This blog post will have a different format. I will describe chronologically what made me a detective the last three months 🙂
It started with this article in the New Straits Times of 17 June: Historical aerodrome make Taiping what it is today, say experts, conservationists . In this article it says:
The Taiping Aerodrome became famous when aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart made a refuelling stop there on June 7, 1937, before continuing her journey to Singapore and New Guinea in her historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
I had heard about Amelia Earhart, that she disappeared during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, but I knew not much more than that. So I checked Wikipedia, it has a detailed article about her. Here is part of her 1937 flight route:
Of course I directly saw a problem. Refuelling in Taiping on 7 June? On 7 June she crossed the Atlantic! On 20 June she flew from Bangkok to Singapore. Could it be that on that day she made a refuelling stop in Taiping?
I am a member of the Taiping Heritage Society and asked them :
There was no response, and I left it at that.
Fast forward to 30 August, when a THS friend wrote: “Wow! There’s a mural being painted on a wall at the corner shop next to the Taiping hospital complete with her face and an aeroplane. 👏👏👏”
Another THS member sent me a picture of the, still unfinished, mural.
Of course my curiosity was raised again and I repeated my question, does anyone know where this claim comes from. This time there was more response 🙂 . A THS member wrote that there was a separate Wikipedia article about Tekah Airport. Here is a quote:
The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refuelling. Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya.
This solved part of the puzzle. It doesn’t say that Amelia LANDED at Tekah on 7 June, but that on 7 June she got PERMISSION TO LAND at Tekah . I will come back to this Wikipedia article later.
Next I used Google to find information about Amelia and Bangkok, Taiping and Singapore. Amelia Earhart & Taiping gave a few hits only, for example this one and this blog, but they basically just copied the info from the Wikipedia article about Tekah.
Earhart & Singapore gave more results. Especially this one: Kallang Airport put S’pore on global aviation map, visited by legendary pilot Amelia Earhart Here is an picture from this link:
Interesting detail: Kallang Airport in Singapore was opened on 12 June, one week earlier than Amelia’s arrival! I will come back to that later. The newspaper clippings show how famous she was.
My Google search for Amelia Earhart & Bangkok struck gold 🙂 . The website This Day in Aviation describes important dates in aviation history, and, not surprisingly, has many pages about Amelia Earhart.
Here is the page about her flight from Rangoon to Singapore: 20 June 1937 .
From Rangoon, yes! When you look at the route planning, shown above, you will see that there are TWO entries for 20 June. First from Rangoon to Bangkok, where she landed for refuelling, then from Bangkok to Singapore.
There were two other planes that day, from Rangoon to Singapore. She left Rangoon after the two others, all three stopped in Bangkok, but she arrived first at Singapore, BECAUSE WE CUT STRAIGHT AND DID NOT STOP ALONG THE WAY.
Here are her notes:
Though we did not sight them, there were two transport planes that day on the same route which we flew. The Imperial Airways machine left Rangoon first and the K.L.M. Douglas at daybreak. Our Wasp-motored Lockheed left fifteen minutes later. All stopped at Bangkok, then followed different courses to Singapore. We arrived there first, at 5:25 P.M. local time, because we cut straight and did not stop along the way.”
SO THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A STOP AT TEKAH AIRPORT!
When I communicated these findings with my TH friends, most of them were convinced, but some of them wondered if those notes where authentic.
Then a THS friend pointed out that a few months after Amelia’s disappearance a book was published by her husband (and manager) Palmer Putnam: Last Flight.
The book is out of stock, but fortunately it has been digitalised and is available as an Amazon e-book . I bought it, it is very interesting reading and of course I was especially interested in her route from Rangoon to Singapore. Here are scans of the relevant chapter.
I have color marked the passages which are of interest for this blog. Click to enlarge.
If you wonder how these notes have survived her disappearance, keep in mind that her whole trip was followed eagerly by public and press. Regularly she communicated her notes with Putnam and the press by telex, cable, telephone. Personally I am convinced that the notes are authentic.
What struck me, reading these pages, is that she mentions three times Alor Star. Why Alor Star and not Taiping?
“… on a course south toward Alor Star …” , “…. along the eastern coast of Malay and then across the peninsula to Alor Star….“, “We checked over Alor Star airport but did not stop….”
A few concluding remarks:
I think that much of the confusion has been caused by the Wikipedia article about Tekah Airport. I checked the history of that item and found that it has been created in 2007 by Wikipedia user Andrew Kidman. He also modified and edited it. In 2009 he added the history section, see the quote above. A few month later he stopped contributing. I have found no other mention of a permission to land on 7 June 1937 and think that it might be erroneous. I have contacted him via Wikipedia, but no reply until now.
Kallang airport was opened only a week before Amelia arrived. In “her” book it is described how much preparation was needed, months before she started. Could it be that her landing at Kallang was a last-minute decision?
Here are some recent pictures of the Amelia Earhart mural in Taiping.
The statement that Tekah airport was the first airport in South East Asia also comes from the Wikipedia article, and is incorrect, I think. Both Thailand (1914) and Indonesia (1924) were earlier.