Electra 12 mystery photo raises perplexing questions

The below photos and brief narrative appeared in the February 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, with little explanation as to the provenance of the plane photo other than its discovery by researcher Joe Gervais, and the headline, “COVERUP . . . part of a larger scheme?”  Otherwise, readers are left with little else but bewildered questions.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

The following caption is taken verbatim from the original AES Newsletter presentation: “Amelia Earhart escaped injury in this pile-up off the end of Lockheed’s runway at Burbank, Calif.  Shortly after this photo was made, Earhart and Noonan disappeared on their Round the World flight in the mid-Pacific May 20 – July 3, 1937.”

JOE Gervais comes up with the darndest stuff sometimes, to wit the intriguing photograph from the Lockheed Archives shown above, a model 12 Electra mournfully laying in a ditch at the end of the runway at Burbank, date of accident established [sic] as May 7 or 8, 1937, about two weeks before AE’s departure on her second attempt around the world. 

QUESTIONS: Who stonewalled the press, with such an incident certain to raise nationwide attention?  Why was this accident not reported to the CAA?  All incidents sustaining major structural damage such as seen above were mandated by law to be reported to the federal aviation authorities.  No report was filed.

Compare photo below to person(s) standing in front of the Electra . . .  sure looks like George and part of a bell bottom trouser, such as seen on AE.  

[TAL Editor’s note: I don’t see any part of a bell bottom trouserin the photo above.] 

The aircraft had a checkered history, passing through at least six ownerships, at one time showing the experimental registration X 17342 [sic].  Strangely, official CAA documents show Las Vegas Gas Co. as the owner of X-17342 for a period of time, and yet Joe, one to never leave any stone unturned, could not find, even in spite of dogged research, such ownership in any of the records of the Las Vegas Gas Co.

WHO would stand to gain the most from this cover-up?  George Putnam?  Lockheed?  The U.S. government?  Certainly Amelia dodged a fusillade of bad press, which couldn’t have come at a worse time in her career had this crash been splashed across the national newspapers.

In his February 1994 newsletter, the late Amelia Earhart Society president and founder Bill Prymak offered his limited membership yet another puzzling entry, and now I’m passing this strange item to the readers of the Truth at Last blog, with the hope that this little mystery can be solved.  Can anyone tell us more about this photo and the story behind it?

******Oct. 23 Update******

Reader Blake K. Baxter has sent in a comment with information that partially clarifies our little mystery, albeit taken from a February 1995 edition of TIGHAR Tracks.

All interested readers should click on the link to the TIGHAR Story, found on page 8 of
https://tighar.org/Publications/TTracks/1995Vol_11/1101.pdf

Once again it appears that we have a case of Joe Gervais rushing to speculate and make another sensational claim before finding the available information.

Bill Prymak is also culpable for writing that the date of accident established [sic] as May 7 or 8, 1937, about two weeks before AE’s departure on her second attempt around the world.  Where did he get that date, and what made him so sure?  The Feb. 28, 1995 TIGHAR Tracks story doesn’t have all the answers, but it appears to have more than Bill Prymak had when he posted this photo in February 1994.

 

10 responses

  1. Certainly bizarre! Where did this Electra come from and is there no indication of ownership or original provenance? Putnam certainly would not want the world to know that Amelia cracked up a plane right before her big flight! Could this be someone else’s plane and they just happened to be there onlooking? If that is them at all in he photo..kind of reminds me of that Les Kinney photo that he dug up that caused so much controversy! So many mysteries within a case that has been solved.

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    1. Interestingly this photo was discussed by Tighar back in the 90’s. https://tighar.org/Publications/TTracks/1995Vol_11/1101.pdf
      This aircraft was later taken into the RCAF and their notes support the Tighar article.
      http://www.rwrwalker.ca/RCAF_7650_7699_detailed.html

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      1. Blake,

        Thanks so much for your very informative comment. Based on the information revealed in this story,“The weather and the presence of the film logo give us a not-earlier-than date for the photo of November 6, 1937.” So once again we have a case of Joe Gervais rushing to speculate and make another sensational claim before finding the available information.

        Bill Prymak is also culpable for writing that the “date of accident established [sic] as May 7 or 8, 1937, about two weeks before AE’s departure on her second attempt around the world.” Where did he get that date, and what made him so sure? The Feb. 28, 1995 TIGHAR Tracks story doesn’t have all the answers, but it appears to have more than Bill Prymak had when he posted this photo in February 1994.

        All interested readers should click on the link to the TIGHAR Story, found on page 8 of
        https://tighar.org/Publications/TTracks/1995Vol_11/1101.pdf

        Thanks so much,
        Mike

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  2. That woman wearing the long dark coat is the same woman seen wearing the moomoo on the dock at Jaluit.

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    1. It’s a loose Hawaiian dress and it’s called a muumuu. I guess you could fit a cow into a plus size!

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  3. This looks like what we call today as a runway excursion. Caused by coming in too fast and high to use the runway without running off of it. Happens all too often. Sometimes people die from these, if the plane catches fire, which it often does.

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  4. Burbank looked so different in those days.

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  5. I should go over there and try to determine the location where
    the plane was sitting in the photo from the profile of the hills in the background. I think it’s where Lockheed built the Vega Plant a year or two after that photo was taken. My family lived about a mile to the west in the early Fifties. In 1974, I helped a married couple with whom I worked move into one of those houses far off in the background. The rent was low due to the proximity to the airport. Vega built a few light aircraft prototypes intended for civilian use or military trainers before turning to production of the Hudson bomber which Lockheed called the B-14 internally because it was based on the Model 14, the PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon also evolved from the L-14, and the later P2V naval patrol bombers. While doing that they also built 2,750 B-17 Flying Fortresses under license from Boeing including some of the very last latest and greatest in June 1945. The Vega Plant was a modest facility. It looked like an ordinary industrial plant which made something mundane like kitchen appliances. Lockheed had apparently learned from their humble beginnings to do a lot with modest resources. They didn’t build a big, modern plant until the late Forties. That plant was built on some of the open land in the background in the photo.

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    1. Pretty sure that’s the North side of the Hollywood Hills. My uncle lived in Burbank off of Buena Vista Street. His house is about 250 feet up the west face of a mountain due east of Burbank Airport on the east side of I-5. We used to sit in his backyard and watch the planes take off and land.

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  6. Lockheed Vegas were produced in Burbank starting in 1928, long before this photo was taken.

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