Friday, September 07, 2001

Yes, Dear

Wife's idea could lead to Amelia

        So, my wife has an idea how to find Amelia Earhart.

        Put the happy campers from Survivor on the long-cold trail. Everybody would win, she reasoned over breakfast.

        In response, I repeated the married man's mantra: Yes, Dear.

        Suitably encouraged, she explained how: CBS would pay for the search. Ratings would be astronomical for Survivor: Finding Amelia. The network would make money. One of history's great riddles would be solved.

        Satisfied, she put aside the article she had just finished reading in Tuesday's Enquirer. The story was about David Billings, an Australian aircraft engineer with a theory, a map and a plan. But no money.

        He believes the famed aviatrix's plane, which vanished in 1937 during her ill-fated attempt to circle the globe, crashed on a jungle-choked isle in the Pacific. His information came from members of a World War II Australian Army patrol. During combat in 1945 on the island of New Britain, they found overgrown wreckage of a civilian plane and marked the spot on a map.

        Most theories about the Earhart flight assume she crashed in the sea after running out of gas looking for her planned refueling stop on Howland Island. The Aussie engineer believes that as soon as she realized she could not find Howland, she started retracing her route.

        His theory is based on simple driver's logic. You're running low on fuel in the middle of nowhere. You remember whizzing by a gas station. So, back you go.

        Sounds reasonable. But so far, nobody's buying.

        “You want Rodger to go there and find Amelia Earhart?” asked a giggling Sherry Spillaine.

        She's the Los Angeles-based press agent of Rodger Bingham, Kentucky Joe of Survivor: The Australian Outback. The Crittenden, Ky., high school teacher didn't win the top prize, but he came away with the show's best nickname and enough requests for personal appearances that he put teaching on hold and hired Sherry to take all his calls.

        “Rodger's booked up for the next five days,” Sherry said. “Besides, you need someone to pay for the trip.”

        Still laughing, she added:

        “You're crazy.”

        Taking her advice — the monetary part, not the diagnosis — my next call went to Dorothy Cochrane, general aviation curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

        She receives “at least two calls a week” from people with hunches about Amelia Earhart's whereabouts.

        Some place her at the bottom of the Pacific. Some say she's living in New Jersey. Many want money to finance their search.

        She tells them: “We're funded by Congress.” That body is not in the habit of writing blank checks to the museum so someone can go to New Jersey — much less fly halfway around the world to hack at a jungle — in search of da plane, da plane.

        My wife's idea went over better with Dorothy. She didn't laugh.

        “At least those people would be doing something constructive,” she said.

        Instead of just swinging from vines, eating grubs and stabbing each other in the back for a million bucks, contestants of Survivor: Finding Amelia could do all that and solve a mystery, too.

        If they don't succeed, they could get lost.

        Just like Amelia Earhart.
       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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