Today we present the Conclusion of 1981 World Flight pilot Capt. Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.”
When we left Part IV, Calvin speculated that Amelia, finding the Electra in the anomalous Area 13, had decided to head toward the Marshall Islands rather than risk a landing at Howland. At 8:43 a.m. Howland time, Amelia told the Itasca, “We’re on the line 157-337 . . . Will repeat this message.” Turning to Fred Noonan, she might have said, “Give me a heading, and there’s no time to discuss it. If we land here, I probably won’t be able to get airborne again. Heading, please.”
Conclusion of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.”
By Calvin Pitts
In analyzing Amelia Earhart’s final flight, we can definitively say we don’t know the answers to several key questions. But by comparison with the conclusions of others, I believe we can say we that WE DO KNOW:
(1) The Electra did not go down at sea.
(2) They did not go to the uninhabited Phoenix Islands such as Baker, Gardner (Nikumaroro), Canton, McKean, etc., where they would have been completely cut off from other human beings who could have helped them.
(3) The Gilberts had thousands of friendly people who could have helped, although the Electra probably would have been sacrificed in that case, since there were no runways, with this option supporting the logic of No. 2 above.
(4) They did not turn back to the Gilberts, deciding not to follow the contingency plan so carefully laid out with Gene Vidal, a matter written about often.
(5) They did not land at Howland.
(6) The Electra was never seen by personnel on the Itasca or on Howland.
(7) The Electra never made an approach to Howland’s runway.
(8) There must have been a reason the all-important trailing antenna was removed.
(9) Fred Noonan had a 2nd class radio license, which required knowledge of Morse code, a knowledge he demonstrated with Alan Vagg between Australia and Lae.
(10) There must have been a reason Amelia was so casual with her radio calls.
(11) Noonan was not drunk the night before the final takeoff from Lae.
(12) Amelia was radio-savvy at first, maintaining two-way conversations with Harry Balfour at Lae until her position report at 0718z / 5:18 p.m. local time over Nukumanu Atoll.
(13) Amelia had no two-way conversations with the Ontario nor the Itasca at Howland.
(14) Although Amelia requested only voice-talk, Itasca’s radioman William Galten keyed 50 Morse code transmissions by himself, plus those sent by other Itasca radioman, indicating that they had not been so informed.
(15) Neither Nauru nor Tarawa Radio, important mid-range stations, had been informed.
(16) The mid-range ocean station, the Ontario, had not been properly informed.
(17) With government involvement in everything else, the key radio players, both Navy and ground, were ill-informed on the very last half of the Howland leg.
(18) The Howland runway log, which was hidden for years, now reveals that the men who constructed the runways did not consider the longest 4,000-foot, north-south runway to be safe due to soft-spots, massive numbers of birds and daily crosswinds of 20 mph.
(19) By the same token, the east-west runway for wind was only 2,400-feet long, too short. The width of the entire island was only one-half mile, with sloping beaches.
(20) With 30 days of pressure, problems and decisions, the Electra crew was exhausted with extreme fatigue by the time they took on their most dangerous assignment.
(21) The Electra came back to earth near Barre Island on Mili Atoll.
(22) The Electra pair were taken by the Japanese to their Marshalls headquarters at Jaluit.
(23) Amelia and Fred were flown to Saipan, where they were imprisoned.
(24) While under Japanese imprisonment, the Electra crew lost their lives.
(25) Via Tokyo, the Japanese lied to the U.S. government throughout the early days of the search about the movements of the Kamoi and the results of their search.
(26) In 1937, the Unites States, having broken the naval and diplomatic codes of Japan, could listen to radio conversations between Japanese naval vessels in the Pacific, and Saipan, the Marshalls and Tokyo.
(27) Three of the most senior U.S. military leaders of World War II in the South Pacific, Gen. Alexander A. Vandergrift, Gen. Graves Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, independently knew about the presence of the Electra and the fliers on Saipan, and each informed Fred Goerner or his close professional associates of their knowledge.
(28) By extension and by all available evidence and common-sense deduction, the top U.S. political leader — President Franklin D. Roosevelt — also knew that the Japanese had custody of the fliers at a very early date.
(29) Some evidence suggests that documents revealing the facts in the disappearance of Amelia and Fred are filed in a “World War II” file, even though the disappearance occurred four years BEFORE the war.
(30) To this day, the Earhart documents are labeled “Top Secret” (although the U.S. government denies any such files remain classified, or that they even exist) for a civilian who just wanted to finish off her career with a world flight “just for the fun of it.” What is this overkill attempting to hide, and if there’s “nothing to hide,” then why do the establishment and its media toadies continue their blanket denials of a truth that’s hiding in plain sight?
If these 30 factual bits of evidence, and much more, are not sobering enough, there are more, under the heading of “Human Factors,” keeping in mind that this list, while exhausting, is not exhaustive.
WE ALSO KNOW:
Other things that we likely know include:
(1) Amelia’s primary and foundational motivation was her own self-interest in adding to the aviation record she had worked so hard to establish. She loved daring and adventure, and other things about a world flight that fit her dreams and desires included:
(a) her intense personal interests.
(b) her desire for an adventure not yet experienced. She had done what Lindbergh did, in her 1932 Atlantic solo flight, showing that a woman can do what a man can do, something extremely important to her. But she had never done what her close friend, Wiley Post, had done twice. One of Amelia’s passions was to demonstrate to the next generation of girls that the world is open to them, but they must reach for it. Don’t downplay the power of this motivation. She wanted to be a role model while adding to her records. She wanted both fame and immortality, to be an example as a leader of women for generations of girls to follow.
(c) by labeling her plane “A Flying Lab,” she added a scientific motif, like Wiley Post, for her activities. If, in the course of her flying, she could test things like a new direction finder etc., that would add credibility and justification for all the money she and others were investing in the world flight.
(d) Amelia’s big heart, especially toward girls just starting out, that always reached out to see how she could help, first as a social worker, a nurse, as a teacher and finally as a role-model. She never stopped promoting her own interests, but not at the expense of failing to help girls who wanted to follow her example. For the 1930s, she was a great role model, not as a fake, pretend movie star, but as a truly outstanding performer in her own real adventures.
(2) Amelia had had many setbacks in her aviation career. She crashed a plane while in the process of taking flying lessons. She had more than one engine fire. Although she did well, she did not win the Powder Puff Derby. Third place is never good enough for a first-class person. She had more than one crack-up. But with determination, she not only survived, she prevailed, proving that determined women are equal to men.
In spite of setbacks, she had great confidence. As a professional pilot and former instructor, I often spotted a potentially dangerous quality in student-pilots, not confidence, but overconfidence, confidence that exceeded their ability at the time. With wrong circumstances, it is a dangerous quality. Respecting one’s own self-acknowledged limitations is the heart of safety.
(3) Amelia’s radio behavior on the world flight was uncharacteristically strange. Who can understand or explain it? It bordered on unprofessional, unless there was a bigger player and a bigger reason that influenced the entire operation. In preparation for Flight No. 2 in Oakland and Miami, several of the Pan Am workers revealed some not-so-pretty things about Amelia’s rudeness and temper. Pan Am’s offer for radio support and flight following was uncharacteristically refused, at no cost to her — why? That borders on irrational, unless something else was afoot.
In my opinion, a woman, fighting a man’s world, finds it more difficult than does a man. I can spot several things in Amelia’s world flight that illustrate over-confidence and negligence in accepting one’s own limitations. That was a demon flying with her that she did not need. Her interactions with Paul Mantz are a great illustration of this. He saw several things that he didn’t think were good, and tried to change them, but she found it hard to listen.
Next, we must ask, WHAT DO WE NOT KNOW?
From what we do know, we evaluate the things we do not know. Because of the unselfish work of others, we are satisfied that we know the essence of what did happen. From the words of the three flag officers, they tell us that the Electra and its crew were on Saipan.
For us, the end of the story is solid. For reasonable people, this answers the central essence of the WHAT of the story. But the WHY remains unanswered.
Were the Marshalls the ORIGINAL destination of the fliers?
That strictly depends on the meaning of the word ORIGINAL. If you identify the origin as that point just following 2013z / 8:43 a.m., where we came to see “Intent,” then YES. From that point, Amelia intended to fly to the Marshalls.
If, however, you mean something else, then several scenarios arise.
(1). Original destination No. 1? Did Amelia intend to go to the Marshalls when she began Flight No. 1 going west toward Hawaii? No. That’s too much of a stretch.
(2). Original destination No. 2? Was that her intent when she left on Flight No. 2, flying the opposite direction? Here it gets complicated. Did those military men who had a private meeting with her while the Electra was being repaired, suggest a plan that included the Marshalls? I don’t think we will ever know how much the government spoiled Amelia’s innocent preparations with secret plans. Whatever they injected was poison from the beginning, no matter if it was as benign, as is one of my scenarios.
What “military men,” one asks?
“They would now fly from west to east instead of east to west. The reason given was because the prevailing winds would be more favorable, but Margot DeCarie, Earhart’s secretary would later declare that her boss had long secret meetings with military authorities [Bernard Baruch, a close adviser to FDR, and Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, chief of the Army Air Corps] during the rebuilding period [at March Field, in Riverside County, Calif.].” (Paul Rafford Jr., Amelia Earhart’s Radio. p. 27.)
In 1966, DeCarie told the San Fernando Valley Times that she believed these meetings concerned plans for a secret mission “to get lost on the theory that the Japanese would allow a peace mission to search for her. Then the United States could see if the Japanese were fortifying the (Marshall) Islands in violation of mutual agreements.” (Col. Rollin C. Reineck, Amelia Earhart Survived, p. 26.)
(3). Original destination No. 3? Did the U.S. government suggest something in Miami while the Electra was being fitted with new radios and having their lifeline, the trailing antenna, removed? Some very suspicious things happened there, giving rise to some strange actions and reactions on Amelia’s part.
Currently, with the limited knowledge we have, my “original destination” begins in what I call Area 13 during the time shortly after 2013z / 8:43 a.m. Howland time.
But I can also suggest several scenarios which could easily push that “origin” back much further than Area 13, 2013z / 8:43 am. (Five are listed at the end of this posting.)
And if that were case, you need to explain precisely why they would want to head for Jaluit as an original destination, and not Howland. For me, Jaluit as an “original destination” began at about 2013z / 8:43 am on July 2, 1937, unless the government involvement started in Oakland or Miami. That is possible, but if that happened, then the Marshalls may have been a “faint,” or a ruse.
The military involvement versus the lesser government insertion, is a stretch, but believable with the information we have. At this point, Amelia appears to still be a “peace-loving,” war-hating citizen like Lindbergh and his Isolationists. Whatever sinister part she was contemplating still seems, at this point, to be somewhat innocent, as “My Earhart Scenario” lays out. It is still difficult to see her as a “heavy hitter” connected with a military plot, although the later condemning words of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. seem very convincing.
“The obvious answer would be to see what the Japs were doing,” Mike Campbell wrote in a recent email, “but why would anyone think that the Japs would stand by for this and allow the U.S. Navy to search for them and pick them up once found? This would have been an idiot’s game plan, and I just don’t buy it.”
Neither do I. Not only would the Japs not stand for it, neither would U.S. military leaders at that point in the pending conflict. Amelia had no training in aerial reconnaissance. The military could not have been that short-sighted. Nor had Amelia received any training whatsoever in “spying.” That is the hardest designation for me to accept. I think it was much more benign and innocent than that, which is the theme of “My Earhart Scenario.”
“Other possible scenarios involve approaching Mili from the west and north on the way to Howland,” Campbell added, “after overflying Truk to get snapshots of the Japs’ work there. They could have run out of fuel on the way to Howland and been forced down at Mili.”
This seems much too sinister for the Amelia of 1936, as well as 1937. A “little favor,” perhaps, but not Truk or Jaluit reconnaissance. Yet, we keep hearing the theme of Morgenthau and FDR saying, in effect, If the public knew, it would be so bad that it would totally ruin Amelia’s reputation.
Morgenthau’s actual words in the transcribed phone conversation were: “It’s just going to smear the whole reputation of Amelia Earhart . . . If we ever release the report of the Itasca on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she’s got is gone . . . I know what the Navy did, I know what the Itasca did, and I know how Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders, and if we ever release this thing, goodbye Amelia Earhart’s reputation.”
I also tend to the belief that it’s most probable that the decision was made to head for Jaluit at some point, but am not at all certain about this. Other possibilities do exist, that’s why the how and the why of their Mili landing is the true mystery in the Amelia story.
Japanese headquarters, Jaluit, Marshall Islands, was probably their intended destination because of its strong radio signals. Capt. Almon Gray of Pan Am, who flew with Noonan, said: “Fred often listened to Jaluit on his Pan Am flights, taking bearings on them.” This general territory was not new to Pan Am navigators.
However, Mili probably came into the picture unexpectedly. After more than 24 hours of flying, when Amelia saw Mili Atoll en route to Jaluit 150 miles away, she had to know she was down to mere drops in the fuel tanks. One engine may have started sputtering, signaling imminent fuel exhaustion. Both engines would seldom run out of fuel at the exact same time. Hence, it’s “make a controlled landing now, or a gliding landing into the water later with only minimum control.” This would account for landing at Mili, short of Jaluit.
Regarding the matter of “decision,” after studying on Google Earth the difference in an “intended” heading for the mid-Gilberts, bringing them accidentally to the Marshalls, is pure fantasy to me. You cannot move me from my belief that, for whatever reason, there was absolute INTENT in picking up a heading for the Marshalls. The strong Japanese radio signal fits into that scenario, whether that decision was the government’s or not. Those were signals Noonan knew well from his Pan Am days. There was the intention of going there. They did not accidentally wake up and say, “Oh, how did we get to the Marshalls Islands?”
Once I was convinced that Amelia intended to go to the Marshalls, the next question was: To what destination? Jaluit was the most logical, since it was the source of the radio signals, plural, because there were 11 reported radio stations there. Jaluit, in my opinion, was where Amelia thought she could get fuel and help.
As for Mili being the spot where they actually landed/crashed, that was probably a glitch in the plan. The Mili landing was forced on them, as I view it, due to fuel starvation. Ironically, during the period of the world flights, few of Amelia’s expectations seemed to play out precisely as she intended, including Honolulu, Oakland, Miami, Africa, Australia, Lae, Nukumanu, Howland and now Jaluit.
In fact, the original change in direction from Flight No. 1 was probably not her idea in the beginning, but was the result of the “military men” who met with her at March Field.
In Amelia Earhart’s Radio (p. 25), Paul Rafford Jr. wrote that Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, “heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard. Mark Walker was a Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: ‘This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.’”
For what it’s worth, from one who has lived this story for countless hours, we take it as being worth a lot. Where we part company with the “spy theorists” is the degree of cooperation. It seems much more innocent and benign than a spy novel. She was asked, in one researcher’s opinion, to do a small favor “since you’re going to be there anyway.”
Probably, it was not that she wanted the government involved in her plan, other than helping with details such as clearances, landing sites, fuel, radio help, etc. It seems the government might have hijacked her personal adventure by offering help-with-a-price tag.
As I’ve said many times, the more I learn, the less I know. But what did Adm. Chester W. Nimitz mean when he told Fred Goerner through Cmdr. John Pillsbury, “You are on to something that will stagger your imagination”? I confess, this is strange language, and its meaning remains obscure. We simply do not know!
As for Goerner’s original theory of an Earhart overflight of Truk Island on July 2, as much as we deeply respect all the time and work he put into to this, and the doors he opened for everyone after him, it cheapens his otherwise stellar work by taking this seriously. Overfly Truk Island? This leaves me outside on the fringes, saying, “I just can’t believe it.”
Not for a moment should we sell Amelia short. She did what most men could never do, or at least have never done, nor even tried. It took determination, stamina, passion, foresight, commitment, confidence and character. She was the best — flawed, yes, (join the human race), but the best.
And she gave it her best. For that, she is to be applauded and respected for bringing to the surface of reality the achievements of a woman who will always be remembered as a record-holder, a role model and a regal angel who was at home in the air, leaving footprints in the sky.
Amelia, even with those things we don’t know nor understand, we salute you!
Afterword: As mentioned in these postings, there were several unsolicited government intrusions into the innocuous personal plans for a final adventure by a civilian, resulting in the following threads and snippets:
(a) “This was not my idea; someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
(b) Military men met with her privately, removing George Putnam, Amelia’s husband, and Margot DeCarie, her personal secretary, from the room.
(c) Amelia’s strange flight behavior suggested pre-determined decisions.
(d) Her close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, with personal interest and involvement by FDR in helping with funding and providing permission for the State Department to help with planning fuel stops. “Do what we can, and contact . . .” was written by his hand on Amelia’s Nov. 10, 1936 personal letter to him.
This raises the prospect of some differing but believable scenarios including:
(1). an original intent to land, unable to find Howland, rejecting the Gilberts contingency plan, followed by the personal decision to proceed to the Marshalls for fuel;
(2). an original intent to land, but then a last-minute decision to change, based upon comparisons with the takeoff from which raised the specter of the limitations for a safe takeoff from Howland, with a pre-planned decision to proceed to the Marshalls;
(3). original instructions not to land at Howland with a “faint” attempt to create a ruse, followed by instructions to proceed to the Marshalls;
(4). original instructions to actually land at Howland, then a “pretend” emergency after takeoff, followed by instructions to proceed to the Marshalls;
(5). or “disappear over the Gilberts” by landing on a beach, a “small favor” of staying hidden for two weeks to allow the Navy to search the waters without suspicion while actually obtaining maritime information and updated coordinates for islands, including sightings and soundings and military reconnaissance, to be useful for planes and ships if war breaks out, then “find and rescue” the Electra crew, saving their lives for future purposes.
(6) OR . . . That’s the subject of “MY EARHART SCENARIO.”
THIS IS AN ADVENTURE WHICH WILL NOT DIE UNTIL WE KNOW THE TRUTH. And sometimes, the truth surprises us by its mere simplicity. But then again, who knows?
(End of Capt. Calvin Pitt’s “Amelia Earhart’s Disappearing Footsteps in the Sky.”)
I extend my heartfelt thanks to Capt. Calvin Pitts for his superb analysis of Amelia Earhart’s final flight. In what is clearly a labor of love, Calvin has devoted countless hours to produce this exceptional commentary, and it will take its place among other leading Earhart researchers’ work, to be read often by those who sincerely seek the truth. I’m also confident we will be hearing more from him, as his multiple references to his yet-to-be-published “My Earhart Scenario” suggest.