Women pilots attending a two-day conference in Tyler heard a theory on the disappearance of famed American aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
A member of an expedition to find clues of Earhart’s disappearance spoke about the expedition and gave her theory during a seminar, one of many activities of the conference Friday-Saturday of The Ninety-Nines Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots.
There are many theories, some recounted by another conference attendee in an interview, and no one knows for sure what happened to the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Earhart and her plane disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific Ocean while she was attempting to be the first person to fly around the world at its longest point, which is the equator.
Earhart was the first president of the Ninety-Nines organized in 1929 with 99 founding members of the 117 women pilots in those days.
Now there are estimated 5,000 women pilots internationally. The Texas Dogwood Chapter covering East Texas hosted the conference of the South Central Section of the Ninety-Nines composed of eight states: Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
About 60 to 65 women pilots attended the conference aimed at keeping them up-to-date on flying rules and regulations, Camille Patterson, a former chapter chairman, said. The conference included a business meeting and fun activities such as a dance, barbecue, hayrides and entertainment.
Jerry Anne Jurenka of Longview, vice governor for the South Central Section, made a power points presentation during a seminar about a 1999 expedition she went on and helped sponsor in search of Earhart’s plane.
A pilot since 1984, Ms. Jurenka was the only woman on a 12-member working team from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery that tried to solve the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance.
The team went to the Nikumaroro island in the South Pacific about 281 miles south of the equator, Ms. Jurenka said, noting that authorities lost touch with Earhart while she was flying from Lae New Guinea to Hawaii because she had a faulty antenna.
“We hacked our way through the jungle (and) thick brush called scaveola with machetes looking for clues on the ground,” Ms. Jurenka said. “We didn’t find anything conclusive when I was there.”
She added, “We were looking for any kind of clues because through the years (others) have found a lot of clues. They have found remnants of make-up, like a compact and rouge. Since then (searchers) have found campsites. They know that someone was stranded there and someone survived there for awhile.”
Ms. Jurenka said she feels Amelia Earhart was on the island. “I could feel her spirit there,” she said.
There have been other expeditions through the years and last year a ship with side scan sonar took pictures of a reef near the island where it is believed Earhart landed and her plane was eventually pulled over the side down into the ocean, Ms. Jurenka said.
“They found some really big clues … Now they are going to have to put together another expedition to go back and check these things out,” she said.
Kay Alley, secretary of the South Central Section and who worked as a ferry pilot for 20 years delivering new planes across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Caribbean Sea to new owners, has another theory.
“My personal feeling after doing a lot of reading over many years is that she (Earhart) landed on Saipan (an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean). I’m not sure whether she landed on purpose or whether she was low on fuel and decided that she had to make a landing.”
Ms. Alley believes Earhart was held captive by the Japanese for several weeks or months, then was executed and buried on the island. When American forces occupied Saipan in 1945, Ms. Alley further believes Earhart’s body was dug up, put into a box supposedly sent to Washington, D.C., but that it mysteriously disappeared.
“My theory, and a lot of people agree with me, is that she was on a secret mission to spy on the Japanese and that she had a secret meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt (before leaving on her flight). He asked her to spy in the Pacific Ocean and see what she could see from her airplane as far as Japanese build-up, warships and construction,” Ms. Alley said.
But there are many other theories about what happened to Earhart, Ms. Alley noted.
“There’s a theory that she ran out of fuel and the plane landed on the water and eventually sunk and that she sunk with the airplane and is laying on the bottom of the ocean floor,” Ms. Alley said.
“Another theory is that she landed on another island called Jaluit in the middle of the Pacific, and that she was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and taken to Saipan.”