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Make It So

by LaVerne Zocco

I’m sitting here alone tonight wishing I had pen and paper. I wish I could leave something behind to settle the mystery, but I have no pen or paper, for all was lost when the plane slipped off the reef with my navigator, and all we had with us was lost.

It was not supposed to end like this. By now I would have been on Howland Island, finishing dinner and being honored on the deck of the Itasca, which was supposed to guide me to the landing strip. Instead, I am sitting here with a broken ankle, looking up into a hot July night with no food or water now for what I think has been four days and nights.

I have no water or food; the end will come silently. The thing I most wanted to write was that my flight was decidedly not a publicity stunt. Oh, my captain on the Itasca, let it be known that you thought it was all a publicity stunt, for you thought that women should not be pilots, and you were angry that they chose your Coast Guard boat to come to Howland Island to direct me to the runway.

The tears are coming now, for I think I should have made it. Our fuel was getting low, it’s true, but we would have had enough, if only we had spotted the island. It was a misty morning when we flew into its coordinates and I should have spotted it, but at the critical moment the rising sun reflected into my eyes and I couldn’t see what was down there. Wherever it was, I missed it.

But that is not the most confusing information I have been able to gather. When we continued due south and came in for a landing on the reef that surrounds Gardner Island — just a hop and jump from Howland — I had a chance to get out of the plane and look it over. I found that our radio receiver had been smashed on take-off from Lae, in New Guinea. We had been doomed from that moment on.

We — my navigator and I — did not know it had been broken. And all the while we had been trying to pick up messages from the Itasca but could hear nothing. That is why my homing device did not work. Without those two instruments, we were doomed.

Nor did the Itasca have its receiver set to the right channel to hear me. I gave instructions when we were about to take off from Lae, but for some strange reason, they were not followed. Instead the few words we could receive were sent on the wrong channel. And they were sent in Morse code, which neither I nor my navigator could understand.

My poor navigator: he picked out Gardner Island because of the reef. And we did land on the reef, but he was dealt a fatal blow to the head. He lay on the cabin floor unable to stand and get out of the plane. When the plane slipped from the reef, I had swum to the island and watched in horror as he went down in a churning swirl of death.

Now, I am sitting here in the middle of Gardner Island, knowing that my last hope for rescue has passed me by. There is no way in heaven I can even limp along on my ankle; it is busted in quite a few places. I cannot stand out on the beach and wave to planes I know have been searching for me.

I knew from the captain’s thinking that he would have heard me miss Howland and that he would start a rescue mission. But he thought I had ditched to the north of him and it was there he concentrated the search. If he had thought that our direction from Lae was due south and we were positioned on that path, he might have figured out that we were continuing on our course. And he might have figured out that we would be heading for an island that had a reef where we could land. But he didn’t, and I don’t know why he didn’t.

And so I sent and sent and sent messages that were not picked up by the Itasca. No, other radio hams in the world might have picked up my messages, but I can never be sure of that. I sent until the radio died, and then I had to give up.

I say it is night four but I won’t be able to keep count anymore. I am getting confused and hallucinating from lack of water and food. By the time this is over I won’t know how many days will have passed while I’ve cried and slept.

But I have remembered my husband, George. We had a code between us that I was to use if I got into trouble. I was to tell him that a suitcase in our New York apartment contains many papers of importance and that he should destroy them. I sent that message as many times as I could. I’ll never know if he got it.

And now, I have one more chance for rescue. The United States government is sending out a Navy carrier with planes on board to do a wide-area search. I will sit here and wait until the planes fly over. Maybe one will land; or maybe not, since my plane is at the bottom of the sea.

I think it will take a lot longer than four days for that carrier to get into place. By then, even in just a few more days, I will be gone, and nothing left of me, for there are many birds here and I have to fall asleep sometime...

I awakened this morning to a plane flying over the island. I cannot get up to go to the beach to wave at it but perhaps it will land. Surely, the crew will land and look around, for they will see my wreckage from the sky. I sit here praying as I have never prayed before.

The plane circled the Island for ten minutes. It did not land. Just ten minutes spent looking, and now it’s gone. And all hope with it.

What then can I say to the world? I will never be found. My body will be destroyed by the birds and my bones will be scattered helter-skelter. My beautiful Electra airplane is at the bottom of the sea with my navigator. There is nothing else I can say. Thus ends my flight around the world.

This is Amelia Earhart signing off. I leave behind one of the most puzzling riddles of the ages. For that I will be remembered. I can’t see how it will be solved, unless someone finds my skull or retrieves the plane. Oh Lord, make it so.

Author’s note: At this writing, an expedition is searching for a human skull on Gardner Island, and a shape in the nearby sea looks like an airplane.

Make it so...

Copyright © 2013 by LaVerne Zocco

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