Obscure historical mysteries: Amy Johnson

Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart, of course, and the long-running (if likely baseless) rumor that she was shot down by the Japanese. But everyone’s forgotten about Amy Johnson and the (to me, at least) more interesting circumstances surrounding her death.

Amy JohnsonAmy Johnson (1903-1941) rarely got the press in the US that Earhart did, most likely because she was English rather than American. But as her Wikipedia entry  demonstrates, she was a formidable flyer.

She started flying as a hobby, and a year after gaining her pilot’s license she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. A year later she and her co-pilot became the first pilots to fly from London to Moscow in one day. A year after that, in 1932, she married Jim Mollison, a famous Scottish pilot. That year she set a solo record for the flight from London to South Africa, breaking her husband’s record, and in 1934 she set a record for the British-India run.

In 1938 she divorced Mollison (on the grounds that he was a big fat whore, which was true), and in 1940 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose purpose was to ferry aircraft around the UK and whose pilots were those men too young or unhealthy for the RAF, and all the women pilots.

On Jan. 5, 1941, she was flying to Oxford when she went off course. Supposedly she ran out of fuel and bailed out into the Thames Estuary, drowning in the process. In 1999 it emerged that Johnson was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the HMS Haslemere because she failed to respond to a radio request for identification. Navy officers told the men involved never to admit it.

So that’s Amy Johnson’s life. But…well…as the Wikipedia entry hints at, there’s a little mystery behind Johnson’s death, and it has nothing to do with her being shot down. You see, her body was never recovered. And eyewitnesses saw a second person bail out of her plane, although there was no record of her taking off with anyone in the plane, and the body of the second person wasn’t recovered either.

So did Amy Johnson fake her death? Who was the second person? She surely knew the correct codes—why didn’t she give them? Why was her death (if it was her death) hushed up? And if she did fake her death, where did she go?

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