Recent find on Mili Atoll called “Concrete proof”: Chances artifacts not from Earhart Electra “remote”
Two small airplane parts discovered on Mili Atoll by Australian surfing legend Martin Daly and Earhart researcher Dick Spink, an aluminum boat kit manufacturer and high school teacher in Bow, Washington, should go a long way toward answering whether Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed on Mili Atoll after they went missing on July 2, 1937. Please note that I wrote, should go a long way, because the sad reality is that nothing at all will likely change, thanks to a media determined to ignore and suppress the truth. (Boldface and italic emphasis mine throughout.)
If the headline of this story appears familiar, it should. Readers have been inundated with similar claims for the past 25 years, lies that trumpet the bogus “discoveries” of Ric Gillespie and his International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) in thousands of national and international media organizations, until it became no more than a ridiculous charade long ago.
But when a credible, legitimate find is made by a different group in a different location, one that supports the truth in the Earhart disappearance and doesn’t fit our media’s agenda, nobody will go anywhere near the story, with the exception of one solitary newspaper, the Kansas City Star. No, dear reader, not FOX News, not Rush, not Savage, not Levin, not Drudge — none of our trusted media gatekeepers, conservative or liberal, have ever wanted anything to do with the facts in the Earhart case. Will that change now? This observer has serious doubts.
The parts, a small aluminum cover plate for an auxiliary power unit (APU) and a circular dust cover from a landing-gear wheel assembly have been tied to the Earhart Electra in ways that should prove quite compelling to any objective analyst. The evidence, if it’s eventually fully authenticated, would confirm Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing scenario first introduced in Fred Goerner’s 1966 classic, The Search for Amelia Earhart, corroborated by many Marshallese witnesses over the years and presented by researchers and authors such as Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan and Bill Prymak, and which Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last discusses at length.
In a Nov. 23 story,“Scrap metal from Marshall Islands supports Amelia Earhart theory, group says,” the Kansas City Star and reporter Brian Burns part with the longstanding, nationwide media agenda and present information that runs counter to the worthless “Nikumaroro hypothesis” made infamous by Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR. The story announces the discovery of hard evidence that puts Earhart, Noonan and the Electra down on the reef off Barre Island, beyond what appears to be any reasonable doubt.
“… the chances of having another Lockheed on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands other than Amelia Earhart’s is pretty remote. So it’s pretty doggone concrete proof that there was a Lockheed 10 that landed there on that part of the island.” — Jim Hayton
Since 2011, Spink has made four trips to the Mili Atoll area around Barre Island, pictured in Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: the Final Story, as the general area where Amelia crash-landed her Electra on July 2, 1937 after failing to arrive at Howland Island, more than 800 miles to the south-southeast. Working with his friend Martin Daly and up to 30 native Marshallese armed with metal detectors on each of the three Endriken (Marshallese for “little”) Islands, about a mile east of Barre Island, Spink’s group recovered what appear to be pieces of the legendary lost Electra. In fact, Spink said Daly personally found both the APU cover plate and the circular metal dust cover in the same area during two different searches.
“To me, this is the Holy Grail,” said Jim Hayton, who’s been rebuilding and repairing old airplanes since he was a teen and owns North Sound Aviation in Sedro Wooley, Washington. Hayton said the dust cover was part of the Goodyear Airwheel assembly from the left-side landing gear on Earhart’s Electra. The Airwheel assembly included a “soft” tire manufactured especially for landing on rough terrain.
In a Nov. 24 interview, Spink who not only told the Kansas City Star that he “hasn’t made a penny on this,” the day before, told me that he’s spent $50,000 of his own money on his Earhart investigations. He said that after studying old tidal records for the area, he’s virtually “certain that Amelia made a wheels-down landing” on a rough, Endriken Island beach, very near the water.” This contrasts slightly with the account of Jororo that was related to Loomis by Ralph Middle (see p. 140 Truth at Last) that concerned the fliers entering a “yellow boat which grew” after landing “on the reef near Barre Island, about 200 feet offshore,” but certainly does not nullify his claims.
“It is a dust cover off one of these Goodyear wheels,” Hayton said in a videotaped analysis. “Since I had the other two wheels, I’m very familiar with this dust cover. I know exactly what it is. That’s why I was so excited when Dick brought this for me to look at because there’s so few airplanes in the world back in the 30s that had these type of wheels on them, and the chances of having another Lockheed on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands other than Amelia Earhart’s is pretty remote. So it’s pretty doggone concrete proof that there was a Lockheed 10 that landed there at that particular part of the island.”
Hayton has worked with the FAA and NTSB, and even testified before Congress. His bona fides are beyond reproach, and although further analysis of the artifacts undoubtedly needs to be done, this observer has little doubt that Hayton’s verdict will stand up to any scrutiny that the skeptics will throw at it.
As for the plate, Hayton said, “This plate appears to be a cover for an APU (auxiliary power unit) plug. . . . After the crash at Honolulu, this area was extensively damaged on her airplane and so they moved the APU plug as they rebuilt the airplane to a little bit safer location, so that’s why it ended up being tainted red instead of silver as it originally was. I think that this red APU plug cover is the first evidence we have that she did indeed land [at Mili]. There are lots of eyewitness reports and I think she landed at Mili Atoll and then was captured by the Japanese.”
“Red on the leading edges of the wings and the tail was the color scheme of Earhart’s Electra,” Spink added. “The red paint on the APU plate gives us a lead in establishing the fact that the electrical cover at Mili Atoll came from Earhart’s airplane. There were no known Lockheeds with red electrical covers except Amelia Earhart’s L-10. And to add more fuel to the fire, how many airplanes crashed at the Endriken Islands adjacent to Barre Island at Mili Atoll? The Marshallese people will tell you there was only one. It was Amelia Earhart’s airplane.”
“There’s no evidence of any U.S. or Japanese aircraft being shot down or disabled in that part of Mili Atoll,” Les Kinney, a researcher and former government investigator told Burns. “So where would this have come from? In all likelihood, it came off Earhart’s plane.”
I asked Kinney to elaborate on his statement to the Star, because if it can absolutely determined that no other aircraft came down in the area where Spink found the artifacts, pure deduction can tell us that the parts came from the Earhart plane.
“There were 26 U.S. aircraft down over Mili Atoll (that does not mean all from gunfire),” Kinney told me in an email. “There were 11 documented Japanese planes shot down over Mili Atoll. Most Japanese planes were destroyed or damaged on the ground at Mili Island. . . . Natives, according to Spink, said there were no plane wrecks in that area [near Barre Island]. Knaggs reports a woman [the guide Dominick’s wife] who said she recalled a wreck in that area of the atoll. However, Knaggs specifically looked for a plane wreck on the islands adjacent to Barre and said there were none (from the book as I recall). Any remnants of wrecks would still be there.
“So, I think it would be very difficult to find from archival records exactly where each plane was specifically lost over Mili,” Kinney continued. “It would be better if Spink analyzed the aluminum by comparing it to aluminum used by Lockheed from planes built during that time. If they were from the same production runs, it would be easy to say the aluminum found on Mili matched the production runs of known planes built by Lockheed during that same period. Spink also needs to make a 3D copy of that wheel hub, then look for a Model 10 with the same Goodyear wheels and see if they are an exact match.”
Thus, for the for first time since 1981, when South African author and investigator Oliver Knaggs found the remains of a tin case buried on one of these small Endriken Islands (actually islets) by Fred Noonan soon after he and Amelia’s rough landing, in which Noonan injured his knee and head, we have solid evidence that confirms the Mili Atoll landing of the lost American fliers.
In informing the public about Spink’s findings on Mili, the Kansas City Star has been virtually alone in doing a job that all would do in a better world, so for that the newspaper should be commended. Otherwise the piece is quite underwhelming. The story’s lead sentence, “One person’s scrap is another person’s Holy Grail,” reflects the abjectly relativistic attitude that has permeated the Earhart case throughout its history, and which makes this story so maddening for those of us who’ve studied the Earhart case so long, and who are so convinced of the truth of their Mili landing.
Burns presented Spink and Hayton’s findings and analysis, but he then dragged in Gillespie and Long for their obligatory misleading statements, to provide what he believes is the requisite “balance” in his story. But the uninformed reader, instead of being enlightened, now has three “theories” to contemplate instead of two. Many decades of successful government and media propaganda have thus achieved their desired effect: It’s simply an accepted truism, part of our cultural inheritance, that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is an irresolvable mystery.
Here the real problem is on vivid display: Even the rare media outlet that’s willing to be “fair” in its coverage of the Earhart disappearance and present evidence to the public for the first time, such as this one in the Star, suffers from this preordained misconception. All stories must be shoehorned into the false template that all theories in the Earhart “mystery” are equal, and as a result, the public remains confused and ignorant.
After reading the Star story, an astute observer told me, “I was not impressed by the article. Really did not say anything . . . encourage further reading, etc. Pointless.” And as I told Burns in an email, “All theories are not equal, and there’s only one truth.” Actually, I should have written, “All theories are equally worthless; there can only be one truth, one reality, and it’s the Mili-to-Saipan scenario.” Sadly, this story from the Kansas City Star will not make a ripple in the nation’s perception of the Earhart case, and two days after its publication, not a single newspaper has picked up the story, a state of affairs that recalls the media blackout that accompanied the publication of Truth at Last two years ago and which continues unabated.
I’m also fully aware that by publishing this post, even on a relatively obscure blog like this one, I might be considered “too extreme” in my views to be considered for comments on future Earhart stories by the Star, and other media organizations as well. If that’s the case, so be it. To quote the great Barry Goldwater: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Simply insert “truth” for liberty above, and you have perfectly described the situation in the Earhart matter.
If we lived in a just world, Dick Spink’s discoveries would soon put Ric Gillespie out of the Earhart business forever, his nearly three decades of damage to the truth in the Earhart case finally, mercifully ended once and for all. But the history of this entire phenomenon has never been about “solving the Earhart mystery,” as our nation of incurious, apathetic lemmings has been led to believe for so long – not at all.
The Earhart disappearance has always been about politics – the politics of deceit and the politics of protecting the reputation of a dishonest, feckless president. Nothing found at Mili is going to change that, but that won’t stop those of us who care from continuing to tell the true story of Amelia Earhart’s sad fate.
In his introduction to Paul Rafford Jr.’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change,” in the November 1997 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Bill Prymak quoted an unnamed, recently deceased “old-time researcher’s poignant reflection on the problems the Earhart case posed for inquiring minds.”
“Fail to look under every rock, and you’ll never solve this bloody Earhart mystery,” Prymak began. “And so, patiently, deliberately, methodically, PAUL RAFFORD has plunged into this tangled, labyrinthine morass of inaccurate data, misleading information, speculation, ill-based rumors, all in an attempt to bring some sense to AE’s disappearance. The deep-six theory is too simplistic, leaving too many questions unanswered. In the following three articles, Paul explores some new (provocative?) territory.”
In Rafford’s revised 2008 edition of Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared, he revised his April 5, 1997 piece, “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change” and rewrote it in a more reader-friendly style. Following is my attempt to combine the best elements of both pieces, which is then followed by Bill Prymak’s analysis. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
“THE CASE FOR THE AMELIA EARHART MIAMI PLANE CHANGE”
By Paul Rafford Jr.
4th stop, Miami: 23 May to 1 June
A photo taken upon her arrival in Miami shows the direction-finding loop still installed and the short factory version of the fixed antenna in place. In 1940, John Ray was the flight instructor while I was the radio operator aboard Pan Am’s instrument training plane. Flying out of LaGuardia, we trained pilots in instrument approaches and letdowns. He told me that while moonlighting with his aviation radio service business in Miami, he had been contracted to remove Earhart’s trailing antenna.
In January 1990, I wrote and asked him to confirm what he had told me 50 years before. He immediately telephoned and repeated everything he had originally claimed: Soon after her arrival in Miami, he had removed her trailing antenna. Seemingly unrelated at the time, Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie made the first round-trip commercial flight from New York to London and back from May 8 to May 14 in 1937 with a Lockheed Electra 10E. They flew over newsreels of the Hindenburg disaster of May 6th, and returned with photographs of the coronation of King George VI of May 12th.
It was declared the first commercial crossing of the Atlantic, and the two men won several awards including the Harmon Trophy because of the feat. To make the flight, the windows of the aircraft had been removed and the plane was modified to carry 1,200 gallons of fuel. The fixed antenna was mounted as far forward as possible to create the best transmission, but no trailing antenna nor D/F loop were installed.
Merrill and Lambie then flew the Daily Express to Miami for the May 24 reception to be greeted by the Mayor plus 10,000 fans, and received silver trophies for their achievement. Earhart, Noonan, and Putnam met them at the event.
In April 1992, I had a long telephone conversation with Bob Thibert after I heard that he had worked on Earhart’s plane during her layover in Miami. I had known Bob in the 1970s. when we both worked for Pan Am. He claimed that the morning before Earhart’s departure, Len Michaelfelder, his boss, handed him a new radio loop and told him to install and calibrate it on the Electra, post-haste. However, newsreels of the Electra taken just after it arrived in Miami from Burbank show a loop already mounted on it.
Thibert was quite surprised when I told him that pictures of the Electra taken during its arrival at Miami clearly show that it already had a direction finding loop. So I asked him if he had seen any evidence that one might have been previously installed on the roof, such as filled-in bolt holes. He claimed he hadn’t. Later in the 1990s, I talked with both John Ray and Bob Thibert. To my surprise, neither of them knew that the other had worked on Earhart’s plane.
The previous day, at Earhart’s request, Michaelfelder had modified the fixed antenna specifically to maximize transmissions on 6210 kHz. Although it was reported that he lengthened the antenna, he actually had shortened the antenna wire and moved the mast back several feet, bringing the lead-in down the right side of the fuselage. This arrangement was supposed to maximize transmission on 6210 kHz. Although never revealed publicly, Earhart switched airplanes after arriving in Miami. In 1940, John Ray told me how he had been called out to remove her trailing antenna shortly after she arrived from Burbank. Although John was an instrument flight instructor for Pan Am, he was also moonlighting an aeronautical radio service business.
Meanwhile, the sister ship to Earhart’s Electra, the Daily Express, had just arrived in Miami after a well-publicized round trip between New York and London. The two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics. They then prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra. The Daily Express, however, had no trailing antenna. When queried, Earhart explained to the press corps that she had the antenna removed to save weight and the bother of reeling it out and in. But she did need a direction finding loop and this is how Bob Thibert found himself installing one the day before her departure. Later, the calibration curve he left in the cockpit would be Harry Balfour’s prime reference when he checked the loop at Lae.
During Earhart’s visit with Pan Am officials in Miami, she had a discussion with Charlie Winter, our local radio engineer. During World War II, he gave me the details. Now that she had dispensed with the trailing antenna, he suggested they replace the 500 kHz crystal and coils in her #3 transmitting channel with a Pan Am direction-finding frequency. This would allow our long distance direction finders to follow her progress across the Pacific.
To his surprise, she immediately cut him off with, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.” Period. End discussion. Charlie was flabbergasted! He couldn’t believe she would turn down such an offer without further consideration. Looking back, perhaps we can come up with at least one explanation as to why Amelia was so opposed to Charlie’s suggestion. Could it be that she didn’t want her whereabouts known while crossing the Pacific? In order to explain just what did happen during Earhart’s Miami transit I propose the following scenario.
There was more than one Electra involved when Earhart departed on her second attempt to circle the globe. After the original plane was rebuilt, she flew it to Miami. There, John Ray removed the trailing antenna. She then flew it to an unknown destination, dropped it off, and returned to Miami in plane #2 [the Daily Express]. Jim Donahue [author of The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection (1987)] claimed that Earhart left Miami in the Electra at least once during her layover.
However, some modifications were needed. Radio antenna-wise, the Daily Express was a bare bones model 10E. It carried no d/f loop or trailing antenna and its fixed antenna was the standard, short factory model. Legend has it that Earhart couldn’t be bothered with the problems involved with carrying a trailing antenna. However, I believe the reason she had her trailing antenna removed from plane #1 was because plane #2 [the Daily Express] would be delivered without one.
Removing it from plane #1 after her arrival in Miami would explain to the press and close observers why she had one when she arrived but not when she left Miami. She had to cover up the fact that she had switched planes. This is also why John Ray was contracted to remove the trailing antenna on #1, but Pan Am mechanics worked on the Daily Express. Had any of the three mechanics worked on both planes they would have immediately recognized the difference.
Although Earhart could dispense with the trailing antenna, she did need a loop and a more efficient fixed antenna. This is where Pan Am came into the picture. Radio mechanic Lynn Michaelfelder would lengthen the fixed antenna and Bob Thibert would install a loop.
I made two telephone calls to Thibert in April, 1992. We had both worked at Miami in 1970, when he was Superintendent of Pan Am’s radio/electronic overhaul shops and I was in charge of communications for Central America. . . . He said the job was top priority as the plane was leaving the first thing the following morning. He had to install a loop on it posthaste.
He went into detail about how he had worked alone doing both the metal and electrical work. I asked Bob the obvious question: during the installation had he seen any evidence of where previous loops might have been mounted? He said, “No,” and was quite surprised when I told him that at one time or another there had been at least two other loops mounted on Earhart’s plane. Bob had found only virgin skin where loops are mounted. He was also quite surprised when I told him that John Ray had removed the trailing antenna after the plane moved in Miami. He didn’t know John Ray, or know that anyone else but Pan Am mechanics had worked on the plane.
Although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, the aforementioned TIGHAR Tracks article [Page 16 of the September 1995 issue of TIGHAR Tracks shows pictures of Earhart’s Electra parked at Burbank, Calif., and then taking off from Miami at the start of her round-the-world flight] lends additional credence to the Miami plane change theory. In the last paragraph of page 16 the author claims: “The most apparent change made to NR 16020 during the eight-day stay in Florida was the replacement of the starboard rear window with a patch of aluminum skin. Again, legend has often described this feature as a removable hatch but the photographic record indicates otherwise. The opening first appears in 1937, and is present as a window in every known shot of the airplane’s starboard side until Miami, when it becomes shiny metal which grows gradually duller in photos taken at progressive stops in the world flight.”
The author implies that the starboard rear window was replaced by a patch of aluminum in Miami. However, I suggest that the plane is actually #2 [Daily Express], and the rear window was modified before the plane left Burbank. (Editor’s note: See photo of Amelia with Nilla Putnam, above.)
The Daily Express was preferable to Earhart’s original Electra for a round-the-world flight because it had approximately 100 gallons greater fuel capacity and hadn’t been through a bad crackup. Meanwhile, stripped of its trailing antenna and repainted, plane #1 would no longer be recognized as having belonged to Earhart. However, there was a discrepancy between the length of the fixed antennas on the two airplanes. Plane #1 arrived in Miami with the short, factory version. Its mast was mounted about midway between nose and tail. By contrast, the mast on the Daily Express was mounted over the cockpit in order to provide the maximum length of antenna wire possible. However, in order to make room for the new loop, it was necessary to move the mast several feet back toward the tail. The end result was that the length of the fixed antenna on plane #2 was longer than the factory version, but shorter than the original Daily Express version.
However, even though the longer fixed antenna of plane #2 would put out a better radio signal than #1, the radiated power was only 5 watts on 6210 kHz. and one-half watt on 3105 kHz. Thibert’s work was documented by the New York Times.
We can only guess why Earhart would secretly swap planes and do it in Miami instead of Burbank. Was it done at Miami because it would be easier to cover up? What was different about the Daily Express that switching it for the original Electra was so important? Did the powers-that-be feel it was better to switch to a new plane rather than risk flying the original, patched-up airframe around the world? Or, as proponents of the conspiracy theory would be quick to claim, was the Daily Express equipped with special aerial reconnaissance equipment?
As Professor Francis Holbrook wrote me some years ago in connection with the Earhart mystery, “Once you have answered one question about it you discover you’d raised ten more.
(End of Paul Rafford’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change.”)
“Did Amelia Earhart Really Change Airplanes?”
By Bill Prymak, AES Newsletter, November 1998
Several serious researchers over the years have bandied about the possibility that AE, for some secretive covert reason, switched planes “somewhere along the route.” Strong anecdotal evidence backs these folks, but I have recently come across another way to identify her airplane as it flew some 22,000 miles from Oakland to Lae, New Guinea. I call it a “signature.”
Aluminum aircraft skin production in the mid-1930s was a new, burgeoning science, and the process produced various different tones and shades, even from sheet-to-sheet off the same lot. So, each tone or shade becomes a unique signature, and if we study the rear half of the left vertical rudder below the horizontal stabilizer as illustrated on the blow-up below you will find that the same dark shade consistently repeats itself on every photo I have ever seen as the plane wends its way around the world.
I have only included in this NEWSLETTER five photos showing this unique signature, and I would certainly like to expand my file on this issue. If anybody out there has a photo of AE’s airplane with the above signature clearly shown, please send a clear copy to me. It’ll be deeply appreciated. (End of Prymak analysis.)
The quality of the photos of the Electra displayed in the photocopy and electronic copy of Bill’s article isn’t good enough to reproduce here, but at the bottom of the piece are five photos of the Electra and its dark signature, reportedly taken during the world flight. Three locations are identified: Caripito, Venezuela; Karachi, Pakistan; and Lae, New Guinea. It seems inarguable that this is the same Electra that left Burbank, Calif.
Although Prymak’s “dark signature” appears to be the key to dismissing Rafford’s plane change theory, nagging questions remain. Why did Bob Thibert recall seeing only “virgin skin” on the Electra’s roof where two other devices, the Hooven Radio Compass, a domed direction finder, and the Bendix Radio Direction Finder, with its unmistakable, distinctive loop, had been previously installed? How can this be a case of old age or faded memory, when Bob Thibert was simply confirming an incident he told Paul Rafford about more than 50 years previously? Could Thibert have actually installed a new d/f loop in the Daily Express, which then left Miami for parts unknown, instead of carrying Earhart and Noonan on to the next leg of their doomed world flight?
What is known about the fate of the Daily Express? Precious little is available on the Internet, but two sources agree that the plane wound up in Russia. Paragon Agency Publisher Doug Westfall, who published Rafford’s Amelia Earhart’s Radio, writing on the Verkhoyansk, Siberia Trip Advisor, reported, “It was sold to the USSR in 1938, disassembled and reassembled, being used in WWII. It was last seen crashed on the tundra near Verkhoyansk about 10 years ago.”
The TIGHAR site, when not promoting Ric Gillespie’s erroneous Nikumaroro “hypothesis,” is often an excellent source of Earhart-related material, and in its Earhart Project Research Bulletin, “Detective Story,” of July 12, 2007, we find: “After its epic transatlantic flight, the Daily Express was sold to the Soviet Union and used in the search the lost transpolar aviator Sigismund Levinevski. The airplane’s ultimate fate is unknown.”
Once again, the reader should understand that I’m neither promoting nor dismissing Paul Rafford Jr.’s theory, but am presenting it for your information and entertainment. In the big picture, it makes no difference whether Amelia and Fred landed at Mili Atoll in the Daily Express or the original Earhart Electra.
One problem I have with Rafford’s proposed scenario, besides Prymak’s dark signature that appears to preclude its possibility, is that when Paul wrote that the “two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics,” who then “prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra,” he doesn’t tell us where, when or how the Daily Express was painted with “NR 16020” on and under the wings and tail. This operation would have been necessary if the Pan Am mechanics working on the Daily Express “never suspected” it wasn’t the Earhart bird.
In a recent email, Paul Rafford’s daughter, Lynn, told me her father still believes in the “possibility of a plane switch at Miami, but does not really know what could have happened to the plane that was switched out.” For now, that’s where we’ll have to leave it.
In the opening sentence of my critique about Ric Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Recovery (TIGHAR) in the final chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, I wrote the following: “Nobody in the history of Earhart investigations has made so much from so little as Ric Gillespie.” With this new phony claim from the TIGHAR chief, Gillespie appears more determined than ever to prove the validity of that statement.
The 26-year assault against common sense, logic and worst of all, the truth, which has been the hallmark of Gillespie’s Earhart-Nikumaroro fundraising campaign since a USA Today headline screamed, “A piece for Earhart puzzle on Jan. 4, 1991, continued its seemingly unceasing refrain Oct. 28. All of a sudden, we were knee deep into another super media-hype prelude to what Gillespie ostentatiously labels “Niku VIII,” but which is, more accurately, TIGHAR’s eleventh trip to the long-picked-over island of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner, in the Central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain.
As a result, I’ve been derailed from my track of highlighting Paul Rafford Jr.’s estimable and controversial theories about Amelia Earhart’s last flight, and forced to confront the latest affront to the truth in the Earhart case by Gillespie, unarguably among the greatest obstacles to public enlightenment in the history of Earhart research, perhaps second only to the U.S. government itself, which has been actively suppressing the truth since 1937.
This new outrage, which Australian researcher David Billings warned me was coming, began with Discovery News’ mistitled story of Oct. 28, “Amelia Earhart Plane Fragment Identified” by way of Rossella Lorenzi’s mendacious pen. “A fragment of Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft has been identified to a high degree of certainty for the first time ever since her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937,” Lorenzi’s story began. “According to researchers at The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 77 years ago, the aluminum sheet is a patch of metal installed on the Electra during the aviator’s eight-day stay in Miami, which was the fourth stop on her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.”
I need not repeat all the sordid details of the current iteration of this charade, or the disgusting phenomenon itself. Gillespie’s money-grubbing Nikumaroro boondoggles are well known to readers of this blog as well as anyone else with even a passing interest in the Earhart case. They also know his brainchild, TIGHAR, is the most inaptly named organization in modern aviation investigative history, and has never recovered and restored any aircraft, at least to this writer’s knowledge. For those few visitors who may be new and need more information to clarify all this, please see “June 2: Gillespie and TIGHAR — Again and Rossella Lorenzi, TIGHAR’s best friend” (Oct. 24, 2013).
Last year Gillespie was reported to be seeking $3 million to finance the high-tech submersible search operations off Nikumaroro, of which an unknown percentage goes to Gillespie’s “non-profit” organization and finances the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. But Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald reports that Gillespie’s new goal is a more modest $387,000 “to take an underwater vessel to Nikumaroro to get a closer look at that anomaly.”
(As an aside and something I shouldn’t have to say, neither I nor anyone else I respect who’s involved with Earhart research has ever been motivated by the remotest dreams of financial gain. My love and devotion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance is well known to those who have read Truth at Last and frequent this site, which had been as popular as a toxic waste dump before we broke all-time page-visit records Oct. 30. Clearly, many more discerning readers than usual, sick of reading Gillespie’s nonsense, went looking for an alternative – which, of course, would be the Marshall Islands, Saipan and the TRUTH. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide what you think motivates Ric Gillespie in his Earhart work.)
Lorenzi, along with the Miami Herald’s Garvin (see his Oct. 28 “Piece of metal may offer clue to disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s plane” for an example of just how truly bad the media adulation of Gillespie can get) has risen to threaten all time-supremacy of the media hacks who shill for Gillespie. The AP’s Richard Pyle’s sendoff love letter to Gillespie in 2007 just before TIGHAR’s departure for NIKU V, “Search team hopes high tech will solve Amelia Earhart mystery” still ranks as the most oppressively biased of all the pro-TIGHAR propaganda in this writer’s memory.
But Lorenzi has been diligently practicing her agitprop, and she isn’t far behind Pyle. Playing the faithful stenographer, deeper in her story she loyally reported the latest and most egregious Gillespie whopper, as she quoted him saying, “This is the first time an artifact found on Nikumaroro has been shown to have a direct link to Amelia Earhart” in touting his fourth-hand piece of old aluminum found in 1991 as the closest thing to aviation’s Holy Grail ever found.
Not yet content, Lorenzi gleefully rubbed salt in the wound by adding, “In 10 archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro, Gillespie and his team uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.” The unwashed are expected to assume that Lorenzi’s so-called “castaway presence” is Amelia Earhart, but she declined to mention that none of the assorted crap dragged out of the Nikumaroro ground has ever been linked to Amelia or Fred Noonan. Lorenzi also conveniently forgot to mention the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station, with real, living Americans, that was operating on the island from 1944 to 1946, or the hundreds of Gilbertese settlers who also lived there from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Details, details, details.
Once Lorenzi’s story hit the wires, nearly everyone in the mainstream horde broke their necks jumping on the TIGHAR bandwagon, among them ABC, NBC and CBS News, CNN, the Associated Press and on down the line to the major websites and newspapers in cities big and small. Even Joseph Farah’s normally conservative World Net Daily joined the party, which became a full-court press of TIGHAR propaganda worthy of the finest Joseph Goebbels production. I even heard it on news breaks between The Savage Nation on my local Jacksonville AM station. Everyone was gleefully announcing that a piece of the Earhart plane had been found, thanks to Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, and we could all sleep better that night. For a while it was like the Second Coming, and I simply couldn’t take it.
But, as it turned out, these arrogant media types had stepped in it big time, proving yet again that investigative journalism has long been a dead art, replaced by political operatives who pretend to be journalists and have no hangups about ethics or honesty. Almost as quickly as Gillespie’s claim had been circulated throughout the media biosphere, one man stepped forward to pour ice water all over the TIGHAR parade.
Gary LaPook, an experienced celestial navigator, attorney, former airline pilot and member of the Stratus Project and Amelia Earhart Society, recalled this piece of aluminum from bygone days, and knew it possessed a characteristic that unequivocally rules it out as coming from the Earhart Electra. On Oct. 29, a day after Lorenzi’s proclamations were published, LaPook sent the below report to the AES online forum:
Aluminum used in manufacturing aircraft is known as “Alclad” and has specification “24 ST” and the aluminum sheets are marked. You can see on the surface of Ric’s piece of aluminum the “D” in the word “ALCLAD.” All the photos of Earhart’s plane and, other planes from 1937, show that the aluminum is marked “24 ST” and is was not marked “ALCLAD.” We know that the marking was changed by World War 2 but Ric claims that it is uncertain when the changeover was made and that some 1937 aluminum might have had the “ALCLAD” marking instead of the “24 ST” marking. Obviously, if Ric were to admit that this marking only happened after 1937 then his new fund raising piece is a scam. When confronted with all the photos of Earhart’s plane under construction showing “24 ST” he explains it away by saying the “patch” was applied in Miami and that Miami had a different batch of aluminum with the new marking.
O.K. Since Ric is proffering this aluminum as evidence of Earhart’s plane being on Nikumaro then he has the burden of proof that it was made in 1937 and not in WW2. He always tries to turn this around and demands that others disprove that it was 1937 aluminum but it is his piece of evidence so he has the burden of authenticating it. If 1937 aluminum was marked “ALCLAD” then why hasn’t Ric been able to come up with even one photo of it from 1937 to substantiate his claim?
LaPook sent a web link to a site that discussed aluminum markings from the 1930s: https://aluminummarkings.wordpress.com, as well the TIGHAR artifact that showed the “AD” of “ALCLAD,” adding that Gillespie even named the photo “AD on skin.”
“Before you send any money to TIGHAR ask Mr. Gillespie to produce a piece of 1937 aluminum bearing the markings “ALCLAD,” LaPook wrote on TIGHAR’s Facebook Page. “He claims that his “patch” was installed on Earhart’s plane in 1937 but it clearly shows the “AD” in ALCLAD that wasn’t used until 1941. . . . Aluminum was not marked with the word “ALCLAD” until 1941 so the “AD” on Mr. Gillespie’s piece of aluminum disqualifies it as coming from Earhart’s plane. It is Mr. Gillespie’s burden to prove that this marking was used in 1937 and he has never been able to find any such proof or to produce an authentic piece of 1937 aluminum with this marking on it. Demand that he do so before you send him any of your money.” LaPook said these posts were gone from the TIGHAR Facebook page the next morning.
LaPook told Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald and Bruce Burns of the Kansas City Star about this, and it forced Garvin to write another story, “Investigators search for Amelia Earhart’s ghost in old Miami Herald” Oct. 30, and its title did nothing to indicate the grave nature that message’s effect might have on Gillespie’s fund-raising efforts. In his story, Garvin saved the most important fact – the “money quote,” so to speak, for the end of the story:
The most important evidence, however, is the linkage of Gillespie’s scrap to Earhart’s plane through study of the photo. And it’s on that point that LaPook and other his other critics insist most adamantly he’s wrong. They says [sic] telltale evidence on Gillespie’s scrap of wreckage prove it wasn’t manufactured until several years after Earhart crashed. The scrap bears a visible stamp of an A and a letter D — probably part of the label 24ST Alclad, the type of aluminum its [sic] made from.
But, LaPook says, Alcoa Inc., the company that manufactured the aluminum, didn’t start stamping it with the 24ST Alclad designation until 1941. Before that, it used the abbreviation ALC. “There are hundreds of photos of aluminum pieces stamped ALC,” LaPook said. “It’s just beyond doubt.”
Ron Bright of the AES, a former TIGHAR member who knows Gillespie and keeps much closer tabs on developments at TIGHAR than this writer, shared some perspective on the origin of the object of this controversy, the rectangular piece of aluminum found on Nikumaroro in 1991. This itself begs the question: Why did Gillespie wait 13 years to come out with his claims about the provenance of the aluminum sheet?
“At this time in 1991, Ric claimed that the piece fit exactly the underbelly of the Electra that suffered the damage at the March 1937 ground loop,” Bright wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “He said the airplane skin revealed that the type of aluminum, the thickness, and the size and style of the rivet ‘matched perfectly with an area on the underside of the Electra.’ The rivet pattern ‘was close,’ he wrote, and the repair at Burbank would account for the differences. The manufacturer’s label on the artifact (D?) established that it was a grade of aluminum authorized only for repairs [see “News Alert” from TIGHAR, July 2007].
“So in July 2007 this was the origin and analysis of the piece,” Bright continued. “Then came along that pesky Miami ‘patch’ that now he thinks fits the aluminum piece. How it got on to Niku is another fascinating story.”
Further confusing the matter, “In TIGHAR Tracks of 2001,” Bright wrote, “he [Gillespie] indicated that the damage to the piece ‘is consistent with being torn from the aircraft by powerful surf action. The piece has no finished edges and was literally blown out of a larger section of aluminum sheet from the inside out with such force the heads popped off the rivets. The artifact was found on the islands southwestern shore in the debris washed up by a violent storm.’ You have to say that TIGHAR can spin the bottle many ways!”
Woody Rogers, another AES member, was slightly more succinct in summarizing his views on the evolution of this particular piece of aluminum as it advanced through various stages of significance in TIGHAR’s collection of alleged Earhart artifacts. “I have the photo series from 1991 showing the controversy about this piece of skin, including the retired Lockheed Engineer that said that piece didn’t come from anywhere on an Electra,” Rogers wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “A few months later Ric moved the patch location to the rear of the bottom fuselage that had been extensively patched. The engineer pointed out that the repair patches were drilled in the same location where the original holes in the stringers [a strip of wood or metal to which the skin of an aircraft is fastened] were drilled.
“Unfortunately,” Rogers continued, “I’m on the road in Pennsylvania and will be traveling for a few months so I don’t access to any of my research, so this is from memory. So now we have three locations that this piece of aluminum supposedly can from. IMO, it’s just another bottle of snake oil for public consumption so Ric can garner more donations to pay himself his outsized salary. It’s beyond me why people financially support this guy.”
There was another bit of good news for the home team during this latest episode of TIGHAR media mania. The Kansas City Star contacted me and asked for my thoughts, a stunning surprise and the first time any establishment newspaper has asked my opinion since Donna McGuire, of the same Kansas City Star interviewed me over 11 years ago not long after With Our Own Eyes was published. On Aug. 3, 2003 “Chasing Amelia,” McGuire’s six-page cover story for the Sunday Star Magazine discussed the ideas of the late Thomas E. Devine and David Billings, who believes Amelia turned around and landed in the jungle of New Britain, an island off the coast of Papua New, Guinea.
Brian Burns story, “Has the key to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific been found in Kansas?” was a far more even treatment of Gillespie’s ideas than the pro-TIGHAR puffery the Miami Herald pushed on its helpless readers. Besides presenting Gary LaPook’s information in a way that laymen could quickly understand, Burns talked to Lou Foudray, curator of the Earhart Birthplace Museum, who was quite kind to Gillespie, and myself, who, after watching this spectacle for 26 years now, was in no mood for such political niceties.
I vented to Burns as long as he could stand it – about 10 minutes — and in his story he tried to be fair, considering that his assignment was to feature Gillespie. “Others, like Florida researcher Mike Campbell, denounced the latest news as one more example of the wide-eyed treatment Gillespie routinely has received from a media establishment eager to play up his Earhart disappearance scenarios at the expense of others,” Burns wrote. “Every time he goes over there, he grabs whatever he can find and then tries to link it up to Earhart,” said Campbell, author of ‘Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last.’”
Later in his story, Burns returned to this writer, and gave the truth a rare public airing:
Gillespie’s fundraising efforts, meanwhile, bother Campbell, who believes that Earhart and Noonan never landed on Nikumaroro but died in Japanese captivity on Saipan after first landing in the Marshall Islands. President Franklin Roosevelt, upon learning of their imprisonment, declined to intervene, he said.
“Today the media establishment is still protecting Roosevelt,” he said. If stories spread of Roosevelt’s refusal to help Earhart, Campbell said, “his legacy would be ashes.”
Burns promised that the title of Truth at Last, as well as my FDR quote would be in his story when it reached his editor’s desk, and so it was. He even called me the next day to make sure my quotes were accurate, a gesture of professional courtesy I had never experienced from a newspaper. I was amazed that this unnamed editor, who I later learned was Donna McGuire, who had interviewed me for a story in 2003 following publication of With Our Own Eyes, let my indictment of FDR stand, and thanked Burns for his efforts. Although its coverage of the Earhart situation was greatly welcomed, this was an anomaly, a one-off phenomena that tells us only that the Kansas City Star does not share the establishment’s aversion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance, and will treat the story unencumbered by political considerations. The sad, inescapable truth is that this policy, once taken for granted, is so rarely found in today’s ultra-politicized “news rooms.”
Will any in the media print retractions or apologize for their massive, irresponsible blunder? Of course not. They’ve never admitted error in their coverage of the Earhart story; it’s rare enough when they print a retraction about anything else. Where Earhart is concerned, nothing is off limits and the truth remains a sacred cow and an orphan. But word will get around about this, and perhaps they won’t be quite as fast to pull the trigger when Gillespie issues his next grand proclamation. How many times must a TIGHAR cry wolf before he’s ignored? Who knows, but why should we think the limit has been reached now?
They’ll be back as soon as Gillespie comes up with another sellable (note I didn’t say “plausible”) reason to go back to his ocean-bound piggy bank, telling us all once again to pay attention, the answers to the “Earhart Mystery” are within reach, just over the horizon. If the TIGHAR boss can just get the funds he needs, he’ll soon find aviation’s Holy Grail.
Despite the recent revelations that exposed Gillespie’s aluminum sheet as a pretender, don’t be surprised if he continues to push the same story despite all evidence to the contrary. The rest of the media, based on their past complicity in their shameless promotion of Gillespie’s agenda, may well simply ignore the facts and continue to push falsehoods down the throats of an ignorant, basically unconcerned public. Failing that, who knows what he might next come up? With Gillespie, it’s always something.