The author of today’s disputation, E.H. “Elmer” Dimity, was a parachute manufacturer during the late 1930s who knew Amelia and established an Amelia Earhart Foundation following her disappearance in hopes of organizing a new search. Though not a well-known figure in Earhart lore, Dimity owned the only autographed souvenir envelope, or stamped flight cover, known to have survived Earhart’s 1937 round-the-world flight, because it actually didn’t accompany her in her Electra.
The Sept. 13, 1991 New York Times, Auctions Section, page 00015, in a brief titled “Airmail,” explains:
On March 17, 1937, when Earhart left Oakland, Calif., on her first attempt to circle the globe, the envelope was in one of the mail packages aboard her plane. The plane’s landing gear gave way in Honolulu, and when the plane was sent back to Oakland for repairs, the mail was returned with it. Before Earhart left again on May 21, the damaged mail packages were re-wrapped under the direction of the Post Office. It was then, Elmer Dimity reported later, that he removed the envelope as part of a joke he planned to play when Earhart returned. He said he had hoped to meet her with the envelope in hand, saying the mail had arrived before she did.
“Mr. Dimity sold the envelope in the 1960s on behalf of the Amelia Earhart Foundation to a dealer,” said Scott R. Trepel, a Christie’s consultant, who organized the auction house’s sale. The collector who bought the envelope from that dealer is the unidentified seller of the Earhart memento, which is to be sold with an affidavit from Mr. Dimity. Christie’s estimates that the envelope will bring $20,000 to $30,000.
In perhaps the best Earhart biography, The Sound of Wings (1989), author Mary Lovell discusses Dimity and his ineffective foundation briefly, but for now we turn our attention to his 1939 paper, “Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart,” which appeared in the August 1994 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.
“Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart” (Part I of Two)
by E.H. Dimity, August 1939
Walter McMenamy was thoroughly familiar with Miss Earhart’s voice. He knew it perfectly, could detect it when others heard but a jumble of sound. This was proven during earlier flights. His familiarity with the Earhart voice began in January 1935, when Miss Earhart made her solo flight to the mainland. During this flight, McMenamy was the only radio receiver in constant touch with her ship, working with station KFI in Los Angeles which was broadcasting to her plane. His work on this flight brought warm and written recognition from both the station and Miss Earhart. His set, built for experimentation in a laboratory, was the only one which reported her position through this flight, bringing in the signals when the equipment of the station itself could not do so.
The hope that Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Capt. [sic] Fred Noonan may be found alive on some tiny island in the South Pacific is a thrilling hope, one that awakens sentiment in the American public who knew her as the heroine of the skies, and particularly strikes a sentimental chord in those who knew her before her disappearance.
There would be sadness in the thought, too, for she has been given up, long since. The hope would appear to be vain, born of wistful thinking. But there are cold, indisputable facts which have never been made public, and which must demonstrate to anyone of open mind that no sufficient search was ever made for Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan, and that either they are now alive on land in the lonely, untraveled nowhere of their disappearance, or have died since, praying that they would be found.
It is the purpose of this brief memorandum to state these facts, in their order and without elaboration, and to let them argue the case for a new search.
Before offering the evidence, however, it might be well to list those who believe that either Miss Earhart may be found alive, or that evidence to solve the mystery may be found, and that a new search should be made as soon as possible.
This group includes the following:
Amelia Earhart’s mother, who has made an intimate study of the data and believes steadfastly that her daughter will be found.
Clarence A. Williams, pilot and navigator who charted Miss Earhart’s course around the world.
Paul Mantz, Miss Earhart’s flying instructor and friend, who accompanied her on her flight to Honolulu.
Margot DeCarie, Amelia Earhart’s secretary.
E.H. Dimity, longtime friend of Miss Earhart, who took care of many details for her in planning her flights, and who once refused to let her pilot his plane because she was just learning to fly then. Mr. Dimity established, and is the President of the Amelia Earhart Foundation [now defunct], in Oakland, Calif.
Walter McMenamy, radio expert who was in constant touch with her by air on her solo flight from Honolulu to the mainland, and who probably saved her life by quick thinking on that occasion, when she was flying off her course. McMenamy also helped guide by radio the first Clipper ship flight to Honolulu. He charted Miss Earhart’s radio course around the world, and heard her last signals. [Editor’s note: Pure speculation. See my April 30, 2014 post, “Earhart’s ‘post-loss messages’: Real or fantasy?”]
The reader, perhaps surprised at the suggestion that there may be good reasons for believing Miss Earhart still alive, no doubt will have many questions in his mind, which this memorandum will seek to answer. Some of these questions are:
1. Didn’t Navy and Coast Guard search the area where she might have gone down, completely and fruitlessly?
2. If she landed on an island, how could Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan be alive now, without food or water?
3. If they are still alive, why have they not been heard from?
The first important fact to be recorded was known to only a few at the time of Miss Earhart’s flight and disappearance, has never been made generally known to the public, and is of tremendous importance. This fact is that Miss Earhart’s plane and radio equipment were such that the plane could broadcast only from the air or while on land. The plane could not have broadcast from water. This is proven not only by the testimony of those who helped in the flight preparations, but by the Lockheed factory which made the plane, and by the radio experts who installed the equipment. The radio transmitter had to be powered by the motor generator, which would be submerged and inactive in the water.
The importance of this fact is, briefly, that it can be proven beyond doubt that the Earhart plane DID broadcast radio signals many hours after it had to be down somewhere, and the plane must have been on land.
The third fact is that radio signals were received from the Earhart plane days after it had landed. These signals were heard in various parts of the world, by several radio operators, including ships at sea, government stations, and her radio contact man, Walter McMenamy. Proof of this is in official records and affidavits. These signals, and the time they were heard, will be described later.
These facts can and will be proven, and they lead directly to the conclusion that the Earhart plane landed in a place not searched, and must be still there with its occupants alive or dead. Their last radio signal had a decided ripple or sputter, which any radio expert recognizes immediately as evidence that the power was failing.
Immediately two questions arise. First, what chance could they have for survival on a tiny, deserted island, with little food and no water? History provides an answer. There are many cases on record where persons shipwrecked, stranded, and believed lost were found years later, alive, in this same area where the Earhart plane landed. One party, without food, lived on fish, shellfish, and bird’s eggs, and captured rainwater for drinking. A monotonous diet, but they survived and were rescued from an island which appeared to be incapable of sustaining life.
The second question is: If they were safe, why have they not been picked up, or heard from? There is a single answer to this. Their course took them over a sea area strewn with hundreds of islands, which had never been seen from the air, and parts of which have never been visited by civilized man. Hundreds of miles from the steamer lanes, thousands from communication. Many of the islands, on their course have never been charted, and appear on no map.
What could anyone do but wait, and pray for rescue?
To complete the story, let’s review the events of the disappearance and search point by point.
Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan had an excellent aircraft, a Lockheed Electra, powered with two 550-horsepower motors and equipped with the latest instruments devised. They cruised at an average speed of 150 mph. At no time during the flight, even when their gas supply was running low and they were lost, did they report any trouble of any kind, with the motor or otherwise. No wreckage of the plane has ever been sighted or found, no evidence of an explosion or a sudden crash into the sea caused by faulty motors.
The two left Miami, Florida, on their flight around the world June 1, 1937. The first leg of the trip to South America was completed without difficulty. On their flight 1,900 miles across the South Atlantic to Africa, it was reported that the plane’s radio did not function properly, but the span was successfully accomplished. The trip then took them across Africa and to India. In the Bay of Bengal, the plane encountered a monsoon which forced it close to the water, but their objective was won, and the fliers safely reached Lae, British New Guinea.
At Lae they drew breath for the most difficult leg of the trip, one never before attempted. This was a 2,570- [exactly 2,556] mile flight from Lae to Howland Island, a distance greater than from Los Angeles to New York, over a lonely, poorly charted sea. The navigation must be perfect, for they were aiming at a pinpoint in the ocean, tiny Howland Island less than two miles square and 20 feet above sea level at its highest point. Their aim, at such a distance, must be flawless.
Few navigators would stake their lives, as Capt. Noonan did, on such a gamble.
Navigators say that even with the gentle prevailing winds that were blowing at the time, a drift of ten degrees off course in such a distance might easily occur, even with the most expert navigation.
If the plane did drift, from its last know bearing, it might have come down somewhere in a triangle stretching nearly 1,500 miles long and about 500 miles wide at its base. This fateful triangle includes nearly a million square miles and hundreds of unexplored islands, and only a small part of it has ever been searched for the missing pair.
Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan took off from Lae on the morning of July 1, Pacific Standard Time [10 a.m., July 2, Lae Time]. The first 500 miles of their flight took them over sea and islands fairly well known, where they could take bearings without difficulty. Shortly after 5 p.m., they reported they were 725 miles out, and directly on course. Although regular broadcasts were heard from the plane hours later, this was the last position definitely reported, and our triangle starts from the 800-mile mark, for these reasons.
The last 1,000 miles of the flight were the most difficult. There were no landmarks to aid in navigation, and the slightest drift off course could take them miles from their destination.
Stationed at Howland Island to aid the flight was the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, to keep in radio contact with the ship and to advise on weather. Miss Earhart’s radio could transmit on two wave lengths, 3105 kilocycles and 6210 kilocycles. There was only one thing wrong with the arrangements, and this mistake may be the cause, perhaps, for the disaster.
Although the Itasca had a radio direction finder which would show the course of signals it received, and thus make it possible to give bearings to a lost plane, the direction finder could not work on the Earhart wavelengths.
Miss Earhart, in the last desperate hours of her flight, asked the Itasca again and again to give her a report on her position. Evidently she did not know the Itasca was not equipped with a direction finder which could aid her.
An ironic comment can be made here of the flight preparations at Lae. During the earlier part of her trip, Miss Earhart’s plane was equipped with a “trailing antenna.” This wire trailing under the plane made it possible for the plane to broadcast on the regular ship wavelength of 500 meters (kc). With the trailing antennae, she could have transmitted signals on that wavelength, and the Itasca direction finder, tuned to this frequency, could have reported her position in the air. But, for mysterious reasons, Miss Earhart left the trailing antennae at Lae [most say Miami]. Then she canceled, irrevocably, her chance to learn from the Itasca or other ships where she was, lost in the skies seeking tiny Howland Island. The Itasca direction finder could not help her.
(End of Part I)