Monthly Archives: May, 2015

A visit with the “lunatic fringe” of the Earhart saga

For those who think I lack a sense of humor about the Earhart disappearance, the following is submitted for your entertainment and edification. By way of the July 1995 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, this is a quaint little unattributed book review for Age of Heroes (Hastings House Publishers, 1993), by the legendary Henri Keyzer-Andre, that appeared in an otherwise undated April 1993 issue of the Naples (Fla.) Daily News.

In addition to its imaginative title, the cover of Age of Heroes is even more compelling, as its subtitle, “Incredible Adventures of a PAN AM Pilot and his Greatest Triumph, Unraveling the Mystery of Amelia Earhart,” promises readers the solution to our greatest aviation mystery. I had heard about this book a few times over the years, but just recently purchased it, brand new, for a few dollars on Amazon. Although I haven’t read it yet, I know the ending and am not recommending it to anyone interested in the Earhart case.

It doesn't get any more promising than this. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no substance underneath the stylish cover, and Keyzer-Andre reveals himself to be among the most gullible Westerners to ever visit Japan, as he fell prey to a whopper of a tale about the fate of Amelia Earhart, and dared to pass it to us as fact. This is precisely what Fred Goerner meant when he called a particular segment of Earhart authors "the lunatic fringe."

It doesn’t get any more promising than this. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no substance underneath the stylish cover, and Keyzer-Andre reveals himself to be among the most gullible Westerners to ever visit Japan, as he fell prey to a whopper of a tale about the fate of Amelia Earhart, and dared to pass it to us as fact. This is precisely what Fred Goerner meant when he called a particular segment of Earhart authors “the lunatic fringe.”

Keyzer-Andre said he met Amelia Earhart in 1928 when he was 21, and three years later, Fred Noonan, at Pan Am’s Dinner Key operation building, when Noonan was Pan Am’s instructor in celestial navigation and Keyzer-Andre was beginning his pilot training. That’s about as far as we can safely tread when it comes to most of the claims in this article,  and Keyzer-Andre’s bio might be much embellished as well, as far as I know. 

I’ve seen very little that’s more convoluted and clueless than this mess, which begins as what appears to be a review of Age of Heroes, but immediately leaves its author and begins quoting from a retired Air Force Colonel.  It’s no mystery why this review wasn’t bylined. Who would want to take credit for it? Without further ado, here’s “Whatever Happened to Amelia Earhart.”

BILL PRYMAK’s S NOTE: To illustrate the enormous range of thinking that goes through men’s minds, the following might be construed as the OUTER LIMITS we have had come across our desk.

“Whatever Happened to Amelia Earhart?”

PALM BEACHAmelia Earhart was executed by the Japanese, who then used the advanced technology from her plane to perfect their WW II Zero fighters, according to a flight engineer who worked on Earhart’s aircraft. Henri Keyzer-Andre, Palm Beach resident and longtime pilot, discussed one of the great mysteries of the 20th century as he explains it in his autobiography, “Age of Heroes.”

The story is similar to one that has been told for years by Naples resident and retired USAF Colonel James “Dusty” Rhoades.” He said he has known since 1959 that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were shot and killed by the Japanese in the South Pacific, but not for plane parts.

“It was an espionage mission,” Rhoades said of Earhart’s reported attempt to circumnavigate the globe. “We do spy on people. That’s the way to stay alive.”

Keyzer-Andre’s book says two lieutenants in the Japanese navy broke into Earhart’s radio frequency during the 1937 flight, and guided her into a trap on the island of Nonouti, where Japan had a base. Earhart and Noonan were killed and their bodies burned, to hide all traces. Keyzer-Andre said Earhart’s final words were, “Oh, mother”.

Rhoades, a 28-year veteran of military tours in Japan, Korea and China, said a Japanese general he befriended after WWlI told him a different story. Instead of being lured to Nonouti in the Gilbert Islands, Earhart crashed just to the northwest in the Marshall Islands after running out of fuel during a storm, and losing radio contact with a U.S. submarine tracking her mission.

Author Henri-Keyzer Andre, at age 86, in front of his wall of fame at his Palm Beach, Fla. home circa 1993. Keyzer-Andre may well have been a fine pilot in the early years of Pan American Airways, but an expert on the Earhart disappearance, he is not.

Author Henri-Keyzer Andre, at age 86, in front of his wall of fame at his Palm Beach, Fla. home circa 1993. Keyzer-Andre may have been a fine pilot in the early years of Pan American Airways, but an expert on the Earhart disappearance? Well, you decide, dear reader. 

The Japanese army captured and court-martialed the injured Earhart and Noonan, sentencing them to death tbr spying on the Japanese fortification of Pacific islands prior to the war, Rhoades said. The pair was brought before a firing squad, with Noonan standing tied to a post, and Earhart tied to a chair because she could not stand.

One day in 1959, while having lunch at a Japanese golf club, Rhoades said the Japanese general who told the story, Minouru Genda, introduced him to tile man who commanded the firing squad.

Rhoades said he does not know what became of Earhart’s plane after the crash, but does know it was equipped with a state-of-the-art engine built especially for the US Navy by Lockheed. But the plane was badly damaged, and the Japanese, who had spies in the US during the war, would not need to capture Earhart in order to learn about her plane.

“I was a good friend with Gen. Genda at the time,” Rhoades said. “I believed the things I heard because they had no reason to lie to me.” (End of review.)

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known . . .

Bill Prymak’s closing comment is spot on, but these wise words originally came from the pen of Michel de Montaigne (Michel Eyquem, lord of the manor of Montaigne, Dordogne) (28 February 153313 September 1592) who was an influential French Renaissance writer, generally considered to be the inventor of the personal essay.

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Did islanders canoe 500 miles with Earhart note?

Earhart lore is replete with strange stories that have never been factually confirmed and presented as legitimate evidence, yet remain believable and even compelling, because the scenarios they describe fit so well with what we know happened, based on the mountains of legitimate eyewitness accounts and other evidence that reveals the truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s sad ends on Saipan.

Today we reach into the “back of the rack,” as disk jockeys used to say when they played real music on radio, and dust off an obscure piece of Earhart arcana for your information and edification. Bill Prymak either liked this story so much that he presented it in two separate issues of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, July 1996 and June 1999, something he’d never done with any other stories, to my knowledge, or as he was preparing his June ’99 newsletter, he simply forgot that he’d run it three years earlier.

Please forgive the sometimes intrusive editor’s notes, but I feel it’s important that readers understand this story as well as possible, and because it’s being presented in its original form, some of the details and terminology need further explanation.  Nothing more is known of this story’s author, Jack Ralph.

Bill Prymak’s note: “Somebody very high in U.S. government went to a lot of trouble, via London, to have this leak squashed.”

“AMELIA EARHART’S LAST FLIGHT, A TRUE STORY” 

In August 1942, I received my Air Force wings and was assigned to a Consolidated B-24 Heavy Bombardment Air Group being assembled in preparation for overseas duty. In January of 1943 we were in place on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and began operations against Japanese ground, air, and sea targets throughout the South Pacific.

 

A U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator bomber, flying over explosions on the Salamaua Peninsula, where the port is located.

A U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator bomber, flying over explosions on the Salamaua Peninsula, where the port is located. The campaign to take the Salamaua and Lae, New Guinea area, across the Solomon Sea in the general area of the Solomon Islands, began with the Australian attack on Japanese positions near Mubo, on April 22, 1943. The campaign ended with the fall of Lae on Sept. 16, 1943.

After several months of combat flying individual crews were allowed a rest leave in Auckland, New Zealand. These rests lasted about two weeks during which we enjoyed a return to the luxury of real civilization, along with good food, and recreational activities arranged by the city of Auckland and our own Red Cross. At a social center maintained by these two organizations for service personnel, my navigator, Lt. “Steve” Stevens met a lovely young lady and they dated a number of times before we had to return to duty in the Solomons, which then seemed like a different planet. This was about July of 1943.

Steve was a quiet, smart, completely honest, exemplary individual. He was acknowledged to be one of the best navigators in our unit. The art of navigation was critical to our survival. There were wartime blackouts on all radio navigation aids, and many hours aloft with no landmarks for checkpoints. We routinely had critical fuel problems with flights stretching our range to the maximum. At the time the B-24 was the only bomber in the world that could handle those missions. I mention this only to provide insight on Steve’s credibility and reputation.

On our way back to Guadalcanal Steve told me about his date with the young lady the night before. He had spent the evening with her and her Mother (sic). They told him about living on Nauru, a British protectorate island about 1,000 miles northeast of the Solomons. The girls’ father had been a high-ranking British official in charge of numerous British islands throughout the south Pacific. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the mother and daughter were evacuated to the safety of New Zealand. Nauru was soon taken by the Japanese and the father’s fate was unknown.

(Editor’s note: Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 186 miles to the east. With over 10,000 residents in an 8.1 square mile area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific and third smallest state by population in the world, ahead of only the Vatican City and Monaco.

Settled by the Micronesians and Polynesians, Nauru was claimed as a colony by the German Empire in the late 19th century. After World War I, Nauru became a League of Nations Mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanese troops, who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. After the war ended, the country entered into trusteeship again. Nauru gained its independence in 1968. End of editor’s note.)

The two told Steve that the communications radios on Nauru were used by Amelia Earhart on her last flight as her path was quite near the island. The operators, along with all the others involved that night, could never figure out what went wrong.

(Editor’s note: When Steve’s two female hosts told him that radios on Nauru were “used by Amelia Earhart on her last flight,” they didn’t mean this literally, and could have been a bit more precise. At about 8:30 p.m. Lae time, the radio station at Nauru, which had been hearing her broadcasts for several hours,  heard Earhart say on 3105, “A ship in sight ahead.” The ship was Ontario, lying just a few miles north of the direct circle track to Howland.  Ontario had been sending Morse code Ns on the hour as requested in a July 1 update to Earhart’s June 27 message. The ship’s log contained no mention of seeing or hearing the Electra, and it was impossible for Earhart to communicate directly with Ontario and vice-versa.

These are not nurses, but uniformed female employees from the Westfield freezing works in Auckland, New Zealand, grouped outside the factory buildings during Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt's tour. Could the "lovely young lady" that Lt. Steve Steven met in Auckland have been among these young women? This photo was taken on Sept. 2, 1943, about the same time Stevens and Jack Ralph, this story's author, were visiting Auckland on leave from their Army Air Corps Bombardment Group.

These are not nurses, but uniformed female employees from the Westfield freezing works in Auckland, New Zealand, grouped outside the factory buildings during Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s tour. Could the “lovely young lady” that Lt. Steve Stevens met in Auckland have been among these young women? This photo was taken on Sept. 2, 1943, about the same time Stevens and Jack Ralph, this story’s author, were visiting Auckland on leave from their Army Air Corps Bombardment Group.

About an hour after the “ship in sight” message, T.H. Cude, the Nauru director of police, claimed he heard Earhart’s signals on his new 12-tube radio receiver. “Between 10 and 11 p.m.,” Cude wrote in a 1969 letter, “I heard her calling Harold Barnes. She called several times and said she could see the lights of Nauru.  

The time corresponds to the last, unintelligible signal reported by Radio Nauru on 3105, but Cude’s receiver was much better for receiving voice, according to Capt. Laurance Safford, author of Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday: The Facts Without the Fiction, who said Earhart would have passed Nauru at a distance of 125 nautical miles.

The lights Earhart saw were floodlights strung out along the two 1,000-foot cableways on top of the island that allowed mining operations at night, and “the 5,000 candle-power fixed light should have been visible from an altitude of 10,000 feet, or at least the bloom of the light on the clouds overhead,” Safford wrote. “Once again half-way to Howland, Noonan was dead on course.” End of Editor’s note.)

Quite some time later (I recall that Steve mentioned a matter of months) some south sea island natives arrived at Nauru in an outrigger canoe. They were from the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and they had a handwritten scribbled note signed by Amelia Earhart. (Bear in mind that the natives cover vast distances in their canoes. On some of our B-24 sea search patrols we would encounter them hundreds of miles from any land. That ancient art of open ocean navigation passed on from father to son is now, according to the National Geographic, almost forgotten, and certainly not as skilled as in the past. Remember, we are going back almost 52 years with this story.)

(Editor’s note: The distance from Mili Atoll to Nauru is about 573 miles, and 498 miles from the Gilberts to Nauru.)

The note stated that she had gone down and been captured by the Japanese in the Marshall and Gilberts and she was hoping her note could be smuggled out by friendly natives. She and her navigator, “Newman” were held prisoners. Mother and daughter told Steve that the news was immediately reported to London.

But meanwhile, the local newspaper picked up the story and immediately went to press. As I recall Steve said the name of the paper was “The Pacific Inter-Island Express” or very near that. The paper was distributed throughout the protectorate islands. The two women had saved some of those papers and Steve personally read the account from one of the copies. (Editor’s note: Online searches found no trace of The Pacific Inter-Island Express or any publication remotely similar, but this doesn’t mean the newspaper didn’t exist.)

Within just a few days a message arrived from London classifying the story TOP SECRET. That set off a frantic search for all the papers that had been printed and sent to all the islands. It was done, since communications were slow and cumbersome then, and though the distances were great, the actual number of copies and readers was comparatively small. The security clamp was never rescinded and no further information on the subject ever reached Nauru despite requests for information.

A recent photo of Nauru. Note the landing strip at far right. Nauru International Airport serves as the main hub of the national carrier, Nauru Airlines, formerly known as Air Nauru. Flights originate in Brisbane, Australia, and are available from Nauru to Majuro, Nadi and Tarawa. As of January 2015, the population of Nauru was estimated at 10,436.

A recent photo of Nauru. Note the landing strip at far right. Nauru International Airport serves as the main hub of the national carrier, Nauru Airlines, formerly known as Air Nauru. Flights originate in Brisbane, Australia, and are available from Nauru to Majuro, Nadi and Tarawa. As of January 2015, the population of Nauru was estimated at 10,436.

We decided that Steve should tell the story to our Bomb Group Intelligence Officer immediately upon our return to Guadalcanal and I’m sure Steve did so although I didn’t go with him. Nothing more was heard of it and we really didn’t expect that after the war the story would break. I did write the Pentagon after a few months of peace, and the reply tersely only said there was no record of such an incident.

Steve and I kept in touch. As time passed we concluded that the Allies were intent on making good and dependable friends of the Japanese and didn’t want to open old wounds with bad publicity. We wrote the whole thing off as diplomatic expediency and figured the story would forever be suppressed.

Picking up this cold trail now would involve tremendous research effort. The Freedom of Information Act would not be useful since the story would be in British archives. There may be no references to it in U.S. records. There is a fair chance the daughter is still alive and still under orders to suppress. As I write this, in 1994, I would presume she would be around 70-73 years old. Steve died some 10 years ago.

Considering the relationship now existing between Britain, the U.S. and Japan, I would bet there is no way the information will ever be divulged. There have been many stories and theories expounded over the years concerning Amelia’s disappearance. Many of them contain deductions that mesh very well with this story. I firmly believe this is what really happened.

 “Jack” Ralph

 

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