There are patterns discernible in Earhart’s flying career. With the exception
of her early hesitancy to solo, Amelia’s appetite for new aviation laurels
consistently outpaced her competence to achieve them and each move up
to a new level was punctuated by accidents. Even in an era when aviation
upsets and catastrophes were relatively commonplace, Earhart had far
too many wrecks. Her mishaps, however, tended to be relatively minor
and appear to be attributable primarily to a lack of physical skill rather
than any wanton disregard for her own safety. She does not run into hills
while trying to push through in bad weather. She doesn’t get hopelessly
lost and wander around until she runs out of gas. She has no mid-air
collisions or in-flight structural failures. She never has to use a parachute.
And she doesn’t get hurt. The only injury she ever received was a cut
on the scalp when she flipped her Vega onto its back in Norfolk.
After enough hours of flight time, and enough bent metal, she either
learns how to handle the airplane (as she did the Vega and the Electra)
or she walks away (as she did with the Pitcairn).
It might appear that whatever happened in the Central Pacific did not
fit the pattern of Earhart’s previous problems, but perhaps it did. The
fundamental cause of the flight’s failure to reach Howland seems to be
Earhart’s failure to adequately understand the capabilities and limitations
of her radio equipment. In other words, she got in over her head, except
this time the consequences were not a bent prop and a bruised ego, and
this time she couldn’t walk away.