Harry Maude’s classic 1990 letter to Ric Gillespie: “Nobody saw anything worth reporting”

Henry “Harry” Evans Maude, an anthropologist and British Colonial Service officer, is well known to many with even a passing knowledge of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. In October 1937, Maude visited Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, and other islands in the Phoenix Group with associate Eric Bevington, and saw nothing related to Earhart, Noonan or Electra NR 16020 only 100 days after their loss. Maude and Bevington’s non-findings have always flown directly in the face of the phony claims of Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, as we all know.  

Maude, whose 1968 book, Of Islands and Men: Studies in Pacific History recounts his three visits to Gardner between 1937 and 1939, and several others in subsequent years, wrote to Gillespie in 1990 to express his wonder at all the Earhart-at-Nikumaroro noise Gillespie was making in the international media. In his letter, below, Maude respectfully questioned Gillespie’s theory that the fliers must have died of starvation or dehydration shortly after crash-landing on a reef.  I think it’s appropriate to remind readers about the early days of the Nikumaroro farce, so that they can better understand just how badly they’ve been misled by Gillespie, and by our dependably dishonest media, who have been protecting the Earhart myth for nearly 80 years.

Henry Maude's 1968 study of

Henry Maude’s 1968 classic recounts his many visits to Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro Atoll, including his first, just 100 days after Amelia Earhart and  Fred Noonan went missing.

42/11 Namatjira drive,
Weston, A.C.T. 2611,
Australia,
4 May, 1990

Dr [sic] Richard E. Gillespie,
Executive Director, TIGHAR,
1121 Arundel Drive,
WILMINGTON,
Delaware 19808,
U.S.A.

Dr. Dr Gillespie,

Sorry about the delay in replying to your letter of 15 March. Blindness is not helping me to cope with the correspondence, as it means that I cannot see what I am typing so I must ask you to excuse the numerous errors. Things will be, I hope, a lot better when my new gadgets arrive from the Royal Blind Society, who are truly marvelous people. At 83 one cannot afford to give up, or one dies very rapidly, so I have a book just published, one at the publisher and one on the eve of completion.

I must admit that the sensational reports in the press on your recent expedition to Nikumaroro were greeted with a good deal of incredulity and mirth: an Irish magistrate working for New Zealand embarking on a rowing boat from the Phoenix Islands for Fiji and clutching a sacking bag full of bones. “Such stuff as dreams are made on [sic].”

Our opinion was not changed by the arrival a bit later of an article called “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps” in a Journal entitled This World.  To comment on some of the statements in this gem of journalese would take pages.

I am bound to say, however, that my strictures do not apply to your own article entitled “Bones” for here you have detailed the earlier versions of the Nikumaroro story, which appeared in the newspapers, but end with a critical appraisal which I find unexceptional except for one or two minor points.

Dr D.C.M. Macpherson was our best friend (I speak for my wife, Honor, as well as myself). We came out from England together in 1929 and our close friendship continued until he died. I visited him frequently when we were both lonely in Suva during the war: his wife lived in Scotland and mine was evacuated to Rotorua when the Japanese were expected. I find it difficult to underestimate therefore, why he never once, in our interminable reminiscences, spoke of [Gerald B.] Gallagher’s “Bones.” Incidentally, Mac was the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the Colony of Fiji and not Chief Pathologist for the Western Pacific High Commission.

Gallagher was presumably an Irishman by descent. as you are, but he was English to his fingertips. I doubt if he had ever been to Ireland; his mother lived in England and his brother was a Clergyman in the Church of England.

I took a prospecting group of Gilbertese to Gardner Atoll, where we stayed from 13-16 October 1937, our task being to explore the island thoroughly, dig wells and evaluate its potential for colonization. It seems curious that nobody saw anything worth reporting when going round the island so recently after Earhart’s landing, or on my subsequent visits to land the first settlers, and later still to see how they were getting on and arrange with them to return to the Gilberts and bring back their wives and children.

Henry Evans "Harry" Maude, a former British colonial administrator, head of the Social Development section of the South Pacific Commission, and Professor of Pacific History at the Australian National University, and of his wife, fellow researcher and string figure expert, Honor Maude.

Undated photo of Henry Evans “Harry” Maude, former British colonial administrator, head of the Social Development section of the South Pacific Commission, and Professor of Pacific History at the Australian National University. Maude visited Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, in October 1937, 100 days after Earhart’s last flight, and saw no trace of the Electra or the fliers.

You might think it advisable before embarking on your second expedition to send someone reliable to interview any ex-Nikumaroro settlers now resident in the Solomon Islands. With any luck he ought to obtain some information of value; and it is possible that he might even find someone who remembered where the bones were buried. For a reasonable recompense he might even be induced to accompany the expedition and point out where to dig.

“What baffles me is why Amelia Earhart or her companion should have died. There was plenty of food on the atoll, any amount of fish on the reef and in the lagoon, and coconuts to drink or eat on the ground or on the trees. The succulent leaves of the boi (Portulaca) makes a very nutritious vegetable salad and can be sucked for moisture.  The mtea [sic], the ruku and the wao are also, I believe, growing wild on the atoll. The water is brackish, but drinkable for a period in an emergency.  The climate of Nikumaroro is excellent, despite Linda Puig [author of “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps”]; not hot like Enderbury and indeed cooler than some of the Gilberts, where I lived for some 20 years and found the temperature delightful.

One wonders too why, as she apparently sent radio messages for three days, she did not say where she was. Presumably she had a chart.  Taking all factors into account it would seem that if Earhart and companion crash-landed on the Nikumaroro reef one was killed on landing and the other too injured to do more than send a few messages before dying.

I enclose a copy of some historical notes on Nikumaroro which I wrote in the late 1930s or early 1940s. You will see from these that the skeleton found on the atoll if pre-1937 was almost certainly that of a Polynesian man, as Goerner states, for the islanders known to have resided there were Polynesian workers from Niue Island. I also send a list of documentation of the early days of the Settlement Scheme, including a number of letters from Gallagher, in case you want to check everything for a mention of a skeleton (or bones). The only correspondence we went to the Resident Commissioner on Ocean Island, for transmission to the W.P.H.C.  [Western Pacific High Commission] and eventually to London were formal Progress Reports, thus what you were looking for would not be among the material in the Colonial Officer archives, but might quite possibly be contained in one of Gallagher’s chatty letters — which were anything but formal.

Nikumaroro, or Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a remote, elongated, triangular coral atoll with profuse vegetation and a large central marine lagoon. It's approximately 4.7 miles long by 1.6 miles wide and has gained international notoriety as the "most probable" landing place of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. No real evidence has ever been presented to support this false idea.

Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a remote, elongated, triangular coral atoll with profuse vegetation and a large central marine lagoon. It’s approximately 4.7 miles long by 1.6 miles wide and has gained international notoriety as the “most probable” landing place of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Not a shred of evidence and not a single witness has ever been presented to support this false idea.

This Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme material is in the archives of the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 5001, and the archivist in charge is Susan Woodburn. Access is restricted.

Yours sincerely,

H.E. Maude.

Writing to Fred Goerner more than a year later, Maude was a bit less reserved in appraising Gillespie’s claims. “You ask what I think of all the TIGHAR razzmatazz: I regard it as bull, to use an Australian term,” Maude told Goerner. “Gardner is such a small atoll and was inhabited for so long that every inch of the place must have been walked over many times; anything out of the ordinary would have been reported and be on record.”

Educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, Harry Maude spent the years 1929-1948 working as a civil servant and administrator in various Pacific Islands, in particular the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, and as Resident Commissioner from 1946 to 1949. His many years spent on Pacific islands in various stages of development apparently were of great benefit to Maude, who died at age 100, on Nov. 4, 2006.

Another credible account puts Amelia in Marshalls

We’ve seen the account of Ted Burris, a federal employee on Kwajalein in 1965, who was told by an old Marshallese man of the nearly certain presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan near Ebeye Island in 1937. In today’s post we return to the vaults of the Amelia Earhart Society to examine more evidence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Marshall Islands landfall. 

Reverend Joseph C. Wright, a Presbyterian minister from Gulfport, Mississippi, was an Air Force major on temporary duty at Guam in the spring of 1967. Writing to Fred Goerner in July 1967, Wright recalled that while visiting his brother-in-law on Majuro Atoll, he and a Majuro-based missionary made a “field trip” to Mili Atoll, 80 miles away.

The inset paragraphs, edited slightly for clarity, are taken from Wright’s letter to Goerner, and appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, Majuro Atoll. Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen clearly had seen some rough seas since since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll's Enajet Island in 1967.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, at Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen had seen some rough seas since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll’s Enajet Island in 1967.

I am a member of the Air Force, S.A.C., in a B-52 Unit that just recently returned from a six months TDY [temporary duty] in Guam. While there I had the great fortune to wrangle myself a 10 day leave to visit Majuro in the Marshalls. My brother-in-law is principal of the High Schools there, and in addition I knew an Assembly of God Missionary, Sam Sasser, who, with his family have been living there for over five years. It was an act of God (or Providence) that allowed me to make the contacts that we were able to, which was part of a Grecian Odyssey in itself.

Our Trust Territory aircraft arrived in Majuro on a Wednesday morning, 26 April 1967, a few hours after the klunker [sic] vessel, the Mieco Queen, had departed for a supposedly five-day field trip to Mili Atoll. Sasser, a native sailor, and myself elected to take a 14 ft, 40 hp motor boat across 15 miles of stormy ocean late in the afternoon to try to catch the “Queen” at Arno Atoll that evening. After 3 tries at “jumping the reef,” we successfully got into the rolling ocean swells and after four tough hours (no life vests) caught the vessel at 8:00 P.M. that night.

With rough weather and a breakdown aboard the ship, we extended to almost three weeks. The trip to Mili was tremendous, and the discoveries were even more exciting. They hadn’t seen half a dozen white people in over 25 years! The missionary effort was tremendous, and on Mili Island itself, which had been completely bombed out in WWII, we explored war wreckage that had been completely untouched since the War.

All kinds of Betty bombers, fighters, and the most exciting – a wrecked American P-38. I identified it, and recovered his little brass radio call sign dash panel plate — the guy turned out to be quite a hero, which is another story, and which I intend to follow through and identify.

During the voyage, Wright met Captain Leonard deBrum, “master of the vessel, Mieco Queen,” who told him of three people on a Mili island who might have information about the Earhart mystery. Wright’s letter to Goerner continues: 

Leonard deBrum, at this Majuro home in 2003.

Leonard deBrum, then 87, at his Majuro home in 2003. (Photo courtesy Sue Rosoff.)

But the most thrilling discovery was to locate the specific island that Amelia Earhart crashed on. Yes, it is circumstantial evidence, but here is the story: I became good friends with Capt. Leonard de Brum, the master of the vessel, Mieco Queen, and himself [sic] is quite an exciting legend in the Marshalls. We discussed the Earhart mystery, and I let him read the concluding chapters of your book. Yes, he had heard rumors of the lady American flyer, but didn’t pay much attention, or put much stock in them. It had been so many years ago. So he referred Sasser and myself to three aged people on a particular island in the Mili Atoll.

On Enajet Island, Wright asked an old man if he remembered an American airplane landing in the area many years ago.

Thru the interpreter I asked him if “many years ago do you remember an American airplane being in this part of the world.” Keep in mind that this old guy hasn’t even seen white people in many years. He puzzled and remembered by “so and so dying, somebody else getting married, having babies, etc. – then went on, “yes, it was thirty years ago, and I remember very well now, because the person from the airplane was not a man, but a lady with man’s clothes and man’s haircut.

“Also she had a man with her with white cloth around his head,” he continued. . . . . “But we could not be curious. It was in Japan times and they were very hard people. One woman would not cooperate and they cut off her head . . . but the story was that these people had papers and hid them in a hollow hole of a May tree. In a couple of days the Japs came and took the two people away, and also the wreckage.” 

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

Several months later, Wright sent Goerner two photos of the old man, and with the help of Dirk Ballendorf, a Peace Corps official on Saipan, the native was identified as Lammorro, then living on Mili Island. No further contact with Lammorro was ever reported. Wright’s story was published in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald on July 3, 1992.

Joseph Wright’s report enhances the likelihood that the American fliers were taken to Kwajalein Atoll soon after their July 2 disappearance. In their 2001 essay, Next Stop Kwajalein,” published only on the AES Website, Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais speculated that some Marshall Islands reports of a plane landing on the water were not, as most assumed, sightings of Earhart’s Electra, but of a Japanese seaplane with the American fliers aboard. The authors’ analysis focused on Burris’ account, and “Next Stop Kwajalein” will be the subject of a future post.

Time’s review of “The Search for Amelia Earhart”: Setting the stage for 50 years of media deceit

Since I presented Fred Goerner’s preview of his classic bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart in my post of June 3, I thought it would be appropriate to follow that with the single most damaging piece ever written about this great book, the Sept. 161966 “review” published by Time magazine, which lacked the decency to identify its writer.  

Four times in this despicable hit piece, Time’s anonymous scribbler referred to Howland Island as “Rowland” Island, a clear tell that reveals the shallow nature of the reviewer’s knowledge of even the basic facts of the Earhart disappearance. Why bother with fact checking when you have a bestselling author to skewer, facts be damned. I didn’t bother to fix the spelling in the original.

Contrary to Time’s mendacious critique, The Search for Amelia Earhart was the most important Earhart disappearance book ever written, but it presented only about 5 percent of what’s been learned of the fliers’ fates since 1966.  A mountain of evidence, with even more yet to be found and revealed, tells us of the tragic Saipan ends of Amelia and Fred, and the title of Time’s review, “Sinister Conspiracy?” is accurate only if describing the vile motives of Time’s board of directors.

“Sinister Conspiracy?”

Was Amelia Earhart really lost at sea during her round-the-world flight 29 years ago—or was she a spy who died a captive of the Japanese?

Fred Goerner, a San Francisco radio newscaster, pursued the question for six years, and has caught up with what he is convinced is the answer. Obviously, if Earhart simply died in a plane accident, there would be no need for a book. By stitching surmise to fact, Goerner makes a book that barely hangs together. His tantalizing if familiar theory is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on an unofficial spy mission for the U.S. when they crashed and fell into Japanese hands.

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, "Search" sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled "Sinister Conspiracy,” set the original tone for what has become several generations of media aversion to the truth about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, Search sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled “Sinister Conspiracy?” set the tone for generations of media deceit about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

No Luck. As far as the public knows, Earhart and Noonan left Lae, New Guinea, on July 1, 1937, on the most dangerous leg of their trip—a 2,550-mile leap to tiny (one square mile) Rowland Island, where no plane had ever landed before. Early on July 2, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, standing by at Rowland, received a series of messages from Pilot Earhart reporting that she was unsure of her position and that she was running low on gas. Her last message, delivered in a broken and choked voice, was a plea for a fix on her position. Too late. Itasca failed to get a fix, and so, subsequently, did an armada of U.S. fleet searchers.

Goerner has succeeded, he says, where the U.S. Navy failed. Financed by CBS, the Scripps newspaper chain, the San Mateo (Calif.) Times and the Associated Press, he made four trips to the islands of the western Pacific to gather evidence of evildoing. In 1960, he returned from the Pacific with a bagful of airplane parts dredged out of Saipan harbor. These, he believed, were the remains of Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra.

No such luck; the collection turned out to be parts from a Japanese plane. In 1964, Goerner got a flash of headlines by producing seven pounds of human bones and 37 teeth. The flyers? Nope, declared a Berkeley anthropologist—they belonged to some late Micronesians.

Detour. At length, after scores of interviews with witnesses who claimed that they knew something, and with various officials who denied that they knew anything, Goerner fashioned his plot. When Earhart left Lae, he writes, she did not fly directly toward Rowland Island. Instead, acting on the request of a highly placed U.S. official (Goerner hints that it must have been F.D.R.), she headed north toward Truk in the central Carolines to reconnoiter Japanese airfields and fleet-servicing facilities in the area. To make this detour possible without arousing suspicion—after all, the whole world knew the flyers’ itinerary—Earhart had had her Electra secretly outfitted with special engines capable of cruising at 200 m.p.h.; as far as anybody else knew, Goerner writes, the plane could do only 150-165 m.p.h. 

After sizing up Truk, Earhart headed for Rowland. Goerner guesses that she soon got hopelessly lost in a tropical storm and turned the Electra north and west, away from her destination. By calculating the Electra’s speed and fuel consumption, Goerner figures that the plane must have crash-landed near the beach of Mili atoll in the southeastern Marshall Islands. It was from that place, he says, that Earhart cranked out SOS messages on the plane’s emergency radio. This, Goerner believes, accounts for the fact that a number of radio operators reported picking up messages from the downed plane at about this time.

This headline from the San Mateo TImes of July 1, 1960, is as true today as it was then. For all intents and purposes

This headline from the San Mateo Times of July 1, 1960, is as true today as it was then. For all intents and purposes, the so-called Earhart mystery is a complete fabrication, another historical myth created by the U.S. government in order to avoid dealing with the malfeasance of another nation, pre-war Japan in this case, because President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy could have never withstood public knowledge of his betrayal of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan.  

Goerner estimates that twelve days later a Japanese fishing boat reached the couple. They were taken aboard and later transferred either to the Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi or to the survey ship Koshu, which was known to be in the region. From his talks with natives, Goerner concludes that the flyers were taken first to Jaluit, then Kwajalein, and finally to Saipan, Japan’s military headquarters in the Pacific; a number of Saipanese say that they saw a man and a woman who resembled Noonan and Earhart. Goerner quotes native sources as saying that Earhart probably died of dysentery and that Noonan was beheaded, but he does not document the fact. Nevertheless he writes: “The kind of questioning and hardships they endured can be imagined. Death may have been a release they both desired.”

No Secret. If Goerner’s story is correct, why is it that neither the U.S. nor the Japanese government will confirm it? That is what he wants to know. There is a sinister conspiracy in Washington, Goerner hints, aimed at keeping things hushed up, even so many years after the event. And the Japanese won’t talk, he adds, because they fear that an admission of complicity would damage their hopes of recovering some of the Pacific islands that became part of a U.N. trust territory after the war. That farfetched notion will be news to the Japanese.

Along the way, Goerner does infect the reader with some nagging points. He has found two U.S. Marines who claim that they exhumed the flyers’ bodies in Saipan in 1944, and says that the remains were either secretly reinterred or are today in the possession of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And he quotes no less a personage than Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, who told Goerner in March 1965: “I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.” Alas, Nimitz told him no more than that; he died last February.

Readers who take Goerner’s word for everything will have to take it on faith. For example, those special engines that play such an important part in Goerner’s closely cut puzzler were no secret at all. On the day after Earhart’s plane went down, the New York Times reported that the Electra was equipped with two of the latest Wasp engines, capable of cruising speeds well over 200 m.p.h. (End of Time‘s review.)

This rare, undated photo of Amelia was originally a black-and-white that was "colorized" somewhere along the line. Here her hair is clearly red, while in many photos it appears to be blondish and in others, auburn.

This circa 1936 photo of Amelia was originally a black-and-white that was “colorized” somewhere along the line. Here her hair is clearly red, while in many photos it appears to be blondish and in others, auburn. This is yet another evidential clue that leads this observer to believe that Amelia sometimes dyed, or colored, her hair. Informed comments are welcomed.

I will leave it to discerning readers of this blog to dissect the above litany of errors, lies and propaganda excreted by the pre-eminent news magazine of the day to a legion of readers, some of whom may have actually believed that Time was trying to help its subscribers understand the truth in the Earhart disappearance. Of course this was the furthest thing from the minds of Time’s editors, whose only goal was to discredit everything Goerner had found that so clearly revealed the truth about Amelia and Fred’s Marshall Islands landing and subsequent deaths on Saipan.

“With its dismissive hit piece,” I write in Truth at Last, “Time set the tone for generations of media deceit and hostility to the truth that continues today, manifesting itself in ways blatant and subtle throughout every segment of our news and entertainment industries. Wherever discussion about the loss of America’s First Lady of Flight can be found in America—in newspapers, magazines, biographies, television news, movies, and anywhere else—the insidious influence of the establishment’s aversion to Saipan will invariably accompany it.

“Whether its perpetrators are conscious of this inherent bias or not, this pervasive policy of media malfeasance has two objectives. The first is the perpetuation of the lie that the Earhart ‘mystery’ is the Gordian knot of historical riddles, entirely beyond resolution in our lifetimes; the second is to ensure the idea that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan is considered the most ridiculous of all possibilities, believed only by fringe nuts and conspiracy theorists.”

Goerner previews “The Search for Amelia Earhart” in summer of 1966

Today we return to the halcyon days of the summer of 1966, when Fred Goerner’s classic, The Search for Amelia Earhart, was brand new and just a week away from publication by Doubleday & Co., and the story of the KCBS newsman’s six-year Earhart investigation was about to become the only New York Times bestseller ever penned about the Earhart disappearance.  Although Goerner didn’t find Amelia Earhart on Saipan, he interviewed enough witnesses who either saw or knew of her presence there to convince any jury of that fact — with the exception of one composed of members of the American political establishment.

It’s not clear where the following promotional essay first appeared, but I found it in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. It’s presented today to remind readers, young and old, exactly when the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart began, and that there was once a time when it appeared that the “solution” to the so-called Earhart mystery might be imminent. Who knows when that time might come again?

THE EARHART MYSTERY
by Fred Goerner

“Go ahead with the book. Fred, it should bring them the justice they deserve.”

The advice came from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He was referring to Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan and my six-year investigation into their mysterious disappearance during a flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

The search had included four expeditions to the Mariana and Marshall Islands, the questioning of hundreds of witnesses and unfriendly confrontations with several high-ranking members of the U.S. military and government in Washington, D.C.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, circa 1942, the last of the Navy’s 5-star admirals. In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. "Now that you're going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese," Goerner claimed Nimitz told him. The admiral's revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart matter. "After five years of effort, the former commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted," Goerner wrote.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, the last of the U.S. Navy’s 5-star admirals, circa 1945. In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Va. Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner reported Nimitz told him. The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart saga. “After five years of effort, the former commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.

The search had also brought me the friendship of the legendary Admiral. It was late 1965 and we had been waiting for months for answers to pertinent questions regarding disposition of certain classified material in Washington. The conclusion long ago had been reached that Earhart and Noonan were keys to an incredible series of events which involved with the United States and Japan and the tense years preceding the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

“It’s possible you won’t be too popular in some quarters in Washington,” Nimitz continued. “’But you will gain respect for your research. It’s obvious no one wants to accept responsibility for what was done.”

High Displeasure

It appears the Admiral will be proven correct. When “The Search for Amelia Earhart” is published by Doubleday on Sept. 2 (1966), I will probably achieve a high rank on the displeasure charts of the CIA, Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

Japan will evidence her unhappiness, too. She will not savor being forced to admit the illegal use of the mandated islands of the Pacific prior to World War II, a violation of international law.

The U.S. Marine Corps will be embarrassed as it tried to explain what happened to the human remains recovered from an unmarked grave on Saipan Island in July, 1944, or what happened to the personal effects of Earhart and Noonan recovered by Marines the same year.

The U.S. Navy may attempt to maintain silence when asked why $4 million were spent on an apparently bogus search for Earhart and Noonan in 1937 and why highly secret equipment was made available for their flight. There may also be several coughing fits when questions are posed regarding classified files, especially one labeled “Amelia Earhart, Location of Grave Of.”

The U.S. State Department will also have difficulty explaining why it has maintained a classified file on the matter for more than 29 years while denying to the public the existence of such a file.

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco.

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco. Photo courtesy Merla Zellerbach.

Mysterious Miller

The U.S. Department of Commerce won’t like explaining the activities of a man named William Miller, who was responsible in 1937 for “Aeronautical Survey of the South Pacific Ocean.” Miller spent much time with Amelia Earhart and also served Naval Intelligence.

The Central Intelligence Agency will try to avoid comments regarding its activities on Saipan Island from 1952 to ’62 and how one of this nation’s best kept post-World War II intelligence secrets blended with the Earhart investigation.

Is the pen mightier than government’s desire to cloak embarrassments of the past?

It is my contention, supported by those who have assisted in The Search for Amelia Earhart,” that Earhart and Noonan were the first casualties of World War II. Their story pales fiction.

The exact provenance of this boxed summary is unkown

The exact provenance of this boxed summary is unknown, but it clearly must have appeared sometime in the week before The Search for Amelia Earhart was published on Sept. 2, 1966, according to Goerner’s own words in the piece. 

The most important fact I learned during six years of research is that American newsmen are still free to pursue answers to questions which involve major departments of government and even the presidency. As long as that remains true, our basic freedoms are relatively secure. (End of Goerner’s preview.)

Editor’s note: Goerner’s final asseveration, that “our basic freedoms are relatively secure,” was written with great optimism 50 years ago, but much in our once great nation has changed for the worse since then. Even Goerner’s early access to the secret Earhart files, granted partially by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, had been ripped away by LBJ, and soon, following Time magazine’s scathing, game-changing review of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner’s findings would be relegated to the popular file marked “paranoid conspiracy theories,” and deemed unfit for conversation in polite circles. Since then, nothing substantial has changed in that regard.

Conclusion of Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio”: Former PAA flight officer’s findings still fascinate

In the conclusion of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” the former Pan American Airways radio flight officer examines further technical and other aspects of Amelia Earhart’s final flight, including the origin and effectiveness of the radio direction finder on Howland Island, some of the possible post-flight radio transmissions that may have originated from the Earhart Electra, and Fred Noonan’s alleged drinking problem as it may have affected the flight. As always, the real mystery is what transpired aboard the Electra in the hours before and after her last radio transmission, and the biggest question remains unanswered: Was Amelia actually attempting to reach Howland Island? If she was, then Gray’s conclusions remain highly relevant today.

THE HOWLAND ISLAND RADIO DIRECTION FINDER

Obviously Earhart had a misconception of the radio direction finder installed on Howland Island. She apparently envisaged it as being a PAA type Adcock high frequency system, or its functional equivalent, which would take bearings on her 3105 kHz signals and send them to her just as the PAA station at Mokapu Point had done during her flight from Oakland to Honolulu. Because of that she repeatedly asked Itasca to take bearings on 3105 kHz and transmitted signals upon which bearings were expected to be taken.   It appears that there may have been some justification for her having that concept.

When the decision was made to fly easterly around the world, and the long Lae-Howland leg was being studied, Earhart and Noonan suggested to the Coast Guard that a radio direction finder be set up on Howland (“PLANE SUGGESTS DIRECTION FINDER BE SET UP ON ISLAND, IF PRACTICABLE”). According to the research of Capt. Laurance F. Safford, USN, it was at about this time that Mr. Richard B. Black, the Department of the Interior representative, who was to go to Howland in Itasca, conceived the idea of “borrowing” a so-called high frequency radio direction finder from the Navy to use on Howland Island.  Black advised G.P. Putnam, Earhart’s husband and business manager, of his plans and advised him when the gear had been obtained and put aboard Itasca.  No doubt Putnam passed this information along to Earhart.

It was on Howland Island that Black supervised construction of the air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radioroom of the USCG Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

Richard B. Black, the Interior Department representative who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radio room of Itasca, as Earhart sent her last known radio transmissions. As a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1939, he was assigned as the U.S. Antarctic Service base commander, East Base, U.S. Antarctic Expedition. In 1954, Black served as the base operations officer of the first U.S. Navy Deep Freeze expedition.

In a message sent June 27 to Commander, San Francisco Division, USCG, the C.O. Itasca [Cdr. Warner K. Thompson]reported on his readiness for supporting the upcoming flight.   One item was “DIRECTION FINDER INSTALLED ON HOWLAND.”  This fact was reported to Mr. Putnam, then in San Francisco, and he in turn passed the news to Earhart, who was then at Darwin, Australia. While the Itasca message did not specifically say “High Frequency Direction Finder,” there apparently had been sufficient other information, probably via telephone from Putnam, to cause Earhart to believe that it was such a device. She likely assumed that the DF had been installed at Howland in response to the suggestion made earlier by Noonan and herself , and fully expected it to be a functional equivalent of a PAA-Adcock system.

According to Capt. Safford, who was in an excellent position to know, the direction finder station on Howland Island actually consisted of an aircraft type radio receiver and an aircraft type rotatable loop antenna which had been “hay-wired” together into a temporary DF installation. It operated off storage batteries borrowed from Itasca. The receiver and loop had been “moon-light requisitioned” (obtained by informal means) by Mr. Black and Lt. Daniel Cooper of the Army Air Corps, from a Navy patrol plane at Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor.

The equipment appears to have been a military version, or perhaps a twin, of the Bendix receiver and loop in the Earhart plane. At any rate, with a loop antenna, it certainly was not a high frequency direction finder and the probability of taking meaningful bearings with it on 3105 kHz over any significant distance, was practically nil. The Howland DF operator [Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani] had only two opportunities to try taking a bearing on the plane, and in each case the plane’s transmission was so short that a really good attempt could not be made. Had the transmissions been sufficiently long the operator no doubt would have found that he could get no “minimum” and hence no bearing.

POST-FLIGHT SIGNALS

NAURU

On July 3 (GMT date) an operator at public service radio station VKT, Nauru, sent the following “wire note” (an informal communication between operators) to RCA radio station KPH at San Francisco, with the request that it be passed to Itasca:

VOICE HEARD FAIRLY STRONG SIGS STRENGTH TO S3 [at] 0843 and 0854 GMT 48.31 METERS (i.e. 6216 kHz) SPEECH NOT INTERPRETED OWNING BAD MODULATION OR SPEAKER SHOUTING INTO MICROPHONE BUT VOICE SIMILAR TO THAT EMITTED FROM PLANE IN FLIGHT LAST NIGHT WITH EXCEPTION NO HUM ON PLANE IN BACKGROUND.”

Note that these signals were heard about 12-and-a-half hours after Itasca last heard the plane.

There is nothing that directly and positively connects these signals with the Earhart plane, however there is indirect evidence that warrants serious consideration:

(a) The frequency (6210 kHz) was right for it being the plane. It was not a com­monly used frequency in that area.

(b) The Nauru operator reported good signal strength and was able to judge the tone or timbre of the speaker’s voice yet was unable to understand what the speaker was saying. He suggested the possibility of modulation problems. The operator who had checked the plane at Lae and the DF operator at Howland who was trying to take a radio bearing on the plane, both had noted similar symptoms and suggested possible modulation problems.

(c) The probability of there being more than one transmitter in the area exhibiting the same symptoms of over-modulation on the same frequencies at essentially the same time is very small.

It is this writer’s opinion that the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the Naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford's verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers "were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew." Did Safford know more about the fliers' fates than he ever publicly admitted?

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford’s verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers “were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew.” Did Safford know more about the fliers’ fates than he ever publicly admitted?

PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS

Shortly after the Earhart plane became overdue at Howland, the Coast Guard requested PAA to use its communication and radio direction finding facilities in the Pacific areas to assist in the search for the plane and survivors. Instructions were immediately issued for the stations at Mokapu Point, Midway and Wake to monitor the plane’s frequencies as much as limited personnel would permit and be prepared to take radio bearings on any signals heard which might reasonably be believed to be coming from the plane. A special radio circuit was set up to permit intercommunication among the three stations.  Numerous weak signals were heard but nothing of interest until 0948 July 5, GMT time and date. The following is extracted from a report made by R.M. Hansen, the Radio Operator in Charge at the Wake Island station:

At 0948 a phone signal of good intensity and well modulated by a voice but wavering badly suddenly came on 3105 kc. While the carrier frequency of this signal did not appear to vary appreciably, its strength did vary in an unusually erratic manner and at 0950, the carrier strength fell off to QSA 2 (2 on a scale of 0 to 5) with the wavering more noticeable than ever.   At 0952, it went off completely.  At 1212 (GMT July 5) I opened the DF guard on 3105 kc. At 1223 a very unsteady voice modulated carrier was observed on 3105 kc approximately.  This transmission lasted until 1236 GMT. I was able to get an approximate bearing of 144 degrees. In spite of the extreme eccentricity of this signal during the entire length of the transmission, the splits were definite and pretty fair.

After I obtained the observed bearing, I advised Midway to listen for the signal (couldn’t raise Honolulu). He apparently did not hear it. This signal started in at a carrier strength of QSA5 (5 on a scale of 0 to 5) and at 1236, when the transmission stopped, it had gradually petered out to QSA2 during the intervals when it was audible. The characteristics of this signal were identical with those of the signal heard the previous night (0948 GMT) except that at DF the complete periods of no signal occurred during shorter intervals.  While no identification call letters were distinguished in either case, I was positive at that time that this was KHAQQ [Earhart’s plane]. At this date I am still of this opinion.

Midway heard a signal having the same characteristics, and almost certainly the same station, at 0638 GMT July 5.  A quick bearing of 201 degrees True was obtained, however the signal was not audible long enough to take a really good bearing and the 201 degree figure was labeled “approximate.”

Honolulu (Mokapu Point) also heard the “peculiar signal” on 3105 kHz several times. From 1523 to 1530 GMT July 4 an attempt was made to take a bearing on it, however due to weakness and shifting of the signal, only a rough bearing could be obtained. It was logged as 213 degrees, but it was implied that it was a doubtful bearing. Sometime between 0630 and 1225 GMT another bearing was attempted on the “peculiar signal.” The log describes it thus: “SIGNALS SO WEAK THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO OBTAIN EVEN A FAIR CHECK. AVERAGE SEEMS TO BE AROUND 215 DEGREES — VERY DOUBTFUL BEARING .” It is obvious that the bearings from Honolulu were greatly inferior to those taken from Wake and Midway and are useful mainly as indications that the unknown station continued to function.

Not much attention was paid to these interceptions at the time because no one was aware that Earhart’s radio signals had been abnormal. Had it been known that she was having over­ modulation problems more attention probably would have been given  them  because the “Wavering” in the carrier strength is consistent with a varying degree of over-modulation rapidly increasing and decreasing carrier power.  The gradual drop of signal strength from QSA5 to QSA2 over a span of 13 minutes is consistent with the further discharge of an already partially discharged storage battery power supply. The peculiar signals on 3105 kHz heard by Wake, Midway and Honolulu may very well have come from the Earhart plane, and there is good reason to believe that the radio bearing taken on those signals by Wake was accurate within a degree or so. The one from Midway may have had a somewhat larger error.

(Editor’s note: A number of radio operators, including several in the continental United States, reported hearing signals that they believed originated from Earhart and Noonan, and some have already been presented on this blog. Please see  Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages’ Real or fantasy?  and Experts weigh in on Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages.)

FREDERICK J. NOONAN

There has been much speculation as to whether or not Fred Noonan could send and receive International Morse code. From personal observation the writer knows that as of late 1935 Noonan could send and receive plain language at slow speeds, around eight to 10 words per minute. Recent research by Noonan biographer Michael A. Lang has revealed that circa 1931 Noonan held a Second Class Commercial Radio Operator license issued by the Radio Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Second Class licenses of that vintage certify that the holder has been examined and passed the following elements:

(a) Knowledge of the general principles of electricity and of the theory of radio­ telegraphy and radiotelephony.

(b) Adjustment , operation and care of apparatus.

(c) Transmitting and sound reading at a speed of not less than sixteen words a minute Continental Morse in code groups and twenty words a minute in plain language.

(d) Use and care of storage battery or other auxiliary.

(e) Knowledge of international regulations and Acts of Congress to regulate radio communications.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia and Fred. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as has been alleged.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as some have alleged.

Those writing about the Earhart disappearance have, in general, been very rough on Noonan because of his admitted problem with alcohol. In some cases much rougher than was justified by the facts. For example in one book it is related that the night before the departure from Lae for Howland, Noonan went on a binge and did not get to the airfield until just before the plane was due to take off, and even then was so intoxicated that he had to be helped aboard the plane. The implication being that he was largely responsible for the failure of the flight. The official report of Guinea Airways Ltd., at Lae, made in response to a request from the U.S. Government, paints quite a different picture. According to it the Lae wireless operator made attempts all throughout the day of June 30 to get time signals, requested by Earhart and Noonan, to permit Noonan to check his chronometer, but owing to local interference was unsuccessful that day.  That indicates that Noonan spent most of June 30 at the radio station.

At about this point, Earhart decided to take off for Howland Island at 9:30 a.m. on July 1, subject to obtaining the time signal.

At 6:35 a.m. July 1st Earhart took the plane up on a 30-minute test hop after which the tanks were topped off and she was ready to go, except that a time signal had not yet been obtained. This day the difficulty was at the radio station which transmitted the signals. Extraordinary steps were taken to get a time signal but when one had not been obtained by 10:50 a.m. Earhart decided to postpone her departure until the next day, July 2. During the rest of the day constant watch was kept for the reception of time signals and finally at around 10:20 p.m. an excellent signal was received by Noonan which showed his chronometer to be three seconds slow.  Noonan obviously had spent most of that day at the radio station.

On July 2 at 8:00 a.m. another time signal was received, this one from Saigon, and the chronometer checked the same as the previous night. Both Noonan and Earhart expressed their complete satisfaction and decided to leave at 10:00 a.m., which they did.

Only Noonan would have checked the chronometer, so the report seems to indicate clearly that Noonan was sober and in good shape at 8:00 a.m. and probably was that way when the plane took off.

CONCLUSIONS

From the standpoint of radio, Earhart’s decision to rely completely on radiotelephony, and her removal of the trailing antenna, showed poor judgment and introduced unnecessary and unjustifiable risks. However it cannot be denied that she got as far as Lae without trouble with what she had. It was her mistake in designating 7500 kHz as the homing frequency for Itasca that got her into deep trouble. Even that difficulty probably could have been overcome had she been able to communicate with Itasca and agree on a suitable homing frequency. Fate intervened, however, and something occurred in her receiving system which made it impos­sible for Earhart to hear any signals with her gear set up in the configuration she was accustomed to use for communications.

She did not understand the technical aspects of radio well enough to diagnose her problem and was not sufficiently familiar with the radio gear to know all the options available to her. She had been taught to shift the receiver to the loop antenna when she wanted to take a bearing, but probably no one had ever explained to her how the loop also could be used in carrying on communications. Had she been aware of that option and listened on the loop for Itasca‘s voice signals on 3105 kHz, no doubt she would have heard the ship and been able to establish two-way communications.

The probability is very high that the failure of the receiving system to receive signals when using the fixed antenna was due either to a defective feed line between the receiver unit and the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter, or a defect in that relay itself. The odds are about 95 to 5 that the relay was at fault. It is considered therefore that a failure of that relay was the one single thing most responsible for the failure of the Earhart flight.

If it is assumed that the “peculiar signals” intercepted by Nauru and the PAA stations at Wake and Midway were in fact from the Earhart plane then the following may be deduced from the radio signals:

(a) The landing was fairly successful. The plane did not nose over or break up, otherwise the radio could not have been used.

(b) The landing was not in the open sea. Had it been, enough salt water would have seeped in to enter the wiring and disable the radio transmitting gear in a relatively short time.

(c) Earhart survived the landing. She was heard by the Nauru operator long after the plane would have run out of gas.

(d) Noonan survived. A man’s voice was distinctly heard on the “peculiar signal” by Midway. It was unintelligible.

Almon Gray at Gray's Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray's analysis of Earhart's radio problems "

Almon Gray at his Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray’s analysis of Earhart’s radio problems during her last flight “one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.”

(e) Either Earhart or Noonan, or both, were alive and with the plane at least until 0948 July 5, 1937 GCT time and date. The “peculiar signals” were last heard then.

(f) The “peculiar signals” probably were coming from the eastern or southeastern part of the Marshall Islands. (End of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio.”)

Bill Prymak’s note:  Capt. Gray, USNR (Ret.) received his Commercial Radio Operator License in 1930, and went with Pan American in 1935, when they started the trans-Pacific service. He became Flight Radio Officer on China Clipper type aircraft, and later was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Communication in 1937.

The AMELIA EARHART SOCIETY finds the above radio analysis of the last flight to be one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.

Editor’s note: We should remember that in considering this analysis of Earhart’s final flight, Almon Gray took the position that the fliers were actually trying to reach Howland Island, and that all their actions were directed toward that goal.  If Amelia and Noonan were not trying to reach Howland, but were engaged in some sort of covert operation, which certainly cannot be ruled based on our limited knowledge of what transpired during those final hours, then many of Gray’s findings become largely irrelevant. 

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