Two Kentuckians have said they know first-hand what happened to Amelia Earhart — and their opinions are wildly different.
The mysterious disappearance of the American aviator is front and center once again this summer with a much talked-about History Channel documentary. There's new evidence related to the theory that she didn't die when she vanished over the Pacific Ocean 80 years ago.
One piece of the puzzle actually comes from an Ashland nurse.
In a first-person article for the Courier-Journal Magazine in January 1962 and recounted in a 1997 Courier-Journal article, Nina L. Paxton wrote that she heard Earhart's first SOS from the South Pacific about 24 hours after the plane was lost.
"She said they (Earhart and her navigator, Capt. Fred Noonan) had lost their course'' and ended up on a small island, Paxton wrote. "As I understood it, her plane had run out of gas.''
Paxton, an amateur short-wave-radio operator, insisted that Earhart's plane had gone down near Mill atoll, at an isolated point directly northeast of a part of the Marshall Islands.
"Amelia Earhart used her name in her SOS call, but did not repeat the call letters,'' Paxton said in the account. A mixup about the call letters fueled controversy over the authenticity of the calls that Paxton said she heard.
Many of the people who didn't believe Paxton said that if Earhart's calls were not heard on the West Coast, they certainly could not be heard anywhere else. But Paxton believed that Earhart, in desperation, had deliberately directed calls to the East Coast.
"She gave Eastern Standard Time while talking,'' Paxton wrote in the account. "They had crashed, evidently, near the water's edge, because (Earhart) said, 'The plane is drifting. The captain is with me, but unable to walk well due to injuries in landing yesterday.'''
Paxton said that she picked up many broken transmissions that she believed to have been from Earhart during the weeks that followed, and "heard her quite clearly'' on Aug. 19. "This time she gave the international distress call, 'Mayday! Mayday!' Her voice was distressed and sounded as though she were sobbing."
Paxton's efforts to convince authorities that she really did hear Earhart and that the lost flier had survived the crash were not successful. She died in 1970, according to the article, claiming until the end that she heard the mayday.
It's a mystery that has left Americans puzzled with little to no information for decades, but the rising theory in the History documentary is that she was captured and executed by the Empire of Japan. One photo from the National Archives holds a clue.
In this photo, historians say Earhart is pictured alive with navigator Fred Noonan, who also disappeared. Here's the photo:
In 1997, another Kentuckian, Dr. Franklin Price, then an 83-year-old retired professor, also told his story to the Courier-Journal about being a young sailor aboard an aircraft carrier. This was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a search by more than 60 military planes and nine Navy ships, including the one Price was aboard.
Price, who was also a former Navy jet-engine instructor, told the reporter, "We spent 28 days in the South Pacific looking for Amelia Earhart, or her plane, or anything that looked like it might be her plane. We had about 15 bi-wing planes - called Scouts - that would take off in the morning and search all day."
"It sounds like an awful big number, but it seems like they said that in those 28 days, making two flights a day, that they covered over 100,000 square miles looking for that plane. And they didn't even find an oil slick or anything.''
Price believes that Earhart's plane fell into the ocean and sank, and that Earhart and Noonan perished with it. And he has always suspected that there was more to the government's involvement than was ever told.