Earhart legacy lifts hearts in Harbour Grace
By Mark Squibb/May 26, 2022
Dr. Don Wyatt was only a boy when he watched Amelia Earhart climb aboard her red Lockheed Vega 5B and take off from the Harbour Grace airstrip on May 20, 1932.
“I was very impressed with the fact that she was all business, getting ready for that flight,” said Wyatt. “There were only a few of us on the field at that time. So, it wasn’t a big public thing. Nevertheless, I’ve never forgotten.”
Ninety years later, Wyatt was ‘reunited’ with Earhart (played by Monet Hoyt) at the same airstrip, along with hundreds of others who came out to celebrate that same flight, the first solo crossing by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I wasn’t scheduled to depart Harbour Grace until early evening,” said Hoyt, playing the role of Earhart in a full aviator outfit. “So, I headed down to the Archibald Hotel, and Rose Archibald, bless her, prepared me a thermos of hot soup to take on the plane.”
Hoyt entertained audiences with a lively retelling of the famous flight, which, prior to Earhart’s successful voyage, had only been accomplished by Charles Lindbergh.
“You can imagine how excited I was, but I had flown across the Atlantic before — as a passenger,” said ‘Earhart.’ “And, I don’t mean to boast, but I had achieved a record height, for a woman, of 18,000 feet, and a record speed of 181 miles per hour — it was good at the time.”
‘Earhart’ recalled how only four hours into the flight, she ran into high winds, heavy rain, and lightning.
“My Lockheed is being tossed about, then the exhaust manifold breaks, a flame shoots out the vent, my altimeter breaks, and I have no idea how high I’m flying,” she said. “The plane begins to ice up, and I go into a spiral. So, I take the plane into a descent, and slowly, gradually, I begin to regain control, until eventually, I’m flying into the night, and eventually more peaceful weather, and soon, the welcome light of dawn. Thank God.”
After almost 15 hours of flight, Earhart landed, not in Paris as she had intended, but in a farmer’s field in Northern Ireland.
“I had done it!” exclaimed ‘Earhart,’ to cheers and applause.
Also in attendance were over 50 members of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of recreational and professional female pilots.
“Amelia Earhart paved the way for female aviators,” said Kim Winsor, governor of the Eastern Canada section of the Ninety-Nines. “The Town of Harbour Grace has done an outstanding job of recognizing her achievements and contribution to aviation.”
Appropriately enough, Amelia Earhart was elected as the organization’s first president way back in 1931, a position she held until 1933.
At Friday’s commemoration, members of the St. Francis School Choir sang songs, while overhead pilots did fly-overs, including Capt. Mary Cameron-Kelly of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). A few even landed on the historic airstrip, much to the delight of the perhaps 200 folks who had gathered for the celebration, which was posited as the kick off to the Town’s Come Home Year celebrations.
Later, the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace held a special, private ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new Aviation Room, an exhibit which celebrates the rich history of the airstrip. A public Open House was held on Sunday.
The Ninety-Nines presented a $1,400 cheque to the museum.
Earhart’s story, meanwhile, continues to inspire people across the globe. Born in July of 1897, Earhart was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, breaking societal barriers and aviation records with apparent grace and ease.
Tragically, Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937.
Earhart and Noonan were both declared dead in 1939, although the exact circumstances of their deaths remain a mystery.