The Business of Finding Amelia Earhart

…and business is good. But what’s even better is Jerry Adler’s new piece on the amateur “archaeologists” and the strange world they’ve built around the never-ending search for Amelia Earhart.

Will the Search for Amelia Earhart Ever End?
Nearly eight decades after she disappeared in the South Pacific, the aviator continues to spark intense passion—and controversy

Amelia Earhart-related nonsense reached a fever pitch in late October when a group announced they’d identified a piece of wreckage as belonging to her aircraft. This aluminum debris was first recovered in 1991 from the island at Nikumaroro. The identification process was described as exacting and forensic in nature, a “complex fingerprint” of proportions and patterns, unique to Earhart’s lost Electra. But such sweeping claims come with a price–scrutiny.

Adler’s article is here and is well worth dropping whatever you’re doing right now to read. My favorite quotes are below:

Anyone who thinks his new data will settle the question of what happened to Earhart, though, hasn’t been paying attention for the last 78 years. Other researchers have studied the same rivet holes and radio transcripts and come to radically different conclusions—and they’re not conceding anything.

These are not other theorists with competing theories. Many of the people calling foul on these theories are the umpires–the ones with the job of wading through the evidence (and tall tales) and making fact-based determinations.

Since 1989 TIGHAR has mounted ten expeditions to the South Pacific, and he is seeking money for an 11th. His fund-raising prowess and mediagenic announcements have made Gillespie an object of envy and occasional vitriol among his fellow Earhart researchers—a group that includes serious historians as well as wild-eyed obsessives, who pile up scraps of evidence into conspiracies reaching right up to the White House… So the simplest explanation, and the official version, of her disappearance: Unsure of her location and out of fuel, she crashed and sank in the 18,000-foot-deep waters northwest of Howland Island… “Crashed-and-sank” was the conclusion of Elgen Long, a veteran military and commercial pilot, who with his wife, Marie, spent 25 years researching their book Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved. It remains the simplest explanation, but for that very reason, has attracted derision from those who prefer their history complicated.

“Prefer their history complicated”… and make a name for themselves in doing so.

“I think if Ric proved anything, it’s that [Earhart and Noonan] never were close to that island,” says Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum. “Otherwise he would have found something definitive. Ric is in the business of taking wealthy people on an archaeological adventure, Indiana Jones-style.”

Agreed. It’s not going to be ‘case closed’ until her airplane is discovered, most likely in deep water. Someone’s going to do it someday, I just hope it’s before Earhart’s legacy is any further tarnished by the conspiracy theorists.


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