On Friday, March 15, Ric Gillespie, president of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, thanked Brown for the details she copied while listening to that call for help in July 1937, giving her a plaque and letters from Earhart enthusiasts.
“Your notebook reads like the transcript of a modern-day 911 call,” Gillespie told Brown during a visit at the home of her granddaughter in west Patterson on Friday.
Brown, 90, of Turlock, was 15 and living in St. Petersburg, Fla., when she says she stumbled upon a woman’s voice crying for help on the radio.
She wrote what she heard in a composition book, including aviation coordinates, cries for help and the repeated announcement, “This is Amelia Earhart.”
Several people have reported hearing Earhart’s voice on the radio that day, and some said they took notes, but Brown was the only one who saved a transcript, Gillespie said.
Earhart, who became a worldwide celebrity as the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane in 1932 and the first pilot to fly solo from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii, was slated to fly from New Guinea to Howland Island on July 2, 1937, as part of a circumnavigation of the globe when her plane disappeared.
Gillespie believes Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, failed to find Howland Island and landed instead on a reef at low tide on uninhabited Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, in the Phoenix Islands, north of the Samoan Islands.
TIGHAR researchers have made several trips to Nikumaroro since 2001, including a visit in July during which they sought to recover Earhart’s plane off the island’s coast.
While they did not find the Lockheed Electra she was flying, reserchers have identified several items near an old campsite, such as animal bones, an American-made zipper and makeup dating to the 1930s.
In 1940, a British colonial service officer found a partial skeleton of a castaway on the island that was later determined to belong to a female of Northern European descent, but the bones were misidentified and lost after being shipped to Fiji, according to Gillespie.
“What we haven’t found yet is something with her name on it, like a watch with an engraving,” he said.
Still, he is confident the plane landed on the island based on the evidence, and he readily dismisses theories about Earhart drowning at sea or being captured by the Japanese in the Marshall Islands.
TIGHAR had equipment problems during the July trip, and the group plans to return to the island next year.
Brown has taken an active interest in the group’s research since Gillespie interviewed her about her composition book in 2000.
Friends of Brown’s son notified TIGHAR about the notebook. She had kept mostly quiet about it, as no one pursued her lead after her father reported it to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We took photocopies and we decided to talk to this crazy old lady to see if there was anything to it,” Gillespie quipped regarding the notebook.
Brown chimed in: “And there was!”
Her story has since been featured in documentaries about Earhart’s disappearance that were released by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel in 2007 and 2010. In addition, Gillespie devoted a few pages of his 2006 book, “Finding Amelia,” to Brown’s composition book.
Gillespie and Brown talk on the phone on a regular basis, but the visit last week was the first time Gillespie and his wife, TIGHAR president Pat Thrasher, had visited Brown in Patterson.
Brown, a native of Idaho, lived in Las Palmas Mobile Estates in Patterson for several years after moving from Illinois to be closer to her daughter, Patterson resident Dona Harper. She moved to Turlock about two years ago.
Though Brown this week recalled seeing Earhart in person as a young teenager, she said she did not take an active interest in the female aviator until the day in July 1937.
Brown went on to get her pilot’s license and said she was haunted for several years by the words spoken by Earhart and Noonan that day.
“She can still hear Amelia’s voice, and she hears the sound of her voice,” Harper said this week.
Brown enjoyed her time with Gillespie, Thrasher and her family members on Friday, watching documentaries at her granddaughter’s house on the work TIGHAR has done.
“I’m very happy — very proud,” she said.
Copies of Brown’s notebook can be found at http://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Documents/Notebook/notebook.html
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.