Buoyed by the can-do attitude of Amelia Earhart and the hopes and dreams of thousands of schoolchildren worldwide, pilot Linda Finch touched down into the history books Wednesday morning when she landed her gleaming silver 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E at the Oakland Airport.
The 46-year-old Texas businesswoman is the first person to successfully replicate Earhart’s famed but ill-fated flight around the world using the same model aircraft.
Finch, along with navigator Peter Cousins, returned to a hero’s welcome after completing a 15-1/2 hour flight from Honolulu, the final leg of a journey that began in Oakland nearly three months ago.
Dressed in a crisp tan flight suit, Finch beamed as she hopped out of the cockpit, waving to hundreds of boisterous fans, many of them children who had followed her “World Flight 1997” on the Internet and at their schools.
The flight commemorates the 60th anniversary of Earhart’s doomed voyage, which ended mysteriously when her plane disappeared over Howland Island in the Pacific.
“Your good wishes were a constant inspiration, especially the students,” Finch told the crowd. “I saw your faces in the faces of children around the world and I assure you that the differences are less than the distances I’ve traveled.”
Of all the places she visited, Finch said, the most memorable was Calcutta, where she spent a morning at Mother Teresa’s home and an afternoon at a school.
“I was absolutely amazed,” she said. “It’s a place of extreme poverty, but a place where I saw more giving. People there truly make a difference and believe it is their responsibility to take care of each other.”
Following her landing, Finch received gifts from schoolchildren and words of praise in a short ceremony featuring Oakland Mayor Eliahu Harris and Karl Krapek, president of Pratt & Whitney, the Connecticut-based engine manufacturer that refurbished Finch’s plane and sponsored her journey.
Children and adults alike took time off from school or work to see the historic landing.
“We’re all playing hookey today,” said Harry Wallach, who escorted his 5-year-old daughter Hillary’s pre-school class from Diablo Valley Montessori School to see the event.
Lora Traveler, a teacher at John Muir Middle School in San Jose, brought nine students with her. “I think this is truly wonderful. Here is another woman who can be a hero for our youths,” she said.
Youngsters who only months ago might not have known that Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic have now written reports about the many records she set and the places she visited.