1937 - Amelia Earhardt
Last Stop Before Her Disappearance Over The Pacific On July 2nd
Lae, Papua New Guinea
Lae, New Guinea, June the 30th. After a flight of 7 hours and 43 minutes from Port Darwin, Australia, against head winds as usual, my Electra now rests on the shores of the Pacific. Beyond the Gulf of Huon the waters stretch into the distance. Somewhere beyond the horizon lies California. So far 22,000 miles have been covered. There are 7,000 more to go.
From Darwin we held a little north of east, cutting across the Wellington Hills on the northern coast of Arnhem Land, which is the topmost region of Australia's Northern Territory. The distance to Lae was about 1,200 miles. Perhaps two-thirds of it was over water, the Arafura Sea, Torres Strait, and the Gulf of Papua.
Midway to New Guinea the sea is spotted with freakish islands, stony fingers pointing towards the sky sometimes for hundreds of feet. We had been told the clouds often hang low over this region, and it was better to climb above its hazardous minarets than to run the risks of dodging them should we lay our course close to the surface.
Then, too, a high mountain range stretches the length of New Guinea from north-west to south-east. Port Moresby was on the nearer side, but it was necessary to clamber over the divide to reach Lae, situated on the low land of the western shore.
As the journey progressed we gradually increased our altitude to more than 11,000 feet to surmount the lower clouds encountered. Even at that above us towered cumulus turrets, mushrooming miraculously and cast into endless designs by the lights and shadows of the lowering sun. It was a fairy-story sky country, peopled with grotesque cloud creatures who eyed us with ancient wisdom as we threaded our way through its shining white valleys. But the mountains of cloud were only dank grey mist when we barged into them; that was healthier than playing hide-and-seek with unknown mountains of terra firma below. Finally, when dead reckoning indicated we had travelled far enough, we let down gingerly. The thinning clouds obligingly withdrew, and we found ourselves where we should be, on the western flanks of the range with the coastline soon below us. Working along it, we found Lae and sat down. We were thankful we had been able to make our way successfully over those remote regions of sea and jungle - strangers in a strange land.
Lae is situated in a corner of a great gulf by a winding river. It is the headquarters for the Guinea Airways Company, which has made an outstanding record for flying passengers and mining equipment into the inaccessible goldfields. Tons upon tons of the heaviest machinery used in the operations have been transported by their planes. In fact, no other means exists, and probably without aviation much of the gold would have remained indefinitely in "them thar hills."
Considering the extraordinarily difficult terrain, I think the pilots here have done as notable work as any in the world. The landing-field at Lae is one long strip cut out of the jungle, ending abruptly on a cliff at the water's edge. It is 3,000 feet long, and firm under all conditions. There are hangars, but a number of planes have to be hitched outside. I noticed all these were metal ones. In regular service here is another Electra, sister to my own.
We stayed at a hotel, a recent addition to a community which itself did not exist a dozen years ago. I am told that about 1,000 Europeans live along the gulf. How many natives I do not know.
No inland villages are visible from the air. I should think it would be impossible to find one in the dense growth.
Most noticeable along the shores are villages built out in the shallow waters: oblong, thatched-roof edifices perched precariously on stilts of piling driven into the mud. In the amphibian settlements groups of two or three of the cigar-like huts nestle together, sharing a common platform in front. Most noticeable on landing were native men with peroxide-bleached hair, the suntan effect on their heads being striking to a degree. Perhaps the native women also bleach, but of them I saw little. Men alone seem to be engaged in labour inside and outside their homes.
Every one has been as helpful and co-operative as possible - food, hot baths, mechanical service, radio and weather reports, advice from Veteran pilots here - all combine to make us wish we could stay.
However, tomorrow we should be rolling down the runway, bound for points east. Whether everything to be done can be done within this time remains to be seen. If not, we cannot be home by the Fourth of July as we had hoped, even though we are one day up on the calendar of California.
It is Wednesday here, but Tuesday there. On this next hop we cross the South Meridian, the international dateline when clocks turn back twenty-four hours.
July the 1st. "Denmark's a prison," and Lae, attractive and unusual as it is, appears to two flyers just as confining, as the Electra is poised for our longest hop, the 2,556 miles to Howland Island, in mid-Pacific. The monoplane is weighted with petrol and oil to capacity. However, a wind blowing the wrong way and threatening clouds conspired to keep her on the ground today.
In addition, Fred Noonan [navigator] has been unable, because of radio difficulties, to set his chronometers. Any lack of knowledge of their fastness and slowness would defeat the accuracy of celestial navigation. Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available.
Fred and I have worked very hard in the last two days repacking the plane and eliminating everything inessential. We have even discarded as much personal property as we can decently get along without, and henceforth propose to travel lighter than ever before. All Fred has is a small tin case which he picked up in Africa. I notice it still rattles, so it cannot be packed very full.
Despite our restlessness and disappointment in not getting off this morning, we still retained enough enthusiasm to do some tame exploring of the near-by country.
We commandeered a lorry from the manager of the hotel, and with Fred at the wheel, because the native driver was ill with fever, we set out along an unmade road. We forded a sparkling little river, which after a heavy rain, so common in the tropics, can become a veritable torrent, and drove through a lane of grass taller than the lorry. We turned into a beautiful coconut grove before a village entrance. The natives grow the coconuts mostly for their own use, and few are exported from here for the commercial markets.
The village was built more or less round a central open plaza. All huts were on stilts, and underneath the dogs and pigs hold forth. We were told that the natives train pigs as 'watchdogs.' Fred said he would hate to come home late at night and admit to being bitten by a pig!
Some of the huts had carvings round them under the eaves, grotesque coloured animals and crocodiles being the most numerous. They reminded me of the work encountered in some parts of Africa.
In the village were several native women, almost the first I had seen, as women here are very much out of evidence. One was bending over a small black cooking vessel from which protruded two enormous cabbages. I also noticed a number of familiar-looking vegetables, which are grown hereabouts, but much of the food used is imported.
My only purchase at Lae besides petrol has been a dictionary of pidgin English for two Shillings. It was well worth the price to discover that all native women are called Mary. I had some difficulty in understanding why 'to sew' should be 'sew-im-up.'
The natives have their own names for everything. For instance, aeroplanes are called 'balus,' or 'bids.' Small planes merit only 'bai nutung,' or ' insects.' My plane has acquired special distinction over other metal ones here, which have corrugated surfaces. The Lockheed is smooth, and to the native resembles tins in which certain biscuits are shipped from England. Therefore it is known as the ' biscuit box.'
New Guinea is a country subject to earthquakes, and I was told that a quake only a year ago shifted a considerable area of shore into the bay, forming the present tiny harbour. They told us that much of the land is really only silt, held together by tangled undergrowth. Along the rivers pieces of 'land' sometimes break off and, as islands, float hundreds of miles to sea before disintegrating. Now and then animals are trapped on them.
Then, of course, there is the ever-present jungle to lure one into exploring. I remember the tales told me by Osa and Martin Johnson of their early adventures in New Guinea. That, I think, was their first expedition together, when the hinterlands of the island were full of mystery, not to mention head-hunters, pigmies, and practising cannibals. Like desert or sea, wild jungle has a strange fascination. I wish we could stay here peacefully for a time and see something of this strange land.
Not much more than a month ago I was on the other shore of the Pacific, looking westward. This evening I looked eastward over the Pacific. In those fast-moving days which have intervened the whole width of the world has passed behind us - except this broad ocean. I shall be glad when we have the hazards of its navigation behind us.
Arranged by G. P. Putnam