The Last Takeoff
Presented here is the only known motion-picture film of Amelia Earhart’s departure from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. This was the last time Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were seen alive. Twenty hours later, on the morning of another July 2nd (she had crossed the International Dateline) they disappeared somewhere near Howland Island over 2,500 miles away.
The film was supposedly taken by Sid Marshall, an employee of Guinea Airways. It was in a collection of film held by the 99s (a women pilots association) in the mid-1980s when the Experimental Aircraft Association borrowed it for a videotape they were making about Earhart. EAA made a video dub of the film and thought they returned the original, but the 99s apparently never received it. The whereabouts of the actual film is now unknown. What is reproduced here is the video dub made by EAA and generously shared with TIGHAR. We would appreciate hearing from anyone who can shed light on what may have become of this historic piece of film.
Clips and segments have appeared in several television documentaries but, to our knowledge, this is the first time that the entire unedited film has been made available for public viewing. The film is very brief (only about 30 seconds) and is, of course, silent and in black and white. Even so, it is rich with information which puts to rest many myths and faulty recollections about what occurred that morning. Earhart does not appear to be wasted or debilitated and Noonan is not helped aboard drunk or hung-over. In fact, both appear to be fit and cheerful. The airplane is clearly very heavy, but the takeoff is well executed. The wind is not calm, as was later claimed, but appears from the smoke in the background to be 5 to 10 knots down the runway.
The film may also contain a clue as to why Earhart was unable to receive voice radio messages during the flight – a major factor in her failure to locate Howland Island. When the Electra taxis close past the camera, its belly antenna mast – the aftmost support for a wire antenna which ran rearward from the starboard side pitot mast on the Electra’s “chin” – is visible right where it should be, on the underside of the aircraft in line with the cabin windows. (It can be hard to see, but digital analysis of the film confirms that it’s there.) When the airplane comes back by the camera on its takeoff roll, the belly antenna mast seems to be gone. (Again, this has been determined through digitizing and forensic analysis.) Perhaps, in turning the overloaded aircraft around on the uneven turf at the end of the runway, the mast struck the ground and was broken off. This would have left the broken mast dragging along the ground by the wire antenna.
Now watch the takeoff sequence closely. Because the camera is positioned toward the departure end of the 3,000 foot runway, the film only picks up the takeoff after the tailwheel is off the ground and the aircraft is accelerating in the “two point attitude.” About three seconds into this scene you’ll see an abrupt “puff” of something, probably dust, erupt beneath the aircraft and quickly dissipate in the wash of the propellers. Analysis of the film shows that the puff is not aligned with either the wheels or the props but appears to be aligned with the center line of the fuselage. This could be the dragging antenna mast snagging on a hummock and tearing the wire free. One anecdotal account, related years later, alleges that a length of antenna wire was found on the runway at Lae following Earhart’s departure.
To view in 28.8K RealVideo format, click here.
A higher resolution and framerate version of the video is available. This version is too large to stream (891 K), so we have provided it here as a download-only link. Right-click the link (on the PC) or hold down the mouse button on the link (on the Mac) and choose “Save target as...” (Internet Explorer) or “Save this link as...” (Netscape).
Once you have successfully downloaded the file (and uncompressed it if necessary), start RealPlayer and choose File, Open File, then navigate to the folder containing the video file and select the file amelia_3.rm and click Open.
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