Amelia Earhart lives! At least she may have lived for nearly a week after crashing near the coral atoll of Gilbert Island on her world-famous 1937 flight, an attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world.
“Earhart made a relatively safe landing at Gardner Island and sent radio distress calls for six days,” Ric Gillespie reported in a video posted on his site, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).
As the fuel tanks were emptying, said Gillespie, her and navigator Fred Noonan spotted the wide reef of Gardner Island, which is dry at low tide. They carried out a rough but survivable landing. Earhart then used her radio to put distress cries out that Gillespie said were heard halfway around the world, from a ham radio operator in Florida, to a Texas housewife listening in on shortwave. No matter if the only paid members of TIGHAR are Gillespie and his wife, the tales of those lost at sea live on largely because of their mysteriousness, and the devotion of those who keep them alive. But not everyone is as well remembered as Earhart…
Owen Coffin – In August 1819, the Nantucket whaler Essex set sail for the Pacific Ocean to hunt sperm whales. But it appears the whales were also hunting them. In November 1820, in the middle of the Pacific, a sperm whale rammed the ship’s hull. The Essex sank, and the crew escaped in small whale boats, carrying supplies for only two months. When provisions ran out, they ate the bodies of the dead. When that food source ran out, the four remaining men drew straws. Coffin lost the brutal lottery, and the other three men proceeded to shoot and eat him. One has to wonder though, why they didn’t just throw out a line and catch some fish?
Princess Anne – Princess Anne of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, born in London in 1864, was born of royalty and married into even more. Her husband, Prince Ludwig of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, mysteriously disappeared a year after the marriage while fighting in the Philippines. As World War I broke out, Anne found a new love: airplanes. She befriended Captain Leslie Hamilton, a World War flying ace known as the Flying Gypsy, and was regularly a passenger in his plane. In 1927, the Flying Gypsy, accompanied by Princess Anne, attempted to set an aviation first by flying east to west over the Atlantic, from England to Canada. On the day of the flight the princess wore a purple leather jacket and matching knee-breeches with a black crush hat and black silk stockings. She stepped into Hamilton’s Fokker F.VII monoplane and was never seen again—the plane likely went down off the coast of Labrador.
Justus Miles Forman – The 39-year-old Yale-bred American novelist and playwright produced only one play, The Hyphen. It was about American immigrants during World War I and didn’t receive the success Forman had expected. Deciding the play would do better in London, the writer booked a first-class passage aboard the 787-foot luxury British ocean-liner, RMS Lusitania. Days before the voyage Forman received a mysterious phone call from a man with a thick German accent who warned him not to board the ship. On May 7, 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland. Forman’s body was never recovered.
Elbert Hubbard – Hubbard’s first business venture was selling soap, but he went on to become a prolific and opinionated writer. “I am an Anarchist,” he wrote in a publication titled A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things. “All good men are Anarchists…Jesus was an Anarchist.” He founded an arts community outside of Buffalo, New York and edited and published two magazines, The Philistine and The Fra. After World War I began, Hubbard yearned to go to Europe and interview the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, but his passport application was denied, apparently related to an earlier conviction for circulating “objectionable” material. Hubbard stormed into the White House and persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to issue him a pardon, which enabled him to get a passport. On May 1, 1915, Hubbard departed with his wife to Europe aboard the Lusitania. A survivor happened to have seen the couple on deck right after the torpedo attack.
“I moved to the other side of the ship, in preparation for a jump when the right moment came,” the survivor later wrote. “I called to [Hubbard], ‘What are you going to do?’ and he just shook his head, while Mrs. Hubbard smiled and said, ‘There does not seem to be anything to do.’” The couple perished together.
Matilda FitzRoy – Matilda was the illegitimate daughter of King Henry I of England. On the evening of November 25, 1120, she was to travel with her half-brother, William Adelin, who was heir to the King, and others from Normandy to England. According to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis, the crew asked William for wine, which he supplied to them in abundance. The ship, a swift newly-retrofitted sailing vessel called the White Ship departed in the dark and duly smashed into a rock. The vessel swiftly capsized. William got in a small boat to escape but heard a woman crying for help. It was Matilda. He went back to save her, but the tiny vessel became overloaded with people and sank, killing the only heir to the English throne. “And thus,” wrote Vitalis, “The unhappy youth met his death through excess of affection.”
And in the end that may be what has doomed many who died at sea. Whether it be writers like Hubbard and Forman, flinging themselves out into the world at a particularly dangerous time, or adventurers like Earhart and Princess Anne, trying to cross oceans in tiny planes. As for exactly how Amelia Earhart died, according to Ric Gillespie it happened like this:
“Earhart (and possibly Noonan) lived for a time as castaways on the waterless atoll, relying on rain squalls for drinking water. They caught and cooked small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams. Amelia died at a makeshift campsite on the island’s southeast end. Noonan’s fate is unknown.”