Prymak’s “Radio Logs — Earhart/Itasca” conclusion: Was she really looking for Howland?

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.

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, titled Radio Logs - Earhart/ITASCA."

Bill Prymak, a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960, studied Amelia’ final radio messages for years before presenting his conclusions in his December 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter analysis, titled “Radio  Logs — Earhart/ITASCA.”

“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!”

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy's high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O'Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and "rated" to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

(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.

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13 responses

  1. This has been a question for over 70 years, and most doubtful it will ever be proven. If, indeed, she and Fred’s remains are ever found, perhaps that could shed some light. However, that, too, is very doubtful.

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  2. Great info, Mike! I am no expert on WWII, but it looks suspiciously like she was avoiding communicating her exact location, and she was not trying her darnedest to get to Howland where they were waiting for her.

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  3. Excellent analysis, Mike. Prymak’s reasoning is sound and his analysis hard to argue. It defies all logic that Earhart would not have had one hand on the transmitting mike during those last couple of hours – unless of course she did not want her position to be obtained.

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  4. Viewpoint. Please take as such.

    AE knew they were in dangerous territory being overheard by paranoid Japanese military in that area and could not divulge a true location, lest the wrong group pick them up.

    She knew how to water land that plane and well educated on ditching in case of emergency. She would never have continued flying until the plane dropped out of the sky from lack of fuel. No decent pilot would do that. Ludicrous.

    Consider the idea of interference that cut off communications suddenly.

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    1. Not a doubt that the Japanese were monitoring her transmissions. It was not a secret that she was making that flight. Just too much evidence that she was picked up by Japanese, and without doubt was eventually taken to Saipan. From there the real mystery starts. Having been involved in recovery project on Tinian Island (2004), I still lean toward that theory. However, Mike’s latest book is an excellent compilation/research into the Saipan connection. Although over 70 years has passed, let us hope evidence will someday be found. Still do not believe she was ever on Nikumorro (Gardener Island).
      JBunn

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  5. Mike’s book is excellent!

    Opinion only: Consider the possibility she did not die by Japanese hand, but killed during post WW2 clean up, due to the fact she could not reveal identity until safely home with people who did know her. By not telling, she would have been dealt with militarily. Perhaps identified by debrief notes in another type of archive. Something like special ops.

    Just an idea to assist research. Sometimes a simple outside view helps.

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    1. Judy,
      Thanks for your kind compliment, I do appreciate it. But your idea about Amelia not dying on Saipan and returning to the United States has already been worn out. Are you not familiar with Amelia Earhart Lives (1970), by Joe Klaas, or the obscure Amelia Earhart Survived (2003), by Colonel Rollin Reineck (USAF retired)? AE Lives introduced the idea, dreamed up by Joe Gervais, that Irene Bolam, a New Jersey housewife, was AE returned. Bolam sued McGraw-Hill for defamation, the book was withdrawn and Bolam settled for what was said to be a substantial but undisclosed amount. Reineck, a close friend of the Earhart-addled Joe Gervais, attempted to resurrect the Bolam myth with his own self-published book in 2003, which although successful in tearing apart the old guard of the Amelia Earhart Society during the two years following its publication, failed miserably in the marketplace. Judy, the evidence is simply far too overwhelming that Amelia died on Saipan. Those who tried to convince the public otherwise only damaged the legitimate efforts of honest researchers to establish the truth.

      Mike C.

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  6. I know the Irene story is absurd and untrue – you are right on that. Ugh, painful, shameful reading on that one.
    Doubles were used for military strategy pre – WW2.

    What I meant was, the known AE trail may end in Saipan and it seems logical she died there, but there may also be a lot more timeline to the story, found in another place, under a whole different heading. It would take a bit more sluething, and understanding of the atmosphere of the the time.

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  7. Don the Realist says:

    October 30,2014
    I personally talked to a Marine Lt.Col who was present at the burning of Amelia’s Electra.They were told to forget this event happened.
    The Milli Attoll landing area,is feasible,the Seaplane Tender rescuing the wreckage is probably correct.The 5 days of her
    trying to get the word out,and was heard by at least 5 different people,One in Florida and another in England are hard to deny.
    It is reported that Noonan was executed,and Amelia died of
    dysentry on Saipan.
    A lot of information has been discovered.A book WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AMELIA EARHART was printed by a prominent
    researcher.We got caught with our hand in the Cookie Jar and
    no one will give out the correct story

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    1. Well, Don the Realist, this is most interesting. Do you know the identity of this Lieutenant Colonel, and if so, would you be willing to talk to me about it, confidentially of course? If so, send me an email at mbcampbell29@aol.com.

      By the way, the book you mention is listed on Amazon, by Melinda Blau, published in 1977 and ranked 13 million-something. It’s also a children’s book. Is this the book you cite?

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    2. Don, if you spoke to a Marine Lt Colonel who witnessed the Earhart plane being burnt on Saipan and he said anything similar to what you described that is a new witness not previously known. Obviously this Lt. Col would be deceased, but would you please elaborate?

      Les Kinney

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      1. It was 35 years ago & I do not recall his name. Credence must be given to the fact that probably 75 to 100 persons have reported this fact. NR 16020 was seen in Flight the day before being destroyed. So much for TIGHAR and their accounts.

        We will not EVER know, without Gov Documents becoming available. Your book read like a Book Report of Fred Goerners book. I, too long for the answer. It is not likely to be solved — UNTIL Military Records are released. Personally,I believe Gardner Island/Milli Attoll and Saipan are the Hallmarks of the story.

        Don Cox Sr

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  8. I believed that Don Cox Sr., right.. and, correction must be made here.. Gardner Island is not Mili Atoll. Mili Atoll is located in the Marshall Islands. My question is how much do you know? An eyewitness in the Marshall Islands in those days stated that he saw an airplane on one Japanese ship with one wing missing. I believe the story that AE crash-landed on Mili Atoll. Clue here is the plane was taken to Turk or Saipan… whatever. The real piece of clue is the missing wing of AE’s plane. My theory is someone hide the other wing and all we have to do is find? This will solve the mystery once and for all.
    .

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