While most people have heard of Amelia Earhart, there was another aviatrix who was just as well-known back in her day. Amy Johnson died in a mysterious crash that has many fascinated due to the unknown circumstances surrounding her death.
Today marks the anniversary of Johnson’s flight from London to Cape Town, which was 84 years ago.
It is believed that Johnson was born in Kingston Upon Hull in England on July 1, 1903. Newspaper reports during her lifetime make it seem like she was younger; a May 26, 1930 story said she was 23 – which means she would have been born in 1906. Her obituary on January 6, 1941 said she was 32, which means she would have been born in 1908.
She first became famous when she made a solo flight from England to Australia during May, 1930.
“A golden-haired English girl of 23 dropped out of sky (in Darwin, Australia) this afternoon, completing an achievement unprecedented in aviation history,” said a story in the May 24, 1930 Vancouver Daily Province. “Amy Johnson — she prefers to be known as ‘Johnnie’ — had flown alone in her tiny Moth plane, flown all the way from England to Australia, a distance of 9 900 miles, boldly facing a thousand perils and winning out in the face of seemingly unbeatable obstacles.”
Johnson obtained her pilot’s license from the London Aeroplane Club in 1929, and had been flying for just two years when she made the decision to fly halfway across the world.
The flight was demanding, and she had to land in the desert near Baghdad when she flew into a sandstorm. She was also frightened when she landed in Timo and was greeted by men emerging from huts with knives, swords and spears.
Upon her return to England, she found herself becoming a celebrity and married a fellow aviator named Jim Mollison, who was the first person to fly solo non-stop from England to North America in 1932. Johnson and her husband became known as “the Flying Mollisons”.
On July 22, 1933 the couple made the decision to team up on a daring flight from Pendine Sands, Wales, to New York. When they landed in New York, they planned to rest for a day before turning around to fly to Baghdad, then back to London.
On the way, their plane crashed near Bridgeport, Connecticut, leaving them both slightly injured.
After their recovery, they achieved a record flight from Britain to India.
In May 1936, Johnson set her last record when she flew a roundtrip from London to Cape Town and back in seven days, 23 hours and 46 minutes. On 18 November 1936, she arrived in Cape Town on another solo flight, beating her own previous record by over ten hours.
During the Second World War, Johnson became a first officer for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which was intended to transport aircraft around the country. In 1940, on flight to Oxford for the ATA, Johnson was caught in a bad storm and after steering off course, escaped from the aircraft and landed in the Thames Estuary.
She drowned as a result of a failed rescue attempt and her body was never recovered. The events leading to Johnson’s death are still a mystery.
Picture/s: SA History