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   Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday 21st October, 2002

AMY JOHNSON

Amy Johnson statue in Hull city centre

Amy Johnsonís daredevil flying exploits made her an icon of her age.

But her glamorous life and career tragically ended in a mysterious plane crash in 1941.

Sixty years on, Inside Out lays bare the elaborate rumours surrounding her death.

Here we examine the most likely scenario of what really happened to a homegrown heroine.

Tragic journey

Amy Johnson flew into the spotlight when she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930.

On January 5 1941, Amy Johnson took off alone in thick, freezing fog from Blackpool airport.

She was delivering a plane to Kidlington airbase in Oxfordshire - a simple, 90 minute flight.

Amy's life
1929
Johnson receives her pilot's 'A' license in July 1929. She became the first woman in England to be granted an Air Ministry's ground-engineer license in December 1929.
1930
Became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Johnson touched down in Darwin on May 24 1930. Her 8,600 mile flight took 19.5 days in her aircraft named Jason. According to reports, she had previously had only 75 hours of flying time experience. The Daily Mail awarded her £10,000 - a record paid for a feat of daring. Johnson was awarded the C.B.E. From King George.
1931
Johnson married fellow British Aviator James Mollison They later divorced. She became the first pilot to fly from London to Moscow in one day. Flying in Jason II, Johnson made the 1,760 mile journey in 21 hours.
1932
Broke the record speed for the London to Cape Town flight by 11 hours. The record was set earlier by her husband.
1933
Johnson and Mollison flew across the Atlantic together but crashed on landing at Bridgeport, Connecticut. Both suffered minor injuries.
1936
Regained the London to Cape Town record which she set in 1932. This had been surpassed by Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose. This was her last long distance flight.
1940
Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary to help the wartime effort. According to the Royal Air Force History website, she received a then huge salary of £6 per week.
1941
Fatally crashed whilst on a routine RAF mission delivering an Airspeed Oxford aeroplane on January 5 1941. Her aircraft plummeted into the Thames Estuary. Her body was never found.

Four and a half inexplicable hours later, Amyís plane ditched in the Thames estuary - 100 miles off course.

A dramatic rescue attempt followed, as the HMS Haslemere set out to rescue survivors. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

Rumours

Much hearsay surrounds the crash ..

Some say Amy was involved in the seedy unofficial business of flying a spy out of the country. Rumour has it that this could be a German lover.

Some reckon Amy was shot down by British anti-aircraft guns. Others have claimed that German planes could have taken her down.

Others said the crash was an elaborate plan to fake her own death.

None of the above rumours have ever been proved.

It is largely accepted that the crash itself occurred due to bad weather and risky judgment.

Key witness

For the first time in 60 years, a key witness tells his story to Inside Out.

Derek Roberts, a clerk in the RAF flight office on the Thames, claims "A parachutist had come down in the water."

His friend, Cpl Bill Hall (RAF) was on board the HMS Haslemere.

When Amy Johnson's plane ditched in the Thames on Jan 5 1941, the crew of the HMS Haslemere spotted her parachute coming down and set out to rescue her.

Cpl Bill Hall then returned and submitted a report about what he had seen and heard during the attempted rescue.

Derek typed that report up, and listened as Cpl Hall told his story.

Derek's story

Derek told Inside Out,

"He came in to report what had happened, and I took down what he said."

"I typed the report and he approved it, and I put it to the flight commander."

"He came in with the crew that were landing and he was a bit shaken."

"He said that while he was on deck, a parachutist had come down in the water and had drifted near the Haslemere."

"She called out that she was Amy Johnson, that the water was bitterly cold, and could they get her out as soon as possible."

"They threw her a rope, but she couldn't get hold of it."

"Then someone dashed up to the bridge and reversed the ship's engines, as a result of which, she was drawn into the propellor and chopped to pieces."

"Later on in life he used to say to his neighbours that there had been an official cover-up over Amy's death. That for some reason it had all been kept quiet."

The crew of the HMS Haslemere claimed they saw two bodies floating in the Thames estuary - even though Amy had set off alone.

Amy Johnson's flight bag
Was this bag Amy's secret companion?

The existence of a second person was never established, fuelling the spy rumours.

Author of a soon-to-be published biography of Amy Johnson, Midge Gillies, believes the mysterious Mr X is easy to explain.

"Amyís pigskin bag, fished out of the Thames after she crashed could be Mr X."

"In fog and sleet it would have been easy to mistake the bag for a head and shoulders floating in the water."

Hero

The Halsemere's Captain, Lieutenant Commander Fletcher dived into the icy waters during the rescue.

He was brought out the water unconscious and died later of hypothermia without ever telling of what or who he saw.

Without his account and a lack of further witnesses, it is likely that exact details of Amy Johnson's death will remain an eternal mystery.

Despite the questions surrounding her death, Amy remains an inspiration to many woman.

Her legacy lives on in Hull where her statue still stands proud in the city centre

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Women in aviation
Science Museum
RAF history
Sewerby Hall Museum

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