What Really Happened to This Female WWII Pilot? | by Ida Larsdotter | August 2022

Amy Johnson is presumed dead in 1941. There are still unanswered questions about what really happened to her.

Photograph of Amy Johnson and her plane ‘Jason’. C 1930, photographer unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

DDDuring World War II, British women were banned from serving as pilots in the military. Army officials believed it was immoral to put women in dangerous situations.

Although no British women served as fighter pilots, there were female pilots who contributed to the British war effort. They worked for an organization called the ATA. They are often overlooked, but the pilots working for the Air Transport Auxiliary did an important job.

The ATA was an organization that transported military aircraft between military bases on behalf of the Royal Air Force. RAF pilots focused on the war. They did not have time to cross Great Britain to have their planes repaired. The ATA did this on their behalf.

ATA pilots have never fought with the enemy. Their pilots simply flew planes around the UK. Working for the ATA was not as risky as working for the RAF. Therefore, the ATA hired women.

Amy Johnson was one of the female pilots who worked for the ATA during World War II. She was a skilled pilot with over a decade of experience. Johnson had set a number of records. Then, when the war broke out, she wanted to contribute.

Johnson was previously a commercial pilot, so she was not used to flying military aircraft. However, she quickly proves herself and is promoted to first officer of the ATA. She worked long hours to ensure Royal Air Force pilots could do their jobs.

On January 5, 1941, Johnson was flying solo from the north of England to the south. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when she took off that day. But somewhere in the south east of England, something happened. The plane crashed in the North Sea. Johnson, who had managed to jump from the plane with a parachute, was never seen again.

Officially, the accident would have been an accident. Poor weather conditions and the plane’s fuel starvation caused it to crash. And as for what happened to Amy, we think she drowned.

There are those who reject this narrative. Over the decades that followed, people who were there that day told shocking stories.

Photograph of Amy Johnson and her airplane ‘Jason’ in India, circa 1930. Photographer unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

Amy Johnson was first introduced to aviation as a hobby. She was working as a secretary in London when she started taking flying lessons. Soon Johnson was hooked. She obtained her pilot’s license in 1929 and quit her job as a secretary.

Less than a year after becoming a pilot, Amy Johnson gained global recognition when she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. She received a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (EPC) honored by King George V for her achievement.

Johnson had found what she was passionate about and she wouldn’t stop making history. In 1931, Johnson and his co-pilot Jack Humphreys flew from London to Moscow in less than 21 hours. They continued from Russia to Japan, breaking another time record.

Johnson’s life revolved around aviation. She flew around the world, often winning competitions in the process. Even his love life would involve stealing.

Photograph of Amy Johnson and her husband Jim Mollison, circa 1937. Photographer unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

Johnson met Scottish pilot Jim Mollison in 1932. They traveled a long distance together and got along very well. Mollison was very taken with the beautiful and intelligent Amy. He proposed to her eight hours after they first met. They got married the same year.

Johnson began working as a commercial pilot in 1939. She carried passengers between the Isle of Wright and the British mainland. Johnson also flew as a target on which anti-aircraft gunners could practice.

She lost her job in March 1940 when the British government took over all commercial aircraft. She was hired by the ATA and started flying for them in May this year.

Amy Johnson took off from RAF Squires Gate on January 5, 1941. She was flying an Airspeed Oxford aircraft and heading to RAF Kidlington Airport near Oxford.

After flying for some time, Johnson was forced off course due to poor weather conditions. The plane was said to have run out of fuel when Amy jumped from it with a parachute. The plane crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay.

There was a fleet of warships in the Thames Estuary that day. Several crew members of these vessels reported seeing a parachute descend. Witnesses said they saw a woman in the water calling for help. Some also said they saw a second body in the water.

Photograph by Johnson, circa 1938. Photographer unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

The weather conditions that day were very bad and it was difficult to reach the woman in the water. The crew threw ropes but the woman couldn’t reach them.

Walter Fletcher, Captain of HMS Haslemere, then jumped into the water to try to save the woman. He swam towards what looked like a body in the water and held there for a few minutes. The waters were so cold that Fletcher passed out and lost his grip. The tide then washed away the body.

The captain was rescued by a lifeboat after a few minutes. He had been seriously injured by the freezing water and died in hospital a few days later. After his death, Fletcher was awarded the Albert Medal to honor his brave rescue attempt.

The woman in the water is believed to have been Amy Johnson. No human remains were ever located, but Johnson’s belongings were found at the crash site. As for the second person some claim to have seen, there is no plausible explanation for this. According to official documents, only Amy Johnson was on the plane that crashed.

There are those who don’t believe the official story and claim that Amy’s death was no accident.

In 1999, a man named Tom Mitchell told a shocking story. Mitchell was in the British Army during World War II. According to him, on January 5, 1941, Mitchell spotted an aircraft flying over the southeast coast of England.

He contacted the plane by radio and asked the pilot to give his identification code. Mitchell said the pilot gave the wrong code. Mitchell again asked the pilot for the code, and the pilot again gave the wrong code.

The aircraft was then assumed to be the enemy. Mitchell said the plane was shot down and landed in the Thames Estuary. This is where Johnson’s plane crashed.

Sixteen shells were fired and the aircraft plunged into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and found out it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.

Tom Mitchell in an interview with the Scottish in 1999.

There is no documentation that corroborates Mitchell’s story. It’s also unclear why he waited so long to come forward with such shocking allegations.

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