This is the third and final installment in a series that briefly examines the alleged “post-loss” radio messages sent by Amelia Earhart after her last official transmission to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at 8:43 am Howland Island time. The most intriguing of these possible signals has come to be known as the “Land in sight” message. The only evidence for its existence can be found in the first edition of The Search for Amelia Earhart, where Goerner described viewing secret Navy files somewhere in Washington with Ross Game in April 1965, shortly before his meeting at the Pentagon with Marine General Wallace M. Greene, Jr.:
Near the bottom of the thick folder another piece of Evidence had been added. A terse, U.S. Navy message with no heading stated, “At 1030, the morning of the disappearance, Nauru Island radio station picked up Earhart on 6210 kcs saying, “Land in sight ahead.”
I blinked my eyes. Nearly two hours after Amelia had run out of gas, a radio station in the British-controlled Gilbert Islands had received her voice. Why was that message not included as part of the 1937 search? What had she sighted? Was that the extent of the message?
Goerner never saw the message again, and his two paragraphs describing its discovery were pulled from subsequent editions of Search. Writing to Rob Gerth in 1989, Goerner said he and Game were not allowed to make photocopies of the files, but took notes that were later cleared by the Navy. “When the Freedom of Information Act took effect, the file we had been shown in 1965 was released to the public, but the message ‘Land in sight ahead‘ was no longer part of the file,“ Goerner wrote. “In other files we found that Nauru had received a message ‘Ship in sight ahead’ at 10:30 P.M. the evening before the disappearance.
“Captain Lawrence [sic] Frye Safford, USN, (Ret.), who did considerable Earhart research in the late ’60s (and was writing a book on the matter at the time of his death), told me he believed the message Game and I saw was pulled by the Navy before the file was released in the belief that it had been corrupted from the ‘ship in sight ahead’ and/or because I had made a point of the morning message in THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART. At this writing I am unsure whether the morning message was bona fide or not.”
Interest in the “Land in sight” message persists, at least among the few who still pay attention to such things. Despite Paul Rafford Jr.’s reluctance to support any of the other alleged “post loss” signals as legitimate, he believes the 10:30 a.m., July 2 Nauru reception could have been sent by the Electra. “As I see it, the question is Could Earhart have still been in the air and how far could she have been heard at 10:30 a.m. Nauru time,” Rafford wrote in July 2008. . . . “Nauru is just east of the 165 E meridian. The time at this meridian is 11 hours ahead of Greenwich. Thus if the time at Nauru was 10:30 PM (2230 Local), the time at the Greenwich Meridian would be 1130. So we are talking 1130 GMT for 10:30 PM at Nauru. Subtract 11 hours from 10:30 a.m. and you have 2330 GMT. So, Earhart would have been in the air 23 hours, 30 minutes. At 10:30 in the morning, on 6210 Earhart should have been heard to at least 500 miles. Yes, she could have been heard at Nauru if the land in sight were the Marshalls.”
Longtime researcher Bill Prymak agrees. “The “LAND IN SIGHT” message comes 3 hours and 16 minutes after the infamous 20:14 ‘LINE OF POSITION,’ ” he wrote in 1993. “If the Electra was somewhat northwest of Howland Island, this time frame, plus Art Kennedy’s fuel calculations would put Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands as a most logical candidate for the ‘Land in sight’ observation. Many authors and researchers have narrowed their search to focus on Mili. . . . Didn’t Amelia tell several people before she embarked on the last flight that if she became lost she would head in a westerly direction?”
So what are we to believe? Did Amelia Earhart send radio messages from her downed Electra, transmissions that were heard not only by PAA and Navy stations in the central Pacific area, but by amateur radio operators in the continental United States? I’m not technically smart enough to have an informed opinion, but try to present the thoughts of some of the experts in radio propagation and reception capabilities of the day. If forced to endorse an opinion, I would have to side with Paul Rafford Jr. and Bill Prymak in their conclusions that none of the alleged post-loss messages, with the possible exception of the “Land in sight” message, came from the Earhart Electra. Others may disagree, and the only certainty at this point is that we’ll never know for sure.
Editor’s note: I wrote in Truth at Last (p. 122) that the two paragraphs describing the “Land in sight” message were removed from all subsequent editions of The Search for Amelia Earhart, but I don’t know this for a fact and should have qualified that statement in the book. A few researchers have made this statement through the years, and I always accepted it. I have two different versions of Goerner’s book. One, the Book Club Edition, which I found in an Arlington, Virginia used bookstore in 1990, is smaller and has more pages (336) than the regular first edition (326 pages) that I recently acquired. The two paragraphs can be found on pp. 318 of the Book Club Edition and pp. 307-308 of the regular first edition. If these paragraphs were indeed deleted from all other versions of Search, no reason for this action was ever given by the publisher, Doubleday, or Goerner himself, to my knowledge, which makes it suspicious in itself. Comments from readers with later editions are welcomed.