Earhart. Learning about great women helped form my conviction at an early age that women have as much to offer the world as men. I loved Amelia Earhart for what she represented to me: defiance, adventure and mystery. Reading this article in the Telegraph, and checking out the comments where she is called a "dumb woman" and "foolish" made me pause. The commenters also slam the effort to find out what happened to her based on the Telegraph's claim that the expedition is "backed" by the U.S. Navy. 

The article is about The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery's (TIGHAR) planned trip this July to try to located the remains of Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft. I've written before about TIGHAR and their efforts to find enough evidence to conclude that Earhart landed, and later died on the island of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati. According to some of the commenters finding out what happened to Earhart isn't worth the effort. Some say because she was an idiot flying when she did and some say it isn't worth it because of the money. Many of the commenters are up in arms that the Navy is "backing" the project on the grounds that the economy is still down and this is a stupid thing to spend money on. 

I was surprised to see the Telegraph headline, "US Navy prepares mission to solve riddle of Amelia Earhart's death" knowing that the TIGHAR expedition to find the plane was planned for this summer. When you read the Telegraph's article, you can see that the expedition they are talking about is the one by TIGHAR. Now, TIGHAR is funded by contributions not federal money. It is not getting your tax payer dollars. I know this, because I googled. Having written about them before I went back to the TIGHAR website to see what they had to say about their alleged joint mission with the Navy. 

This is what I found (pulled directly from their website) bolding is mine:
"As with previous TIGHAR expeditions, funding for this search is being raise entirely through contributions from private citizens, foundations and corporations. Lockheed Marting is leaidng a growing family of corporate sponsors. TIGHAR's long-time sponsor FedEx is aboard with a major contribution in shipping services, and we are proud to announce that in addition to helping sponsor our expedition, Discovery Channel is producing a television special to air later this year documenting the search.  
Underwater operations will be conducted for TIGHAR by Phoenix International, the U.S. Navy's primary contractor for deep ocean search and recovery. We'll sail from Honolulu July 2nd - the 75th anniversary of the Earhart disappearance. TIGHAR is deeply appreciative of the expressions of support voiced by Secretary Clinton, Secretary LaHood, Secretary Lambourne, Assistant Secretary Campbell, and Dr. Ballard."
The U.S. Navy is not paying for TIGHAR's expedition to try to locate Earhart's plane. They say it themselves on their website, they are funded by private and corporate donations. The announcement by the State Department that they support and are backing the expedition is just that - a statement. The terms "support" and "backing" automatically make one think money. I thought money when I read the Telegraph's headline and article. But in this case "support" and "backing" comes in the form of verbal acknowledgement and a few nice press pictures, not oodles of taxpayer dollars. It also probably helped get Phoenix International onboard to do the actual mapping/search, but they are going to be paid out of TIGHAR's coffers.

Still, Earhart is just a stupid woman got herself killed by taking off on a poorly planned trip right? Even if all those commenters up in arms about their money going to something they think is silly have been mislead by the article there are still those that think Earhart doesn't matter. I like the idea of going out there to try to figure out what really happened to Earhart because there is historic and social value to knowing how her story ended. She is an important figure in aviation history, women's history, and United States history. She mattered. She mattered in her time, and for girls like me who read about her in books and start to believe that they can truly do anything with their life she still matters. 

It isn't a secret that I find Earhart inspiring. I've posted about her twice before this. Seeing her called dumb and foolish for trying to fly around the world annoys me. She took a risk, and she paid for it with her life. You mean to tell me no man has ever done that? She knew she could fail in her journey. She took off anyway. Was it a good choice? No. She made a bad choice, but the key word there is choice. She was a female aviator in the 1930's who took her own life in her hands, she made choices. I admire Earhart because she lived her life in a way that gave her the ability to choose for herself. So I do support TIGHAR's effort to find the plane and some conclusive evidence about what happened to her. I'm glad the State Department supports it too. I'm also glad that the funding is private, I think that is how it should be. Shame on the Telegraph for printing something so misleading. 

If all I had to do was go to the TIGHAR website to find out how the State Department and Navy were involved in the expedition, there is no reason the Telegraph shouldn't have done the same. Rather than making this a story about Earhart, the Telegraph article made this a story about government spending and waste. That isn't the story at all. I would much rather have seen some real coverage of Earhart - the good and the bad - leading up to the 75th anniversary of her disappearance. 

7 comments:

  1. hell yes!
    as someone equally fascinated by Earhart i have to say that i find some of the boorish, self-aggrandizing, or poorly tacked-on political ranting splashed across the web under the guise of factual information, 'neutral' speculation, myth-busting, latest news, whatever, to be really, really frustrating.

    i hope very much that as the anniversary nears we'll see some more enlightened and enlivening articles willing to embrace and explore Earhart's personality (with all its human complexities) and to more objectively assess her abilities (or lack of) as a pilot and writer and celebrity; the key perhaps will be historical context.

    as for the great mystery itself; i remain fairly sceptical (Brit spelling)- but although TIGAR may well be victim to its own financial pressures in trying to produce final concrete evidence - (i am not qualified to judge but it feels a little 'thin') i also see a lot in the overall scenario that makes sense and is certainly intriguing.

    however, the most important (and often overlooked) contribution may well be the documentation of what happened at the time; Howling Island, various ships, radio bases etc. regardless of final conclusion.

    one can discount much of any theory as wishful thinking and pattern misrecognition but certainly in regards to TIGAH i suspect they raise ire because of their documentation of the rescue effort and the transcripts detailing what seem like colossal errors as well as exposing much of the ingrained negative attitudes toward Earhart (and female flyers in general) of the times. It's a shame the line over plausible/implausible radio broadcasts is so blurred (to a non-scientist like myself anyway!).

    but enough of me waffling.

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    1. which i realise is something of a boorish rant. darn. apologies - pardon my insomnia.

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    2. No apologies necessary, I appreciate your thoughtful comment! I certainly agree that better coverage of Earhart, including her abilities or lack thereof as a pilot, would be great to see as the anniversary of her disappearance gets closer. As far as TIGHAR and the viability of their evidence, I think I'm hopeful because solving the mystery is so appealing, but I won't be holding my breath that anything truly conclusive will be found after all this time. I do agree with your point that historical context is key, when you look at all the evidence and information you have to remember the time period. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Well, to round-off, thank you for posting and good luck with your ambitions.
    Finding this blog was a lucky stumble (i was actually hunting neuroscience links), and there's a great deal here of interest to me.
    i won't spam you up with comments but consider yourself bookmarked :)

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  3. I appreciate the comments, and being bookmarked. Thanks for the support!

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  4. One of the oft overlooked bodies of evidences are the many types of radio emissions that were logged by differing groups just after Amelia's disappearance. There were emissions tracked by PanAm. There were emissions picked up by government stations. There were emissions picked up by military and government stations, emissions logged by the Navy and Coast Guard. There were those copied by Amateur Radio operators and civilian Shortwave Listener hobbiests. Some were bogus, fraudulent, some were actually the searchers rather than the searchees. Some may have been the real deal, such that had we heeded them, we might have saved our hero, Amelia Earhart. Though mostly discounted and ignored, and sometimes analyzed from a sofa in Detroit, practically noting has been done to test and prove whether they were or could have been the real deal. That's why Tri-County Amateur Radio Club WC5C wants to go to Nikumaroro and test. (http://www.wc5c.org) That's what Amelia Earhart still does, all these years, even decades, after her loss. She inspires people to get off the Sofa of Speculation, and go and find out!

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