Amy Johnson, 1932 (source)
But even in the few seconds between appearing over the Thames estuary and plunging into it there were, suddenly, new reasons to hope. By pure chance there were ships everywhere, some close enough to help if only they spotted her and she could get clear of the parachute. They had certainly spotted her. An entire convoy, numbered CE21, consisting of seventeen merchant ships, two destroyers, four minesweepers, four motor launches and five cross-Channel ferries converted to deploy barrage balloons, was steaming up the estuary. One of the balloon ships, HMS Haslemere, was closest to Johnson. From its bridge a Lieutenant Henry O’Dea actually saw her drop gently into the water at a distance of perhaps half a mile. His captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher, ordered the Haslemere to head for her at full speed. Johnson was still alive when it reached her, and was heard to shout the words, ‘Hurry, please hurry’. But she failed to grab hold of any of the lines thrown in her direction. In its dash to pick her up, the Haslemere ran aground in mud beneath the shallow waters of the estuary’s southern edge. Fletcher ordered the engines to slow astern but they took ten precious minutes to work the vessel free. By this time Johnson had drifted towards the ship’s stern and was helpless with cold. As Captain Fletcher pulled off his outer clothes to dive in for her, a wave lifted the Haslemere and pushed Johnson under its propellers. As they fell, they crushed her. ‘She did not come into view again,’ seaman Nicholas Roberts, who was watching from the ship’s bulwark, wrote later in an affidavit. Indeed, her body was never found.
Giles Whittell (2007)
The death of Amy Johnson, long-distance aviatrix and second world war Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot. She plunged into the Thames on the 5th of January 1941 while transporting a plane for the ATA. The circumstances were mysterious.