Cedar Creek Lake pilot Richard Campbell amassed a lot of stories during 46 years of professional flying, but his friendship with Amelia Earhart’s personal photographer provided a front row seat to aviation history.
But it was his chance encounter with Bresnik in a California airport that resulted in an unusual glimpse into the life of the famous American female pilot.
“I saw a gentleman holding a picture of Amelia Earhart,” he said. “We started talking.”
Campbell said after several minutes of talking, Bresnik, who died in 1993, invited him and another pilot home for dinner that evening.
The visit included the opportunity to review images of not only Mrs. Earhart, but also a host of other celebrities: John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple.
Bresnik was little more than 18 when he landed the opportunity to photograph Mrs. Earhart. Over the course of that assignment, 1932 to 1937, they developed a close friendship, Campbell said.
“Amelia had a tough life growing up,” Campbell said. “Her father was an alcoholic and they moved a lot.”
As a young girl she became fascinated with flying and began saving for lessons, then an airplane.
Her love of aircraft and fearless pursuit of breaking new ground shattered records for speed, altitude and distance flying, such as becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
“She set a lot of world records,” Campbell said. “This lady really made a name for herself.”
And Bresnik became a part of the rush, snapping photos of the free spirited Mrs. Earhart’s rise in fame that continued even after her last adventure.
The idea was to fly around the world, a project sponsored by Purdue University.
Ahead of the trip, Bresnik photographed Mrs. Earhart in front of a map, her gaze eerily fixed on Howland Island, a location she never reached.
Campbell has an autographed copy of this famous image, titled “The Last Flight.”
Shortly before the flight, Bresnik and Mrs. Earhart had a long talk at her kitchen table, in which she indicated the time had come to settle down and start a family.
Bresnik never caught that final flight — a last-minute decision to add a fuel tank meant there was no room for a third person, Campbell said.
Mrs. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan left Miami and, about 21 days later, made it to New Guinea where the only fueling site offered a maximum 11,000 gallons, 50 gallons short of a fill-up, records show.
She was reportedly ill for much of the journey but refused to stop.
The pair later departed for Howland Island, a small strip of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean but never arrived. Their last transmission was July 2, 1937.
Authorities believe she may have had insufficient charts and veered off course.
“She was sick on this flight around the world and we know why — she was with child,” Campbell said. “There was no plane, no parts, nothing. In the report, they said those extra 50 gallons could have helped her” reach land.
The grief-stricken Bresnik took every photograph and negative of Mrs. Earhart and sealed them in a vault, Campbell said, adding, “He said, ‘If I live 50 years, I’ll publish them.’”
Bresnik began publishing the images in 1987, including the one he was holding when Campbell first spotted him in the airport.
More than 66 airplanes participated in the initial search for the missing craft; the U.S. government alone spent in excess of $4 million to search more than 150,000 square miles, records show.
Efforts continue even today to find a trace of her last flight.