Amelia Earhart’s alleged “Land in sight” message remains a curiosity, if not a mystery

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 sightmessage. 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? 

Bill Prymak, at Enajet Island, Mili Atoll, with witness Joro in 1989, believed the "Land in sight" message may have reflected Amelia's sighting of land in the Marshall Islands.

Bill Prymak, at Enajet Island, Mili Atoll, with witness Joro in 1989, believed the “Land in sight” message may have reflected Amelia’s sighting of land in the Marshall Islands.

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 aheadat 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 aheadand/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 allegedpost losssignals 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 SIGHTmessage 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 sightmessage, 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.

7 responses

  1. Thanks, Mike I have 3 editions of Goerner’s book, the 2 that you have and a version published in Japan, in English, that predates the Doubleday editions. Now I have to find it!


    1. Mike,

      “Concerned with Time”

      Yes, the “Land in Sight” reported by Goerner as heard by Nauru Radio is to me a startling transmission and more important than a curiosity and I can’t see a reason to doubt what Goerner reported.

      Ross Game took notes (apparently) but cannot remember either what he saw or what he wrote. Goerner said that he went back to the file the next day (?) but the page was pulled from the file and he recalled making a comment to the Clerk at the time of the first visit that it seemed to be a duplication of the “Ship in sight” message heard by Nauru the night previous because he got mixed up with the times (as in times at locations). One was GMT and one was ITASCA time but both saying “10:30”.

      What must have occurred was that Goerner had a deep think about what he had seen and had to return to have another look. Just as sometimes you leave the house without your wallet and have to go back !

      The passage in Goerner’s 1st Edition has to be read carefully and it then becomes clear that he is talking about “Itasca time” with the “10:30”, the time that Nauru reported to the Itasca that they had heard a call and the time is the time Itasca received the call.

      It is said that he removed the passage from later editions because it conflicted with his Saipan Theory……

      I am attaching a “Time Zone” MS Excel file and I have removed the first part dealing with the start at LAE and this abbreviated file starts just after the 1912GMT Tx from AE.

      The small island of Nauru had “two” time zones (!!!) – one was “Official” Time and one was “Civil” time. Official time was used by the radio station.

      On the Time Zone chart you will see that 1030 ITASCA = 0930 NAURU = 2200 GMT.

      So, we have a Tx on 6210 by a Radio Station within 500 miles of Nauru which is calling “Land in sight ahead”. The time of 2014GMT (AE apparently stopped searching or was on the line) to 2200GMT is 106 Minutes or 1 Hr 46 mins. I consider 2014GMT to be “turnback time”…. they had searched for an hour with no result.

      Remember the 1 Hour 46 minutes.

      After the turnback and heading off to somewhere…..

      With no headwind or tailwind and at normal “Cruise” power the Electra would fly at 150 mph

      1. Let us say AE & FN were in the vicinity if Howland but could not see it. Wind is from the East at 20 mph. AE makes a sighting call 20 minutes out, from whatever land she sees…..

      A. MILI is 851 miles from Howland to the WNW. HOW to MILI with a tailwind of 20 mph and Groundspeed of170 mph would take 5:00 hours to make Mili. A “Land in Sight” call could have been made at the 4:40 hour point.

      B. NIKUNAU is 500 miles from Howland to the West. G/S 170 mph. It would take 2:50 hrs to make Nikunau and a call of a sighting could be made after 2:30 Hours.

      2. Now, let us say that AE & FN were “short” of Howland by 100 miles due to the increased headwind way over the forecast which they would not have known about although they should have known about an increase of 10 mph over the forecast at NUKUMANU Island. So, in saying they may have been short of Howland by 100 miles let us now look at the figures again….

      A. MILI is now more to the WNW at 750 miles at the “100 miles out” position and is the electra is still getting the tailwind. G/S 170 mph. It would take 4:25 to make Mili and the call would go out at 4:05 hrs into the flight.

      B. NIKUNAU is 400 miles from the “100 miles out” position and at 170 G/S the distance is covered in 2:20 with a call after 2 Hours.

      3. Make them 150 Miles from Howland at 2014 GMT and then turn for Mili and Nikunau and you get:

      A. MILI now 700 to run, done in 4:05, with a call after 3:45 hours.

      B. NIKUNAU now 300 miles to run, done in 1:45, with a call at 1:25 hours


      Working on those figures, if it was NIKUNAU that was seen then Nikunau was 360 miles from their Turnback position making the transit time 2:05 with a call at 1:45 into the flight.

      This would make them 140 miles short of Howland when they turned back.

      I’ll take bets on NIKUNAU being the “Land in Sight” with a greater probability than it being any island in the Marshalls.

      After Nikunau travelling West, comes BERU and TABITUEA and NONOUTI, all of them in “The Gilberts”…. which, after all, was her Contingency Plan.

      See the MS Excel attachment for the Zone times.

      Best Regards,

      David Billings.

      P.S. I see that Bill says the call came 3 Hours and 16 minutes after the 2014GMT “supposed last call”. Bill may be correct in his thinking but after my extensive “time studies” of the Zone times on the flight from LAE out to Howland, it is my firm working that says the call “Land In sight ahead” came after 1 Hour and 46 Minutes after the 2014GMT call, according to the time reported by Goerner… That time of 1030 as being the time the Nauru report was received can be no other time but “Itasca Time” with ITASCA time being set at GMT -11.5 hours, therefore the GMT time would be 2200, just 106 minutes after the 2014GMT Call “on the line”. An Itasca time of 1030 Local is 0930 Local in “Official time” on Nauru. Bill’s working would mean the call came at 2330GMT. As I said, you have to read Goerner’s words in the book carefully, to understand that he is referring to the report in “Itasca time”.



  2. Woody,
    Thanks, have not heard of a version that was published in Japan and “predates” the Doubleday edition. Please try to find it and let us know the details of this book.


    1. I’m slowly packing for the move home to Hawaii. When I come across it, I will let you know, Mike.


      1. *Thanks Woody. Hope your move to Hawaii goes well. Stay in touch!* *Best,* *Mike*

        On Wed, May 28, 2014 at 3:23 PM, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last wrote:

        > Woody Peard commented: “I’m slowly packing for the move home to > Hawaii. When I come across it, I will let you know, Mike.” >


      2. What are the chances that the land Amelia saw was Nonouti Island? I have images from google earth of possible air craft debris in the shallow water around Nonouti Island.


  3. Wreckage from the plane was photographed in the Nikumaroro reef in October of 1937, and parts of the plane were discovered in 1938, when the previously uninhabited island was briefly settled. But by then, American authorities had already declared Earhart dead and concluded that her plane landed in the Pacific Ocean, lost forever.


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