Today we continue our examination of Paul Rafford Jr.’s writings about what might have have transpired during the last hours of Amelia Earhart’s alleged “approach” to Howland Island, as well as other intriguing and controversial ideas he advanced over the years following his retirement from the NASA’s Manned Space Program in 1988.
On Dec. 7, 1991 Paul Rafford was putting the finishing touches on his new piece, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Deception,” which appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. “The theory presented herein represents a major digression from the commonly held belief that Earhart was in the vicinity of Howland Island when her voice was last heard on the air,” he wrote. “It proposes that the radio calls intercepted by the Itasca were actually recorded by Earhart before she left the United States, to be played back at the appropriate time later on by another airplane.”
Fifteen years later, Paul presented his evolved theory of an Earhart radio deception as an entire chapter, or “Section 7,” as he called it, in his 2006 book Amelia Earhart’s Radio. That’s our focus for this post — Section 7, edited only for style and consistency, with a few photos added for your reading enjoyment.
“The Earhart Radio Deception”
The Earhart deception was designed to convince the world that she and Noonan were unable to locate Howland either visually or by radio; Itasca Radioman Bill Galten was not convinced. In 1942, after he came to work for Pan Am, he expressed his professional opinion to me, “Paul, that woman never intended to land on Howland!”
She had failed to answer any of his more than fifty calls or even tell him what frequency she was listening to. But to make sure, he called her on all his frequencies. Her method of operating was to suddenly come on the air without a call-up, deliver a brief message and be off, all within a few seconds. In fact, she was so brief that the Howland direction finder never had a chance to get a bearing. Also, every one of her transmissions was such that it could have been recorded well beforehand by a sound-alike actress. Even the Navy’s official report states, “Communication was never really established.”
Itasca heard approximately nine radio transmissions on 3105 kHz. They were divided into two groups separated by an hour. Messages in the first group, transmitted around sunrise or earlier, were weak or almost inaudible. The second group were loud and clear as though the plane was nearby. Chief Radioman Bellarts later declared he felt that if he stepped out on deck he would hear the Electra’s engines.
The above suggests that the two groups were transmitted from different locations. The first group could have been sent from Canton Island where the Navy had set up a station the month before. The second group could have been sent from a nearby ship or Baker Island. The system worked well and the deception was not detected aboard Itasca or by later investigators. However, there is an important clue that indicates the transmissions were not “live.”
Listeners noted that there was a change in the voice pitch between the earlier transmissions and the final transmissions. Those near Howland were higher pitched. They presumed Earhart was getting desperate. But the recording and playback machines of the mid-1930’s did not have the stability of modern equipment. As a result, the Howland area recordings were inadvertently played back at a higher speed than those from Canton. This made the diction sound more hurried. But listeners passed it off as simply proving that Earhart was becoming increasingly nervous at not finding Howland.
In addition to her unorthodox operating procedures, Earhart’s sound-alike asked for 7500 kHz. to use with her direction finder. But this frequency cannot be used with airborne direction finders. When she failed to get bearings she should have switched to 500 kHz, where Itasca was already sending for her. After 45 minutes of silence, during which Itasca called her frequently, she finally came back on the air.
However, it was only to announce that she was on the line of position 157-337 and would switch to 6210 kHz. Itasca never heard her again and the search began. Here are two possible scenarios to explain why Earhart never reached Howland.
Scenario No. 1
Earhart and Noonan were following their announced flight plan from Lae to Howland when he became incapacitated. In her ignorance about radio and navigation, she was unable to get in contact with Itasca or take bearings on the ship. Finally, she simply ran out of gas and fell in the ocean.
The flaw with this scenario is that it doesn’t jibe with published accounts of Earhart’s radio expertise. For example, in Last Flight she describes flying along the routes of the Federal Airways System. She had no trouble communicating with the government radio stations and tuning in their navigation aids.
Scenario No. 2
We’ll never know when Earhart lost faith in Noonan’s navigation but the first indication was during their arrival over Africa after crossing the South Atlantic. She failed to follow his instructions and ended up landing at St. Louis, 168 miles north of Dakar.
After leaving Lae, she could have navigated visually by using the islands below as check points. But her Nukumanu Islands sighting is the only position report to be found in the records. After over flying them at sunset, she signed off on 6210 kHz. with Harry Balfour at Lae, and Alan Vagg at nearby Bulolo. Then, she could have turned toward Nauru, 525 miles east-northeast. She had received a message the day before that it’s giant lights, used for mining guano at night, would be turned on for her. Later, listeners on the island heard her say on 3105 kHz. that she had their lights in sight.
Had she been following a direct Lae-to-Howland track, she would have been far too south to see them. There were only four airfields in that part of the Pacific that could have accommodated Earhart’s plane. They were 1) Lae 2) Howland 3) Rabaul on New Britain and 4) Roi Namur in the Marshalls. But Roi Namur was the only one Earhart could reach without Noonan’s help.
After passing Nauru, Earhart could have headed for Jaluit in the Japanese-occupied Marshalls. She could have picked up its high-powered broadcast station and homed in on it after sunrise. Noonan should have known about the station because Pan Am on Wake Island used it to calibrate their own direction finder. Then, after overheading the station she could use a bearing from it to find the only land-plane airport in the Marshalls, Roi Namur. But would she have been so eager to land there had she known the Japanese were about to go to war with China?
Ten points to the Earhart Radio Deception
- She was quick to reject Pan Am’s offer to track her across the Pacific with its direction finding network.
- She told Harry Balfour that neither she nor Noonan knew morse code.
- She signed off with Harry Balfour at sunset on July 2nd, even though he offered to stay in contact with her until she had established communication with Itasca.
- She never replied to any of Itasca’s numerous calls, done so on all of its frequencies.
- She never announced to the Itasca what frequency she was listening to.
- She never called up the Itasca before she transmitted a message.
- She never stayed on the air long enough for the Howland direction finder to try and get a bearing; never more than seven or eight seconds.
- She requested 7500 kHz from Itasca for bearings, even though her direction finder had been calibrated in the 500 to 600 kHz band.
- She never attempted contact with Itasca after she tuned in on 7500.
- She made no further attempt to contact Itasca, or ask the ship for another direction finding frequency.
Although we have no absolute proof that the flyers were Earhart and Noonan, thru the years investigators have turned up undeniable evidence that two Caucasians did land in the Marshalls before World War II.
One theory is that Earhart was supposed to secretly land on Canton and wait to be picked up. In early June, the U.S. Navy had hosted a solar eclipse expedition on Canton and left behind a radio station and personnel. They could have taken care of the flyers until the Navy was ready to find them. Under the guise of looking for Earhart, our Navy would have an excuse to make a survey of the mid-Pacific islands in preparation for World War II. Believe it or not, their navigators were working with outdated charts based on early 19th century whaling ship reports. When the survey was finished, she and Noonan could be “found.”
But suppose she had panicked at the idea of flying nearly 3,000 miles while depending on Noonan’s navigation? She had already missed Dakar by ignoring his order to change course. Lacking faith in his navigation, there was only one landing field in the mid-Pacific that she could reach by herself using her radio direction finder – Roi Namur. But, it was in the Japanese held Marshalls. After passing abeam Nauru, she could reach it by tuning in the Jabor broadcasting station on Jaluit that operated from early morning until late at night. In fact, the Pan Am direction finder at Wake used it to calibrate their own direction finder. After overheading Jabor, she could follow a bearing from the station to reach Roi Namur.
The flyers had passed Nauru before midnight and Jabor was only 420 miles farther. With sunset still hours away, they would have to slow to their minimum air speed and circle until daylight. But fate intervened and they never landed at Roi Namur.
After delivering my Earhart speech at a Christmas gathering, a man came up to me and introduced himself. During the 1990’s he had been an Air Force civilian worker on Kwajalein. His work was at Roi Namur so he commuted daily by air. One noon he was walking about the island when he met a friendly old Marshallese who spoke good English. He had come back to visit his boyhood home. My friend asked him if he had ever seen any white people on Roi before World War II. To his surprise the old man said, “Yes!” and related his story. When he was a young boy he had seen two white people being loaded aboard an airplane and flown away.
One of the facts that tends to support Scenario No. 2 was the comment made by Secretary of the Interior Henry Morgenthau, Jr. to his colleagues that slipped out from under the veil of government secrecy: “She disobeyed all orders!” Morgentgau was recorded as saying in a telephone conversation. What orders could a private civilian have disobeyed that would upset a cabinet officer?
With regard to landing on Howland, Itasca Chief Radio Officer Leo Bellarts remarked to Fred Goerner that although Earhart might get down OK, he didn’t see how she could ever take off through the thousands of nesting gooney birds. Yau Fai Lum wrote me that even dynamite failed to scatter them. He had gone aboard Itasca to get “a home cooked meal” when he heard a terrific boom! Looking back at the island he saw a mass of gooney birds suddenly become airborne. “They fluttered around for ten or fifteen seconds before settling down again,” Yau wrote. Air Corps Lt. Daniel Cooper advised his headquarters of the bird problem several days before Earhart’s arrival. But it had already been noted several months before during the airfield’s construction. Why did the “powers-that-be” not seem to be concerned about it?
Nevertheless, two airplanes actually did land on Howland, both during World War II. The first, based at nearby Baker, had engine trouble and was forced to use the Howland runways. The second carried a repair crew. Both planes eventually returned to Baker.
Here is the situation that emerges as we put the pieces together. First, Earhart was not on an espionage mission per se. There were government facilities, including ships, planes and professionals, who were much better equipped for spying than private individuals. However, we did need a good look at the Central Pacific before the outbreak of World War II. Like the Axis Powers in Europe, the Japanese were planning a war to conquer and dominate the Far East.
America was ill-prepared for a war in the Pacific. During the Earhart search our fleet was still operating with charts prepared by whaling captains a century before. We needed to get ready for war – and soon! Looking for America’s sweetheart would be an excellent excuse to bring those charts up to date, much quicker than depending upon individual ships and reconnaissance planes.
However, the Administration was faced with a problem. Not only were we just emerging from the Great Depression while still dealing with its problems, but to many isolationists Europe and its war clouds were a ten-day ocean trip away. Japan was even further. A popular song of the era expressed the feelings of many, “Oh the weather outside is frightful. But here inside it’s delightful. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”
Also, George Washington’s comment in his farewell address was widely quoted: “Beware of foreign entanglements!” Privately, our government realized the need to be prepared to go to war in the Pacific. But although we couldn’t openly send a fleet to survey the area without raising extreme objections, we could send a fleet to look for Earhart. Even the isolationists would cry, “Go find our Amelia!” Meanwhile, under the pretense of looking for Earhart our Navy would update its charts and exercise the otherwise depression idled Pacific fleet. (End of “The Earhart Radio Deception” chapter.)
In his 1991 article I cited at the beginning of this post, presented in a question-and-answer format with Bill Prymak, Paul goes into far more detail in describing the covert operation he envisioned, as well as the logistics he believes were employed to facilitate it. Again, he begins by stating he believes Amelia never intended to land on Howland Island, citing Itasca Radioman Bill Galten’s well-known statement to him that Amelia”never intended to land on Howland.”
Pointing to the widely accepted idea that two-way communication between Amelia and Itasca was never established, Paul suggested that “all of the transmissions received by the ship could have been recorded weeks beforehand for playback by another plane. It could just as well have been a [Consolidated] PBY Catalina [flying boat] flying out of Canton Island.”
In my next post, we’ll delve futher into Paul’s Earhart radio deception theory, as well as take a look at his unique and equally intriguing suggestion that the Earhart Electra was switched for another plane prior to their June 2, 1937 Miami takeoff. Much more to come.
Now that my presentation to the Ninety-Nines at their South Central Sectional Meeting in Wichita, Kansas is history, we return to our regular scheduled programming. Today, as promised, we consider the multiple radio conundrums posed by the final flight of Amelia Earhart, more specifically, the writings of Paul Rafford Jr.
The elder statesman of Earhart research, Paul is alive and well at 95 in Melbourne, Fla., and he remains among the planet’s most knowledgeable on radios and their transmission capabilities during the time of the Amelia’s final flight. He worked with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He flew with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Earhart’s Electra. After a promotion with PAA, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
Earhart fans will recall Paul’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s decisions during the final flight. In 2006, Paul’s own book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it didn’t have commercial success, it is a treasure trove of invaluable information you won’t find anywhere else.
“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006. “Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems. We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.”
Paul wrote many articles for Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters between 1989 and 2000, and not only about Amelia’s inexplicable radio behavior during the last flight. He also developed compelling theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most fascinating possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time.
Paul wrote two pieces with basically the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to repeat and emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle the experts. We’ll start today with Paul’s 1997 treatment of the Earhart radio enigma, and in coming weeks will explore a host of his analytic and theoretical essays about our favorite missing American aviatrix. Without futher ado, here is Paul’s essay, edited only for style and consistency, written April 10, 1997, which appeared in the AES Newsletters May 1997 edition.
“THE EARHART RADIO ENIGMA”
1) Why did Amelia Earhart have her trailing antenna removed in Miami before starting her second attempt to circle the globe? During the early days of over-ocean flying, airplanes would reel out a long length of wire called a “trailing antenna” for radiotelegraph communication with ships on the international maritime calling and distress frequency, 500 kHz (kilohertz, same as kilocycles). This was in addition to their regular fixed antenna for communicating with land stations.
Legend has it that both Earhart and Noonan’s code speed was very slow, so she removed the equipment required for contacting ships. However, the assumption about Noonan’s radio operating abilities is not supported by former crew mates. On occasion while flying as navigator on Pan Am’s Clippers he would relieve the radio operator for rest periods. However, by eliminating 500 kHz, Earhart also eliminated the possibility that the Itasca’s direction finder could lead her to Howland. She didn’t need to know code in order to transmit on 500 for bearings. Both she and the Itasca had 3105 kHz, and they could have coordinated any bearing procedures by voice.
New evidence indicates the probability that after Earhart arrived at Miami from Burbank during her second attempt to circle the globe, she secretly switched planes. The second plane came from the factory without a trailing antenna. But, in order to explain to curious observers why she arrived with the trailing antenna, but left without one, she had it removed right after she arrived. This would help obscure the fact that she had switched planes. The second plane also came without a direction finding loop. Earhart could dispense with a trailing antenna but not a loop. So, just the day before departure Pan Am installed a new one for her. (Editor’s note: In future posts we will look more closely at Paul’s claim of a plane switch in Miami.)
2) Why did Earhart refuse Pan Am’s offer to track her plane across the Pacific if she would install a Pan Am direction-finding frequency? During Earhart’s eight-day layover at Miami she met with Charlie Winter, Pan Am’s local radio engineer. During their conversation he pointed out that if she would install a Pan Am frequency in place of the vacant 500 kHz channel, our direction finders could track her whereabouts over the Pacific, the same as we did with our Clippers.
As Charlie told me later, she immediately rebuffed his suggestion with the comment, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.” Charlie was flabbergasted. But the question is, why was Earhart so quick to reject his offer? Didn’t she want her whereabouts to be known?
3) Why, after seven hours of contact with Lae, did Earhart dismiss Harry Balfour’s offer to continue communicating with her until she could contact the Itasca, waiting at Howland Island? Seven hours into the flight Earhart advised Harry Balfour that she was leaving 6210 kHz and would try and contact the Itasca on 3105 kHz. Her signals were still coming in well, so Balfour implored her not to break off contact with him until she had established contact with the ship. This was normal operating procedure back then. But, she switched off anyway, and he never again heard her, nor did she ever again have two-way contact with any station.
4) Why did Earhart never engage Itasca in two-way radio contact? Bill Galten’s logs show that Earhart never directly answered any of his more than 50 calls or ever gave any indication that she was heating the ship except on one occasion. She would suddenly come on the air without a preliminary call-up, deliver a brief message and go off, all in the space of seven or eight seconds.
5) Why did Earhart never stay on the air for more than a few seconds at a time? We can only guess, but it would appear, as in the Pan Am direction-finding offer, that she didn’t want her position known. The bare minimum time for obtaining a bearing with a vintage 1930’s direction finder was about 15 seconds, but it usually took longer.
Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, manning the Howland direction finder, complained bitterly that Earhart never stayed on the air long enough for him to get a bearing. She also confused the Itasca crew by never advising what frequency she would be listening to or if they should answer with code or voice.
6) Why did Bill Galten believe that Earhart never intended to land on Howland Island? Bill left the Coast Guard and came with Pan Am shortly after the Earhart disappearance. We flew together during World War II. On one occasion while discussing the Earhart mystery he exclaimed to me, “That woman never intended to land on Howland!” When I asked why, he had two explanations. First, her radio operating procedures were nothing like that of a lost pilot desperately trying to make a landfall.
Second, Bill claimed that the condition of the Howland runway was unfit for a safe landing. It was covered with thousands of goony birds that, despite the best efforts of the Itasca’s crew to shoo them away, would not vacate the area.
7) Why did Earhart ask for 7500 kHz from the Itasca when 7500 could not be used with airborne direction finders? While Earhart was supposedly approaching Howland, she requested, “Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles.” She had asked for it earlier so she could use it for radio bearings. Although the Itasca’s crew knew that she would not be able to get a bearing, they had no choice but to transmit long Morse code dashes for her. Five minutes later she replied, “We received your signal but unable to get minimum (a bearing).”
Fred Noonan, Pan Am’s ex-chief navigator, would very well know she couldn’t get one on that frequency. Instead of asking for 7500, Earhart should have listened for 500 kHz. The ship was transmitting for her on this frequency almost constantly. Her direction finder had been calibrated to this frequency range before she left Miami. Later, Harry Balfour checked it at Lae with a nearby station operating on 500.
When Earhart declared, “We read your signal but unable get minimum,” it was the only time she admitted hearing the ship. She would also conclude that the ship was hearing her signals because they had turned on 7500 kHz at her request. At this point she should have been ecstatic! Lost and out of communication, she at long last had radio contact. Even though the crew could use only telegraph on 7500, they could at least have sent very slowly and advised her to listen on 3105 for communication and 500 for direction finding. But did Earhart cling to this one chance for survival? No! She went off the air for 40 minutes and when she returned it was only to declare that she was flying up and down a line of position and would switch to 6210 kHz. The Itasca never heard her again.
8) What actually happened during Earhart’s last flight? This is a complex question and we can only propose a scenario based on what facts we know, plus some educated conjectures. War clouds were fast gathering in the mid-1930s. In Europe the Axis powers were getting ready to invade their neighbors and Japan was about to invade China. America was just recovering from the Great Depression and money for defense was scarce. Also, the isolationists were very powerful and opposed any “foreign entanglements.”
To astute observers of international politics, it was obvious that we were rapidly approaching a world war for which we were woefully unprepared. For example, the location of many Pacific islands on maritime charts had not been checked since the early 19th century whaling ships had stumbled across them. Their positions could be no more accurate than the ship’s chronometers that may not have been checked against time standards for weeks or more.
And so it was that the powers-that-be in government came up with a plan. Amelia Earhart was getting ready to circle the globe on a flight that would carry her over the mid-Pacific islands in question. Why not have her disappear during it? The American public would demand that the government find their heroine at any cost. A vast search would ensue. Ostensibly, it would be for humanitarian purposes, but meanwhile our fleet would be quietly updating its century old charts while reconnoitering the area. With war clouds looming, our charts had to be accurate. As an example of the problem, during the search one particular island in the Phoenix group was found 60 miles away from its plotted position.
The centerpiece of the plan would be the action around Howland Island after Earhart supposedly went down. But, after signing off with Harry Balfour, instead of Howland, Earhart would head for the British controlled Gilbert Islands, and land on a predetermined beach. After the Navy finished its survey, the flyers could be rescued. But tragically, rescue never came. Did Earhart overfly the Gilberts and land in the Marshalls? I leave the answer to other investigators.
The wording of all of Earhart’s transmissions was such that they could have been recorded weeks beforehand for later broadcast by a clandestine radio station somewhere in the vicinity of Howland. Coast Guard logs show that just before Earhart’s flight, the Itasca dropped off men and supplies at Howland and then proceeded to Baker Island, which along with Howland, was part of the inter-island weather gathering network operating on 7500 kHz.
At Baker, the ship dropped off four new colonists and their gear. They would secretly set up a radio station to transmit the Earhart recordings on 3105 kHz. (Editor’s note: Baker Island is an uninhabited atoll located just north of the equator in the central Pacific about 1,920 miles southwest of Honolulu, and lies almost halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbor is Howland Island, 42 miles to the north-northwest; both have been territories of the United States since 1857. Baker Island was the site of a U.S. LORAN [Long Range Navigation] radio station in operation from September 1944 to July 1946. The station unit number was 91 and the radio call sign was NRN-1.)
After word was received that Earhart had left Lae, the plan would go into action. When Earhart was supposedly approaching Howland, the Baker operator would commence sending the recordings at hourly intervals until sunrise. After that they would be sent more frequently, consistent with Earhart’s supposed flight activities when in the vicinity of Howland. The transmitter power was adjustable so the operator could simulate her calls at various distances out from Howland.
The transmissions were kept very brief so Cipriani could never get a bearing. Had he been able to do so, he would have noticed that the signals were coming from the south southeast, instead of west. Although he was unable to get a bearing at the time, days later he heard a strong, nearby station send a long dash on 3105 kHz. This time he got a bearing. It fell on a line of position running north-northwest by south-southeast through Howland. Baker is south-southeast.
For several nights after Earhart’s disappearance, numerous, unidentified signals were heard on her frequencies. Some were obvious hoaxes. However, there is no evidence to indicate that she ever again came on the air “live” after discontinuing contact with Balfour.
9) Why was an official Earhart accident investigation report never issued? Today, any aircraft crash or disappearance would get a far better accident report than Earhart’s did. The only official report we have from the government was that issued by the Navy. But, it is simply a description of the search, and not an accident report.
In a letter to Fred Goerner dated April, 1962, Leo Bellarts, former chief radio operator on the Itasca, commented about the lack of an investigation. “Honestly, I thought there was going to be an investigation of the flight and that is the reason that I have kept certain logs and papers concerning the flight.”
By contrast, the Hawaii Clipper that disappeared between Guam and Manila just a year later under very similar circumstances, was the subject of an intensive investigation. Perhaps the powers-that-be at the time didn’t want the public to know just what happened to Earhart. (End of Paul Rafford’s “Earhart Radio Enigma.”)
Among the most vexing questions about the Earhart flight, of course, the one whose correct answer might help unravel the whole impossibly complicated ball of wax, is WHY didn’t Amelia want anyone to get a fix on her position? We can assume that the Japanese were quite interested in her flight, for obvious reasons, and would have been listening to her transmissions from several of their radio stations in the central Pacific area, including Jaluit, where a powerful transmitter was operational. It seems quite clear by now that Amelia was up to something besides trying to locate Howland Island.
I’ve often said that the Earhart “mystery” can never be solved in the air, that the real answers are kept where our government buries its deepest secrets. But we’ve learned plenty since Fred Goerner started banging on doors, and now, for the most part, it’s mainly the many nagging details that continue to evade us. Readers should understand that this editor is not fully endorsing the entire range of Paul Rafford’s ideas, but presenting them for your consideration.
In coming posts we’ll delve further in Paul theory that Amelia Earhart was engaged in a deliberate, well-planned radio deception during her last flight, as well as several other aspects of the flight that might shed light on the real mystery of the Earhart disappearance – not what happened to her on Saipan, but what was she doing during the final hours of the flight, and most importantly, why did she land at Mili Atoll?
On Saturday, Sept. 27 at 2:30 p.m., in a spacious, well-appointed first-floor meeting room at the Wichita, Kansas Marriott Hotel, hundreds of hours of preparation and sweat were finally put to good use. A mostly unsuspecting audience consisting of 50 members of The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots from eight states, a number of their husbands and others totaling about 70 souls were soon to learn about the Truth in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, my obsession for the past 26 years and the subject of my second book on the subject, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
Many months previously, Kay Alley, the vice chair of the Kansas Chapter of the Ninety-Nines and the primary mover and shaker for the three-day, South Central Section Fall Meeting of the Ninety-Nines, invited me to be their main speaker, all expenses paid, and I gladly accepted. I was extremely grateful for the rare opportunity to tell others the unvarnished truth about the Earhart disappearance. The South Central Section is made up of chapters from Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. They meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, and the Fall 2014 theme, ironically, was “Remembering Our Past.” In the case of the Earhart disappearance, this theme was especially poignant. For more information on the Ninety-Nines and their colorful history, see my March 8, 2014 post, “A point of light emerges.”
The Colorado Chapter’s Linda Horn had the unenviable task of advancing each of the 142 slides in my power point program, sometimes through sheer guesswork, and considering my sometimes confusing, rambling commentary, Linda performed admirably. I briefly considered naming my talk something like, “It’s Time to Change the Conversation,” but realized that the best opportunity to change the public perception of the Earhart disappearance had passed by long ago.
Thanks to 77 years of government and establishment propaganda, the iron-clad idea that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is an irresolvable mystery is a part of our cultural furniture, nailed down and impossible to move. If Fred Goerner couldn’t break through the stone wall of the federal security apparatus in the mid-1960s, with his 400,000 book sales, six-weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and thousands of irate Americans demanding in vain that their congressmen act to bring the “Justice of Truth” to Amelia and Fred Noonan, who am I with my unknown book to make such a presumption?
It was my first ever power-point presentation, and 63 pages of notes stood ready to support the slides. Soon, however, I realized these notes were of little practical use, that reading from them only slowed down the program and distracted the audience, which does not appreciate being read to, and I just didn’t have enough practice doing these presentations to fake it.
I also wasted 30 precious minutes and 30 slides telling the audience things about Amelia’s life they could easily find for themselves in any of the 2,000 Earhart biographies and other Earhart-related books they can find on Amazon.com. Next time I’ll cut that to about 10 minutes and get on with the reason I’m standing in front of them– to tell them about the long suppressed facts in the Earhart case — if there is a next time.
Slightly nervous to begin, I forgot a few things I wanted to say in the opening, stumbled a few times, blanked out on a name once, but kept at it and quickly began losing track of time as I traced the modern-day search for Amelia back to Paul Briand’s 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, then to the San Mateo Times stories about Josephine Blanco Akiyama by Linwood Day (see “Linwood Day: Forgotten hero of the Earhart saga,” July 10, 2014), to Fred Goerner’s Saipan trips and so on down the line of the major Saipan and Marshalls threads, of course only brushing the surface, doing my best to paint the big picture. Instead of stopping at the agreed-upon 90-minute mark, I went two hours and no one said, “Stop! Time’s up!”
I couldn’t restrain my passion at times, as I hit on some of the key witnesses and dramatic accounts that place Amelia and Fred on Saipan, and put the lie to the constant establishment mantra that the Earhart case is a great “Aviation Mystery.” I made sure to point out that convicted murderers are regularly sent to their executions on the smallest fraction of the eyewitness testimonies that tell the sad story of Amelia’s wretched end on Saipan. Yet we’re told by Wikipedia and virtually all of the media that the truth is nothing but a “paranoid conspiracy theory” or an “unsubstantiated urban myth” unfit for polite discussion.
I think the audience got the message, but a small number clearly didn’t like the unpleasant truth, which is always predictable, given the toxic reaction this information often elicits from the uninformed. Many were surprised and virtually none had any knowledge of the work of Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Thomas E. Devine and others through the years that so clearly established the truth. I was glad for the opportunity to begin to educate them about the fate of their co-founder, we sold a few books, and most important to me, Kay Alley was pleased and told me I did a “beautiful job.” Several others said nice things, and Kay made it clear that I had vindicated her faith in me. Thus I will count the event as a victory for the Truth, which is rare indeed in these days of massive indifference and rejection, not only from the media but virtually the entire public.
Of course the Truth at Last presentation was the highlight of my weekend, but Kay Alley and her committee planned the three days for everyone’s enjoyment, and all were kept busy with a variety of activities. A first-floor Hospitality Room offered shopping and browsing, a book fair, aviation timeline, snacks, beverages and visiting area. On Thursday evening, members and their husbands were treated to dinner at Mid-American All Indian Center under the flag of nations, a tour of the museum, a film about how the Wichita Indians were employed at Boeing for the building of aircraft for World War II, a walk around the Keeper of the Plains statue and lighting of the Arkansas River fire-pots at sunset.
An outstanding buffet breakfast in the first-floor Marriott restaurant was available each morning, and activities on Friday began with a citywide bus tour of historical buildings, aircraft plants, the Amelia Earhart Elementary School, lunch at Lloyd Stearman Field in nearby Benton, Kan., and a tour of the new condo-hangars being built at the airport.
Following dinner on Friday night, which featured a particularly excellent vegetarian entry, the group settled in to enjoy a Wichita-style “Antiques Roadshow,” complete with TV camera and projection screen to show all the fascinating details of the many pieces on display. Wichita native Stephen Gleissner, Ph.D., former chief curator of the Wichita Art Museum (2001-2013) and member of the International Society of Appraisers, looked over a wide variety of artifacts and memorabilia, from a signed edition of Amelia Earhart’s 1932 book, “The Fun of It,” to a mint-condition Hopalong Cassidy wristwatch on a saddle it its original box from the early-1950s. Dr. Gleissner, who specializes in appraising decorative arts and accessories, glass, paintings and prints, treated the Ninety-Nines to an impressive, educational performance laced with plenty of laughs, and captivated the dinner audience for well over an hour.
Saturday began with a business meeting followed by a fashion show luncheon that I only caught at its finish. After my talk, a 99 helium-filled balloon launch was held in memory of the original founding members for the 85th anniversary, followed at 7 p.m. with the weekend’s climax, the “Banquet In Blue” wherein all attendees were asked to dressed in something blue, the corporate color of the Ninety-Nines.
After the food was served, we were treated to the musical stylings of The Air Capital Chorus Quartet of Bruce Bergsten, Mary Halsig, Jeff Moler, and Tom Schleier. Among their offerings was a fabulous acapella rendition of the famous 1937 standard “Turn Your Radio On.” “They worked up an arrangement of ‘Song of the Ninety-Nines’ that has never been heard by members of our organization in the last few decades,” Kay wrote in an email. “I found a copy of the song at our International Headquarters in Oklahoma City, Okla., and gave it to the quartet to sing for us, written in 1941.”
Following the music, Bonnie Johnson, replete in American-flagged aviator’s garb, delivered a fascinating 25-minute impression of Louise McPhetridge Thaden, perhaps the second-most famous American female pilot of the Golden Age of Aviation, next to Amelia herself. Johnson-as-Thaden recalled the early pioneering days with Amelia, Pancho Barnes, Opal Kunz and Blanche Noyes. Thaden defeated her colleagues in the first Women’s Air Derby, also known as the Powder Puff Derby in 1929, a transcontinental race from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio, which was the site of the National Air Races that year. It took place from August 13–20, 1929. Twenty women were entered in the race, and Marvel Crosson was killed.
Johnson-Thaden went on to tell her rapt audience about how she won the Bendix Trophy Race in the first year women were allowed access to compete against men. She set a new world record of 14 hours, 55 minutes from New York City to Los Angeles, California. In her astonishing victory she flew a Beech C17R Staggerwing biplane and defeated twin-engine planes specifically designed for racing. Laura Ingalls, another aviator, came in second by 45 minutes flying a Lockheed Orion. First prize was $4,500 and she also won the $2,500 prize for a woman finishing the race.
Among those Kay thanked for their contributions to the weekend’s events were the Northeast Kansas Chapter, Ann Shaneyfelt, chairman, for the 99 helium-filled Balloons Launch; Judy Benjamin Godfrey, of the Northeast Kansas Chapter, for her invocation before dinner; and Janet Yoder, Kansas Chapter chairman for her leadership in planning the Fashion Show with Ann’s Fashions. Others Kay praised were Ann Sooby, of the Kansas Chapter, for preparing the welcome packets; The Kansas Chapter’s Phyllis Blanton for her work in historical aviation, Wichita and the Amelia Earhart timeline; Cathy McClain, Kansas Chapter, for her dinner toasts to Indian Heritage, Amelia Earhart and the Ninety-Nines; and the planning committee of Blanton, Sooby, Johnson, Shaneyfelt, Janet Yoder, Mandi Hill, Cindi Newport, and Linda Leatherman.
Kay Alley truly went the extra mile to produce this event, and her hard work and attention to detail paid off in a well-orchestrated and enjoyable three days for all concerned. Still recovering from a severely broken ankle, Kay handed out many gifts and mementos to conclude the final night, and she completely surprised me when handed me a beautiful Amelia Earhart doll, finely handmade and crafted by Jene Rapp, owner of the Doll Jenie in Belle Plains, Kansas, which will always be treasured by this heretofore non-doll collector.
My weekend at Wichita closed on just about the sweetest note I could imagine. Kay kindly offered to drive me to The Church of the Blessed Sacrament for 11 a.m. Mass on the way to Mid-Continent Airport, and I arranged a noon pickup for the airport with Uber.com taxi driver Teresa D. Renecker. On the way, Teresa asked what had brought me to Wichita, and after a brief recap of the Ninety-Nines, Amelia Earhart and a simpatico conversation about the plight of our nation generally, she said the ride would be “complimentary, for what you’ve done for women’s aviation.” I was deeply moved by Teresa Renecker’s generosity, and she even refused to take a tip! What more could a visitor to the fine city of Wichita ask than this, as well as the many other kindnesses I’d received in the past three days?
It think it’s appropriate to close just as I closed with the Ninety-Nines when winding up my presentation at the Marriott, words that I wrote long ago as I prepared for a rare radio interview. I hope you, dear reader, will take them to heart.
The disappearance of Amelia Earhart is NOT an insipid piece of American historical trivia, an unimportant subject for idle academic discussion and speculation that, in the end, defies solution. This is a major event in our history that has been so distorted and misrepresented by our government and establishment media that the American people think it’s an irresolvable mystery. Without some incredible, unforeseen change, the status quo in the Earhart case will never change. Please help dispel the darkness and support this cause in whatever ways you can. Thank you for your consideration.