From This Story
America’s most famous woman pilot vanished on July 2, 1937, with navigator Fred Noonan, en route to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean during an around-the-world flight in a Lockheed Electra 10E. Want the details? See Amelia Earhart by Doris Rich, Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved by Elgen and Marie Long, East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler, or some of the other 50 books about or by Earhart; the 2009 movie starring Hilary Swank, the 1994 one with Diane Keaton, or the 1943 Rosalind Russell version. But in a nutshell: She’s still missing.
Charles Nungesser and François Coli
When this magazine last left our heroes—the two French pilots who got lost crossing the Atlantic in an attempt to win the $10,000 prize that Charles Lindbergh bagged 12 days later—their remains and their airplane were being sought in Maine’s inhospitable backcountry. That was in February 1987, when Air & Space sent a reporter along on a search for the aircraft, L’Oiseau Blanc—the White Bird.
Charles Nungesser and François Coli had left Paris for New York on the night of May 8, 1927. A woodsman near the Maine town of Machias reported hearing an airplane above the clouds on the afternoon of May 9, and his story circulated among the locals for years. Searches of the area in the 1980s turned up nothing, but launched The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (which later earned fame for claiming it had found a piece of Amelia Earhart’s shoe). Twenty expeditions and 23 years later, TIGHAR founder Ric Gillespie, citing testimony reported in a 1927 New York Times article, has moved his search from Maine to Newfoundland. The Times noted that New Yorkers were “ scanning the dripping skies and devouring eagerly false reports of [the aircraft’s] appearances along the Newfoundland and New England coasts.” Gillespie believes some of the reports weren’t false. “Several people along the [Newfoundland] coast went to the magistrate and swore what they saw on the morning of May 9 in affidavits,” he says. “The reports are 20 to 30 miles apart, and they line right up.” On Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, residents have told of an airplane crashing in one of the area’s many lakes. Gillespie has traveled several times to an area, dotted with ponds, that he could reach only by helicopter. On his next trip he hopes to search with LIDAR—light detection and ranging technology. He says, “I would rather find the White Bird than Amelia Earhart.”