Rotarians learn about Amelia Earhart mysteries from “Ripper”

John Rippinger, “The Ripper,” searches for Amelia Earhart in the South Pacific’s Nikumaroro Island Submitted photos

John F. Rippinger, a spirited aviation enthusiast, acrobatic and formation pilot, known as “Ripper,” recently was keynote speaker at a Rotary Club of Scottsdale luncheon meeting held at McCormick Ranch Golf Club.

Mr. Rippinger, who is a Scottsdale resident, is president/CVO of Scottsdale-based Rippinger Financial Group, Inc., an insurance and employee benefit firm he founded in 1984. During his introduction, Rotarian Gary Dorris stated that Mr. Rippinger has piloted his T-34 Mentor for 22 years with the Lima Lima Flight Team, which is the world’s first six-aircraft civilian precision formation aerobatic team.

“Ripper” in his T-34 Mentor airplane.

Lima Lima has performed in air shows from coast-to-coast and border-to-border, thrilling more than 100 million spectators with the beauty and the grace of their precision performances. Mr. Rippinger has been flying for over 50 years both in fixed wing and balloons. He participated with the TIGHAR (The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery) expedition team in the South Pacific to search for the lost plane of Amelia Earhart in 2017.

Mr. Rippinger shared with the Rotarians and their guests insights into the search, noting that it’s a mystery that’s puzzled the world for more than 80 years: What happened to Amelia Earhart who along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on the second-to-last leg of their trip around the world when they disappeared on July 2, 1937 in the South Pacific?

He shared several theories about what could have happened to Earhart and Noonan, including that their plane crashed somewhere over the ocean or that they were captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese. In 2017, that theory got a boost from a photo discovered in the National Archives that many thought showed Earhart and Noonan on a dock being taken prisoner. In 2018, remains discovered on Nikumaroro Island in the South Pacific 80 years ago were forensically tested by researchers at the University of Tennessee, who concluded “they likely belonged to Earhart.”

Mr. Rippinger shared with the Rotarians his belief that the odds are at least 75% that Earhart landed on Nikumaroro Island and subsequently died there. He has been there looking for evidence and says the survival rate would have been extremely poor due to the tough jungle, deadly creatures, lack of food, and extremely deep waters (up to 15,000 feet deep right off shore). The sand on the island is actually hard enough to safely land a plane and the island may have been their only hope to survive.

Additionally, Mr. Rippinger shared other theories – i.e. Earhart really did land the plane safely, but they died of natural causes on this remote uninhabited (at the time) island with no way to communicate with anyone.

He talked about National Geographic’s diving down 15,000 feet with robots, etc. to search for the plane, which could easily have been swept out to sea due to very heavy winds. National Geographic has scheduled a special TV program in October 2019 to go over their findings.

For more information: scottsdalerotary.org or call 480-945-6158.

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