Researchers have long puzzled over Amelia Earhart’s incomprehensible radio behavior as she approached Howland Island, or at least appeared to be approaching her officially stated objective on July 2, 1937. Bill Prymak, a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960, studied the messages for years before presenting his conclusions in his December 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter analysis, “Radio Logs — Earhart/ITASCA.”
Prymak was convinced that “a third-rate amateur back alley script writer with absolutely no aviation background would not have done a worse job [operating the radio], except for one perfectly executed objective: transmit so that nobody can cut a fix on you!” Recalling his experience with a partial engine failure off the New England coast in the mid-1970s, Prymak said he could have easily been killed. “So I grabbed my only lifeline — the radio, and ‘Maydayed’ on 121.5 and got the Coast Guard,” he wrote. “My most vivid memory of the incident was my refusing for even one second to let go (i.e. stop talking) with the voice at the other end of the line. I felt I was going to die without him!”
In my previous post we saw the rest of Prymak’s analysis of Amelia’s strange messages and incomprehensible behavior throughout the final hours of her last flight. Today we present Bill’s conclusions about what all this might have really meant.
“Radio Logs – Earhart/Itasca” (Part 2)
A SUMMARY ANALYSIS OF THE ABOVE
1. To answer advocates of “crashed at sea near Howland”:
Assuming leaky tanks and sloppy (read “rich”) mixture settings, and that she did run out of fuel immediately after 0844 HIT (Howland Island Time) transmission; at worst-case altitude of 1,000 feet. At the very first sign of an engine sputter, without any doubt (ask ANY pilot), she would have “MAYDAYED” over the radio, exhorting the ITASCA for help.
No matter what the mission – pleasure, flight, spy mission, overt, covert, you call it – Amelia Earhart suddenly becomes the pilot for none of the above. Instead, she is a frightened human being about to crash and possibly die, and she simply MUST reach out for the only lifeline possible – the radio.
How much time does she have from the first engine sputter to splash-down? Plenty. Twin-engine airplanes don’t have simultaneous engine quit from fuel exhaustion. Pilots who have experienced twin-engine fuel failures have invariably stated that one engine goes first, and the second engine quits several minutes later. The Electra, light on fuel and cabin weight, could easily have stayed aloft on one engine – there would have been plenty of time for a radio MAYDAY. It simply defies all logic that AE would refuse to send a MAYDAY if fuel exhaustion near Howland Island was indeed the case. She certainly had the time and a working radio transmitter.
2. The “LAND IN SIGHT” message comes 3 hours, 16 minutes after the infamous 0844 “LINE OF POSITION” message. (See previous post regarding this alleged message.)
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 Mill, plus the flood of native witnesses (some even from Saipan) who have corroborated the above. Read Don Wilson’s excellent book Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend, which also supports the above. 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? (Editor’s note: See previous post for relevant comments on the alleged “Land in Sight” message.)
3. A FEW THORNS AMONGST THE ROSES?
There have been more than a few (some of the armchair variety) critics who have criticized and rebuked Amelia’s flying skills. Let them try flying a heavy, noisy airplane with crude autopilot capabilities for some 10 to 20 hours at a stretch, over vast oceans, hostile unexplored deserts and mountains, through monsoon rains of unimaginable intensities, with virtually no radio navigation aids to help find your way, with no decent charts for visual reference.
Some of these critics can’t even hack a 12-hour flight in luxuriously pampered cushy comfort on a 747! I have nothing but the greatest admiration for Amelia’s skills as a pilot. That has been proven time and time again from Miami to Lae. Piloting skills and radio skills are two distinct and separate endeavors. The former has been aptly demonstrated, but the latter has from time to time come under sharp criticism. From people who knew her personally:
ART KENNEDY: “I think that a lot of the questions about her lack of using the radio correctly is because she would not learn how it worked or how to properly operate it. To me she had no real knowledge of what any radio could do. When Paul (Mantz) tried to teach her she just nodded and said, “#%*$¢! I will just turn the knobs until I get what I want.’” (Editor’s note: Kennedy had much more to say about Amelia, the Electra and what he claimed she told him in Hawaii before and after ground-looped the Electra at Luke Field in March 1937. We’ll be hearing from Kennedy in future posts.)
PAUL RAFFORD JR.: Paul tells the story of how his PAN AM Division Radio Engineer met with AE at Miami to discuss radio and suggested several possible changes to increase safety and better radio capability. To his surprise and chagrin Amelia brushed him off with, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am!”
(Itasca Skipper) Commander Warner K. Thompson and others have made depreciating remarks about her radio skills, but evidence has come forth that Fred Noonan did have a 2nd class Radio Operator’s License, certainly enough for slow Morse Code work and adequate communication skills. So somebody indeed was on board who could have managed the radio during the difficult last hours of the flight. (Editor’s note: Amelia had announced before the world flight that she would not communicate in code, but use voice only. Some have claimed that she left her Morse code key behind with the trailing antenna at Miami. The big question is why she took these actions, which appear to be so counterintuitive and destructive to her stated mission’s success.)
4. PUTTING THE RADIO LOG TIME LAPSES IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE:
The vast amount of time between Earhart’s communications to Itasca has always troubled me, and for some it may be difficult to see and comprehend this enormous time gap, so join me in this little exercise: Let us consider RADIO LOG times from 0512 to 0844 (HIT). That represents some three and one-half hours, or 212 minutes. Now take a roll of fax paper 8½” wide by 5-feet long and assign one minute of time to each normal line used for typing. Now insert the 0512 message at the top of the page; it will consume one line (one minute). Then skip 63 lines and insert the next Earhart message at time 0615. Next we skip 31 lines and insert the 0646 message, and so on until the last message 0844 is near the bottom of the 5-foot-long roll of paper. The galactic void between messages is staggering! Something is terribly wrong; these voids must be considered as “windows of opportunity” that any prudent pilot, lost over a vast ocean and in imminent peril of crash-landing into the sea, would certainly take advantage of.
5. PLEASURE FLIGHT? COVERT MISSION? SPY MISSION?
These are the million dollar questions that have plagued us since day ONE. The State Department, the Japanese, or perhaps some obscure WWII veteran will someday surface with the final indisputable truth. The AMELIA EARHART SOCIETY’S efforts hopefully will hasten that day. I don’t drink, but when that day comes, I’ll tag one on BIGTIME! (End of Prymak analysis.)
In future posts we’ll begin presenting and examining the ideas of the elder statesman of Earhart researchers, Paul Rafford Jr., the former Pan Am flight radio officer, who flew with men who knew Fred Noonan and talked to technicians who worked on Earhart’s plane. Rafford’s work is legendary among students and fans of the Earhart case. First, however, I’ll do a recap of my two-hour presentation to the South Sectional Meeting of the Ninety-Nines at Wichita, Kansas on Sept. 27. Please stay tuned.
Did Amelia Earhart’s secretary send the mysterious letter found at Jaluit Post Office in November 1937?
With the recent passing of my dear friend Bill Prymak at age 86, we can write finis to a great era of Earhart research. Bill has joined a host of Earhart researchers whose myriad contributions have made an enormous impact in establishing the facts about Amelia’s tragic end on Saipan, and although our current national zeitgeist stands in vehement opposition to their findings becoming widely known anytime soon, the truth will stand the test of time and will someday be revealed to all when the U.S. government finally finds the fortitude to do so. Bill’s death leaves only Paul Rafford Jr., 95, the former Pan American Airways radio flight officer and author of Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared (2008) and Joe Klaas, 94, Joe Gervais’ close friend who penned the infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives as the only surviving old timers.
Beginning with today’s post, as a tribute to Bill and his formidable contributions to the Earhart saga, I will republish some of the great research articles that graced the pages of his remarkable Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which he produced, without fanfare or remuneration, and solely for the limited membership of the Amelia Earhart Society in his Broomfield, Colo., office from December 1989 until March 2000. I know Bill would be happy that his fine work, and that of many others, is honored and shared with the remaining few who continue to seek and value the truth.
Due to the columnar format of this blog, it won’t always be possible to exactly reproduce the letter-size that comprised Bill’ newsletters, but I’ll do everything possible to present these entries as close to their original look as possible. I’ll also make it clear when the material presented is taken directly from Bill’s AES Newsletters. Today’s article is taken from the May 1991 issue of the newsletters, and looks like this:
FROM: PACIFIC ISLANDS MONTHLY MAGAZINE 5/25/38
POSTAL MYSTERY, UNCLAIMED LETTER FOR AMELIA EARHART
From: Mr. Carl Heine a special correspondent and German missionary in the Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, March 17, 1938
“Here is a curious thing. On November 27, 1937 in the Jaluit Post Office, in the Marshall Islands (Japanese), among the unclaimed mail a certain letter attracted my attention. In its upper left corner was printed ‘Hollywood-Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood California.’ A little lower down appeared the postal date stamp with “Los Angeles, California, October 7, 10 pm,” within the circle, Lower down in the usual place appeared the following stating address:
“Miss Amelia Earhart (Putnam); Marshall Islands (Japanese); Ratak Group, Maloelap Island, (10); South Pacific Ocean.”
“Written diagonally across one corner was this, ‘Deliver Promptly.’ On the back of envelope ‘Incognito’ was penciled in very small, fine handwriting. The letter was unopened, and consequently I have no idea of its contents. Now, it seems to me that anyone in U.S.A. writing as late as October, ought to be well aware that Amelia Earhart had been given up as lost long before. Hence, it would appear that the letter may have been written by some one desirous of hoaxing the public. Still, it is just possible that such may not be the case at all.
“Certainly, the writer of the address on the envelope, while making some errors such as anyone at a distance might make, displays a little more geographical knowledge of these parts than one would expect of the average individual, but which one would certainly expect of anyone about to traverse the Pacific, and would be passing this group at a distance of a few hundred miles.
“It is conceivable that Amelia Earhart may have told some trusted friend in America, before setting out on her ill fated journey, that she intended to take a look-see in at the Marshalls enroute or that she might possibly do so if in any danger as she passed by. And it is possible that this hypothetical friend in Hollywood might think that Amelia had reached this group, and might be lying low for some reason or other at Maloelap. It seems curious that anyone without specific interest in the group should know the name of that particular atoll which is of no great importance. What the number (10) might mean in connection with that island I have no idea.” (End of Carl Heine’s original narrative.)
HISTORICAL NOTE: “Maloelap Island” (Bill Prymak’s comments follow.)
“Prior to WWII in the Pacific the Japanese built its first military operational airfield among the Marshall Islands Group on this island. During the invasion of the Marshall Islands by the U.S. Forces during WWII, Maloelap Island was bypassed and not occupied. The Japanese on this island did not surrender until after the signing of the surrender in Tokyo Bay.”
“ED NOTE: Isn’t it coincidental that Margot DeCarie, AE’s personal secretary, was living in the Hollywood-Roosevelt Hotel during Sept-Oct. 1937? It is stated that with her death in 1983, the true answers to the AE mystery were buried with her….” (End of entry.)
This is all we know about the letter. Carl Heine obviously respected privacy rights — even of those believed deceased — too much to open and read its contents, and no one else has ever indicated what became of it. It’s quite possible that the letter was confiscated by U.S. intelligence assets soon after they learned of its existence, and it’s probably joined Robert E. Wallack’s briefcase and the photos of Amelia and Fred reportedly discovered by Seabee Joe Garofalo and other GIs on Saipan, deep in top secret archives where nobody can get to it.
We do know that DeCarie wasn’t shy about expressing her ideas about what happened to her boss in July 1937, but we can also wonder whether she told people like Fred Goerner all that she really knew. In a phone interview sometime in the early 1960s, she told Goerner that she had “promised secrecy” to an unknown party, but still gave him plenty to think about. “Do you really think Purdue University bought that plane for Amelia,” she asked, “and do you think that it was intended for some kind of vague experimentation? Second, if the whole thing was a publicity stunt … why did the government assign some of its top experts to the flight, and why did President Roosevelt have an airfield built for her? Last, do you believe the President ordered the Navy to spend four million dollars on a search for a couple of stunt fliers?” DeCarie was sure Earhart “died a long time ago,” and that the Japanese captured her “within moderate range of Howland Island. … President Roosevelt knew everything,” she said. “He knew the price Amelia paid.” Margot Decarie passed away in North Hollywood, Calif., in 1983 at the age of 79.
In his 1997 book, Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceana Since World War II, John Garret wrote that during the war, Carl Heine was given the option to leave the Marshalls, but he chose to stay. He was detained, along with his wife, at times in isolation by the Japanese. “In January 1944 US bombing became heavier at Jabor, preceding the full counter-attack on fortified positions,” Garret wrote. “Many Marshallese – but few, if any Japanese – died in the most intensive bombardment in March. In April, Carl R. Heine was beheaded and his body burned at Enijet, Jaluit.” (Garrett is clearly in error about the location of Heine’s beheading, as Enijet is an island on Mili Atoll, not Jaluit Atoll.)
Heine’s grandson John would later tell Earhart researchers about the barge with the silver airplane with the broken wing he saw at Jaluit as a child. “It was the plane an American lady had been flying when she crashed,” Heine told T.C. “Buddy” Brennan in 1983, and he believed that after leaving Jaluit the ship “went on to Kwajalein … then on to Truk and Saipan.”