Plane Stowaway Info Curbed Fearing Copycats
Is this Amelia Earhart's lost plane, the Electra?
A grainy sonar image captured off an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati might represent the remains of the famous aviator's plane, according to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating Earhart's last, fateful flight.
Earhart was piloting the Electra, a two-engine plane, in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator, when she vanished on July 2, 1937.
The researchers had already identified a small debris field of objects at a depth of 200 feet in the waters of Nikumaroro island, some 300 miles southeast of Earhart's target destination, Howland Island.
The site features objects that appear consistent with analysis made by TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman of a grainy 1937 photograph of Nikumaroro's western shoreline by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington.
TIGHAR postulates that flood tides lifted the Electra and carried it over the reef edge, leaving behind the landing gear, which was inadvertently photographed by Officer Bevington three months later in October 1937.
A new twist in the search occurred last March when Richard Conroy, a member of TIGHAR's online Amelia Earhart Search Forum, spotted an anomaly in a sonar map posted online.
The story of a California teenager who flew to Hawaii stowed away in an airplane wheel well last weekend made international news. Much has been learned about the boy’s home life and motivations, but there are two groups of officials who have been conspicuously silent about the situation: the aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Part of the reason is that the case is still being investigated, but a much more important reason is less obvious: Fear of copycats.
Copycat crimes are rare but real; sometimes people become inspired to do things they see on television or in films. In a story about the incident The New York Times noted that “Boeing opted not to discuss the incident; a spokesman said the company did not want to ‘provide any information that might encourage such extremely dangerous and illegal activity.’”
Presumably any information about how a person could climb into the wheel well of a Boeing 767 and survive the journey relatively unscathed might be useful to other people planning just such an attempt. The news media, understandably, highlighted how lucky the teen was to have survived, noting that of 105 people who have tried to stow away, 80 of them died from the cold and lack of oxygen.
According to the FBI the boy could not remember any details of his journey due to losing consciousness. This claim of retroactive amnesia may be true, but even if it’s not, it’s a helpful fiction for law enforcement officials who know that a detailed, dramatic first-person survival story like his would intrigue the public if published.
Another crime which officials have decided to keep quiet about is swatting — calling in hoaxed reports of armed robberies and hostage standoffs, leading to armed SWAT teams surrounding the homes of unsuspecting victims. While most victims are not high-profile, a rash of celebrities have been targeted, including Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand.
The concern over copycats was so serious that, according to the Los Angeles Times, the LA Police Department last year decided that it would ”take the unusual step of no longer issuing press releases or immediately confirming instances of celebrity ‘swatting,’ saying intense media coverage seems to be fueling more incidents.”
The Times reported:
Cmdr. Andrew Smith, who oversees the LAPD Media Relations Section, said the procedural change was necessary because of concerns about the privacy of the victims as well as the belief that publicizing such incidents was emboldening copycats. “It’s our belief that the perpetrators of these false police reports are motivated entirely by the publicity these calls receive,’ Smith said. ‘We intend to reduce or eliminate that motivation.’”
While official refusal to discuss details of events like these may seem like overreaction, there is legitimate reason for caution. Many things can inspire copycats, from high-profile suicides to crop circles to fictional crimes seen in films. No one knows exactly what triggers a person to mimic another’s actions, but for many in law enforcement, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons