Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart: E.H. Dimity’s 1939 argument for new search, Part I

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 1960’s 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.

Close-up view of Amelia Earhart receiving the last package of flight covers from Nellie G. Donohoe, Oakland Postmaster.  At left is Paul Mantz, Earhart’s co-pilot as far as Honolulu. Behind Mrs. Donohoe is E. H. Dimity, ca. March 17, 1937.

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.

The “Round-the-World Flight” cover made famous by Amelia Earhart.  All the originals save one disappeared with the Earhart plane on July 2, 1937.  (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.)

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?]

West Coast amateur radio operators Walter McMenamy (left) and Carl Pierson, circa 1937, claimed they heard radio signals sent by Amelia Earhart, including two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.

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 know 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.

Amelia with Bendix Corporation representative Cyril Remmlein, and the now-infamous direction finding loop that may or may not have failed her during the final flight.  (Photo courtesy Albert Bresnik, taken from Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday, by Laurance Safford, Robert Payne and Cameron Warren.)

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.

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937.  Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up.  Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs).  Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island!”

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)

 

Advertisements

12 responses

  1. We’re all pulling for you.

    Like

  2. Mike,
    Gratitude for another outstanding addition to the Amelia Story. Your sleuth-like discovery of materials which few have read makes your Blog about Earhart and truth the best ever. Thank you for this.

    Looking forward to Part 2. And then looking forward to your analysis and comments about the details of this posting.

    Thank you from one who loves the Earhart Saga almost as much as you do.
    Captain Cal

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Calvin; you’re very kind. But here again, as is often the case, the credit for this blog entry goes not to me but to the great researcher Bill Prymak and his incomparable Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, wherein this one appeared in his August 1994 issue.

      All Best,
      Mike

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stuart R. Brownstein | Reply

    Keep up the great work ! You know how I feel ! You are amazing ! Be well and take care, Mike ! Warmly, Stuart !

    Like

  4. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All.

    I suppose the real questions then become, did AE come down on Barre Island, Mili Atoll into the wind with the gear (and flaps) extended for a full-stall, three-point landing at the lowest possible airspeed (Vso, or Stall speed in landing configuration) and minimum landing roll? If so, did the main gear survive the landing to allow running an engine that in turn would power the generator and allow operating the radio? If one of the main landing gear collapsed on landing, could the other engine still be run up to power the generator for the radio? I’m thinking along the lines of fuel feed and ground clearance for the prop.

    Obviously, if both mains had collapsed on landing, or AE had elected to belly in with the gear up the result would have been a couple of bent up Hamilton-Standards attached to two useless Pratt & Whitney engines — and, of course, no engine noise in any post-loss radio messages.

    All best,

    William

    Like

  5. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Before anyone sharp-shoots my previous comments, kindly allow me a bit of explanation. Vso, or stall speed in landing configuration, that is to say with gear and flaps extended is that airspeed at which the wing or airfoil ceases to produce the essential element of sustained flight — lift, i.e. it stops flying. In an ideal situation, the aircraft should just arrive at Vso the very instant the mains and tailwheel gently kiss terra firma with throttle closed and stick full back in your gut.

    That said, in an approach to landing at the minimum airspeed at which the aircraft remains flying (producing lift) and controllable is typically, 1.3 or 1.4 X Vso as per the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH). At the pilot’s discretion, a few mph of additional airspeed is usually kept up in gusty conditions for safety.

    All best,

    William

    Like

  6. David Atchason | Reply

    I wish I had been clued in to the AES back when it had been going on, I’m sure I would have been a participant. As it was, about 6+ years ago I discovered Gillespie’s Forum where I posted a while until I became regarded as a troll,I guess, because I disputed so many things he said, finally I came to see that his forum was just a very elaborate cover for his scam. I read, not too long ago, an opinion by someone who sounded authoritative, that the supposed landing on the coral (On Niku) reef was simply impossible. So Ric’s favorite scenario was the right engine running to provide power. However, when you visualize the actual scene it leads to many questions. Did she stop and then restart the engine? How long can you run an engine on the ground without flying? Will it overheat? If the prop is damaged can you uncouple it from the engine?

    So many other factors, too. He had no answers, resented my questioning. Basically running the engine after an impossible landing was mostly nonsense. Then you wonder did she actually land perfectly on a dry patch of ground on Barre Island? Then why the “little yellow boat?” Of course a large question in my mind is what was the purpose of salvaging the plane and restoring it to flying condition and taking it to Saipan? I can think of no good logical answer for that.

    Anyway, one day a year or two ago, I got out my pencil and paper and calculator, and using my high school physics I calculated how long the radio would run using battery power alone. Assuming they had something similar to a modern lead-acid car battery. I figured it would run the radio at least a continuous hour. Plenty of time for many sporadic messages at more or less full 50 watt power. I think I posted this and nobody disputed me. I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think so. Now my speculation braincells need a recharge. They are overused.

    Like

    1. David,

      As much as I enjoy your comments, I tend to put more stock in the published thoughts of recognized experts, and even among them the jury is still out on the “post-loss messages.”

      Almon Gray wrote at length about the Nauru receptions reported twelve hours after Amelia’s last message, concluding that “the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.” Moreover, Gray believed that the “peculiar signals” intercepted by the PAA stations at Wake, Midway, and Honolulu “may very well have come from the Earhart plane.”

      Paul Rafford, who “never saw eye to eye” with Gray, put little stock in the post-loss receptions. In 1981, Rafford built a nine-to-one scale model of the Electra, and ran tests to determine the difference in transmitting efficiency between a trailing antenna and the Electra’s fixed “V” antenna, based on his knowledge of its parameters and characteristics. “Measurements with the model, confirmed by mathematical formulas, show that the trailing antenna would have radiated almost all of the 50 watts supplied to it by the transmitter,” Rafford wrote. “By contrast, her fixed antenna transmitted only ½ watt on 3105 kHz.”

      Days before he turned ninety in April 2009, I asked Rafford if he thought any of the messages could have come from the Electra. “Personally, I don’t go along with any so called post loss messages,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Some of them are outright bogus and none of them provide any useful information as to her whereabouts. In any case she would have to be down on land, undamaged, in order to put out a useful signal. It would be virtually impossible for her to be heard on 3105 for more than 200 miles by day and 100 by night. On 6210 she might be able to be heard out to 500 miles by day and 1000 by night, but most of the intercepts were on 3105.

      For much more on this, see my chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals,” pages 38-59 in the second edition of Truth at Last.

      Like

  7. William H. Trail | Reply

    David,

    Here’s just little more detailed and exact information for your battery power calculations taken from Appendix II, Equipment List for Amelia Earhart’s Electra (page 191) of “Earhart What Really Happened at Howland” by G. Carrington — Unabridged Report IV — BRITNAV under Airframe Electical it reads:

    Batteries — Exide 6-FHM-13-1, 85 ampere-hour, forward main beam on centerline belly, aft end nose baggage compartment, 70 lbs. each.

    I’m really interested in the new results of your calculations based on the above.

    As for running the engine on the ground, that could be done for limited periods with the cowl flaps fully open to maximize airflow, but you’d really have to keep a sharp eye on the cylinder head and oil temperature gauges so the engine did not overheat and seize up.

    All best,

    William

    Like

  8. David Atchason | Reply

    Without getting out an old textbook or looking up the simple formulas online or asking my electrical engineer son, I would say a 70 lb. battery must have twice the power or more of a normal modern car battery maybe 3X the power. All I did was plug in the 50 watts to whatever I thought was the power of a normal battery. I have no idea if the radio drew 50 watts while putting out a 1/2 watt signal. Maybe it’s only using 1/2 watt which means the battery would last for many hours. I see Rafford said the range of her radio on the ground would never cover the distance needed for the intercepts. I tend to accept that.

    What I don’t understand is why Gillespie and others always assume she had to run her engine when her battery would supply plenty of power for a few messages. Especially if she only transmitted a few short messages a day. Then you have the contradiction that if her radio worked so well on the ground, why didn’t she use it to give a running commentary on where they sighted land, where and when they intended to land, where they thought they were so they could be rescued?Or maybe she did, but they were out of range of the Itasca radio receivers. A lot of things just don’t add up.

    Like

    1. Good question regarding the lack of her radio presence/running commentary regarding her location; if she was intentionally flying through the Japanese Mandated area she may not have wanted to volunteer that information, however things changed once they were down.

      Like

    2. William H. Trail | Reply

      Greetings:

      I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that the trailing wire antenna, essential for good communications, was taken out of the Electra and left behind because of excess weight and the inconvenience of reeling it back in. Couldn’t FN have done the cranking to reel it in? It seems a weak excuse.

      Why didn’t AE and FN take advantage of PAA Pacific Division’s offer to take radio bearings to help with navigation? That seems very odd to me not to use every resource available, especially if your life might depend on it.

      Add to these the very plausible possibility that AE and FN never actually intended to land at Howland Island in the first place, and then stir in Secretary of the Treasury (and FDR confidant) Henry Morgenthau’s cryptic 13 May 1938 telephonic conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, Malvina Scheider.

      Then, consider this from Mike’s blog of May 2014: Mrs. Ellen Belotti, PAA Pacific Division Chief George Angus’ secretary in 1937, told Fred Goerner in 1971 that several Navy officers who identified themselves as representatives of the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence (ONI) appeared at the Pan Am offices (date unspecified) and “confiscated all of the reports dealing with Earhart.”

      Yes, a lot of anomalies and things that just don’t add up. Too many.

      All best,

      William

      Like

Leave a Reply to William H. Trail Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: