Finding Amelia
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odropn July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere in the Central Pacific during an attempted flight around the world. Finding Amelia has been an American obsession ever since.
     At the time of her disappearance, Earhart was the world’s most famous female aviator and one of the most admired women in America. Accompanying her on the flight was Fred Noonan, a celebrity navigator in his own right. When the two flyers failed to arrive at their mid-Pacific refueling stop on Howland Island, the U.S. government launched what the press called “The greatest rescue expedition in flying history.” Expectations were high that the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard would rescue the missing flyers, and for more than two weeks, newspapers and newsreels led the public on a roller-coaster ride of promising leads and rushing disappointments. The ships and planes returned empty-handed, but the search for Amelia Earhart was not over. Indeed, it had just begun. Over the ensuing decades, researchers and enthusiasts have struggled to establish the validity of competing answers to the riddle of the flight’s fate. Millions of dollars have been spent combing tropical islands and scouring the depths of the ocean. Hundreds of books, articles, and documentaries offer a dizzying array of solutions to the mystery, and Amelia remains America’s favorite missing person.
     What has been missing, among all the hype and the hoopla, has been the history. Not since George Washington chopped down the cherry tree has the story of an American hero been so shot through with myth and legend. In any investigation, establishing the known is essential to asking productive questions about the unknown. The information commonly accepted to comprise the facts of the Earhart case has traditionally been drawn chiefly from Earhart’s own writings and from official government reports written after the search for her was abandoned. The stories those sources tell are necessarily colored by the motives and agendas of the people who wrote them.
     Most of the arrangements for Earhart’s two world flight attempts–the preparation of the aircraft, decisions regarding the route, the extent and nature of the U.S. government’s involvement–were made via correspondence. Nearly all of those documents survive, as do the logs of the ships and the official records of the radio communications that directed the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard search. All told, these sources amount to more than five thousand individual items, each representing an undeniably genuine piece of the Earhart story. Some of the pieces are well known and have been used selectively in the past to support various theories, but the entire picture, scattered and dispersed among dozens of archival files and private collections, has been as indecipherable as a dropped box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Once collected, compiled, and assembled, however, these items provide a day-by-day, and in some cases minute-by-minute, record of what really happened. With the historical record in hand, information replaces interpretation, documentation dispels speculation, and the mists of legend are swept away to reveal a far more accurate and informative picture of what happened than has ever before been available.
     Finding Amelia means finding the real Amelia behind the public persona and understanding the events that led to an empty sky over Howland Island. Finding Amelia means sailing with the searchers, feeling their frustrations, and observing their failures. Ultimately, finding Amelia means realizing that there was always more confusion than there was mystery.

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