18. The Noonan was drunk myth
The myth arose in the 1960s that Fred Noonan, Earhart’s navigator, drank heavily before and during the long flight to Howland Island, leading the pair to become lost. Noonan was a heavy drinker, of that there is no dispute. In the context of the time his drinking habits, well-known among his peers, were not out of line. The book The Search for Amelia Earhart contributed significantly to the belief in Noonan’s addiction to alcohol as a contributory factor in the loss of the Electra. Author Fred Goerner presented Noonan as a drunk who caused the aircraft’s drift off course. Truth be told, there existed at the time of the book’s writing no evidence to support the allegation.
Noonan contributed significantly to the advance of commercial aviation. In many ways, his contributions were more important than Earhart’s, including the mapping of commercial routes throughout the Pacific Ocean. According to Goerner, Pan Am fired the navigator because of his drinking problem, another accusation unsupported by evidence, and refuted by other writers. Noonan left Pan Am because there existed no advancement opportunities. He had reached the pinnacle with the airline, and left in his early forties to explore other career opportunities, including the school he hoped to establish to train aviation navigators.