Much has been made by a few of the more conspiracy-minded researchers of Amelia Earhart’s disastrous crash at Luke Field, Hawaii, on March 20, 1937, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death, as well as those of Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, who were also with her in the Electra that day. Some believed Amelia crashed on purpose.
First, some background might be helpful. The original world-flight plan called for an Oakland-to-Oakland flight via Honolulu, then on to Howland Island; Lae, New Guinea; and Port Darwin, Australia. “Part two, a lengthier stretch over fabulous lands,” as Earhart described it, “extended from Australia to the west coast of Africa by way of Arabia.”
Part three would take the Electra over the South Atlantic to Brazil and from there northward to the United States. Noonan would go as far as Howland and return to Hawaii by ship. Captain Harry Manning, a pilot, navigator, and master mariner of the United States Line, had agreed to serve as Earhart’s navigator and radio operator during the difficult early stages of the flight. Manning would stay until they reached Australia, and Earhart would fly the rest of the way alone.
The flight from Oakland to Honolulu went well, as Earhart, Noonan, Manning, and technical advisor Paul Mantz took off from Oakland Airport on March 17 at 4:37 p.m. Pacific time. They landed at Wheeler Field, Oahu, at 8:25 a.m. Pacific time, March 18, covering the 2,400 miles in a record 15 hours, 43 minutes. Once there, Mantz test flew the Electra, made repairs on the right propeller blades that became temporarily inoperative about six hours from Hawaii, and delivered the plane to the Navy’s Luke Field, on Ford Island near Pearl Harbor. With its 3,000-foot paved runway, Luke was considered more practical for the Electra’s 900-gallon fuel load.
But on the March 20 takeoff for the 1,900-mile flight to Howland Island, the Electra had covered about a thousand feet of runway when its right wing dropped, the right wheel and the undercarriage were torn away, and the plane slid along the runway, showering sparks before coming to rest. Miraculously, despite fuel leaking through the drain well of the belly, no fire erupted and no one was injured.
“Witnesses said the tire blew,” Earhart explained. “However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident. Possibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course. But, alas, the load was so heavy, once it started an arc there was nothing to do but let the plane ground loop as easily as possible.” A wire report said Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst.”
Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, offered a more sinister explanation for the crash in his 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ‘em Flying. Kennedy first met Earhart in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race, and directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the accident at Luke Field.
After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane. When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote.
Kennedy said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident. “Damn! I forgot about the gear,” Kennedy claimed she said. “Art, you and I are good friends. You didn’t see a thing. We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural. Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?” Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.
Kennedy said Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the takeoff “and did it the only way she knew how.” According to Kennedy, she said “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world. She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’” Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue. Who knows for sure?
Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who joined Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claims. Goerner laid out his reasons in a cordial 1992 letter to Ronald T. “Ron” Reuther (1929-2007), himself a remarkable and highly accomplished individual.
Reuther, a close friend of Goerner, founded the Western Aerospace Museum and was a revered, original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society. Reuther was unique among the elite of the aviation establishment in his support for the Marshalls Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart disappearance, but these are mere footnotes in an impressive list of memorable achievements in a life well lived.
He was also a great naturalist who curated and directed the Micke Grove Zoo (Lodi, Calif.), the Cleveland Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Philadelphia Zoo. As director of the San Francisco Zoo, Reuther was instrumental in the creation of an amazingly successful project to teach the world-famous and recently deceased gorilla Koko sign language. Following is Goerner’s cordial 1992 letter to Reuther. All boldface is mine.
August 7, 1992
Mr. Ron Reuther
1014 Delaware Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Again you have proven to be a good friend!
Many thanks for your comments regarding my health, and extra thanks for sending along the chapter from Arthur Kennedy’s book, HIGH TIME [sic] — KEEPING ‘EM FLYING.
I’m more than a little happy to report that my recovery proceeds apace, although I have some distance to go in regaining strength.
The surgeons at the Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., saved my life in a fifteen-hour operation, and I have just concluded the last of three week-long chemo sessions at Mount Zion Hospital here in San Francisco. The latest CT-scan is clean, so it appears that I have at least a few more years to plague family and friends.
With respect to the Kennedy comments about Earhart, the proverbial grain of salt applies.
Kennedy appears to have been influenced by the film FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM in which Earhart [is asked by the U.S. Navy purposefully to crash her plane in Hawaii so she can later undertake a secret mission. Kennedy alleges Earhart did just that and that Earhart even told him something about it. [Ed. note: Tony Carter is the character in Flight for Freedom that Goerner identified as Earhart, but the parallel was obvious.]
This reckons without the testimony of Harry Manning who was flying the right-hand seat alongside Earhart at the time of the Honolulu crack-up.
Harry became a good friend in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. As you will recall, Harry was the initial navigator for the around-the-world flight, and he later shared the duties with Fred Noonan.
Harry told me Earhart simply “lost it” on the takeoff, and there was no mystery about it whatsoever.
He said, “One second I was looking at the hangars and the next second the water. I thought we were going to die.”
The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected. He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all. It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel. He added it was a miracle there was no fire.
As far as the rumor that Earhart ground looped the plane on purpose to delay the flight, he said it was a concoction of a script-writer. There was no truth to it whatsoever.
To accept such a conclusion, he added, one would have to accept that Earhart did not tell either himself (Manning) or Noonan what she planned to do. He said neither he nor Noonan would have been foolish enough to go along with such a plan which might end in death for all of them.
Harry also said if there was a need to delay the flight because of some secret mission, the easiest way to delay the flight was for Earhart to feign an illness which required her to return to California. Then they could have flown the Electra back to California instead of having the wrecked plane returned by ship.
Harry said by the time he got out of the wrecked plane and onto the runway he had already made up his mind that he no longer wanted any part of the flight. It has always been stated that Harry had to return to the command of his ship and that is why he left the flight, but the truth is he had had enough of both Earhart and Putnam.
Sometime when we have a chance for a face to face, I will tell you the whole Manning story. Harry wanted me to do a book about him and his career, but he died before the project could begin.
By the way, Harry Manning was a pilot himself, and he knew whereof he spoke.
I trust that all is well with you, Ron, and with your family.
Merla joins me in sending all good wishes to you and yours, and thanks again for your thoughtfulness in sending the Kennedy material to me.
With respect and admiration.
P.S. A chap named Bob Bessett of the Aviation Historical Society wanted me to appear tomorrow at Spenger’s to discuss Earhart along with Elgen Long and Richard Gillespie, who is flying in from Delaware. Alas, my doctor won’t turn me loose. I simply do not have the requisite strength yet. Oh, how I would love to train my guns on Gillespie. The man is a consummate rascal, and the Nikumaroro business is totally bankrupt. If you happen to attend tomorrow’s confrontation, give me a blow by blow. I’m sure Elgen and Gillespie will pea [sic] on each other’s shoes. (End of Goerner letter.)
Goerner had two more years before the cancer took him on Sept. 13, 1994.
Publicly unfazed by the near disaster at Luke Field, Earhart nonetheless changed the flight’s direction to an easterly route, explaining in Last Flight that weather differences in various locations after the three-month delay for repairs dictated the reversal:
The upshot of those consultations was, that I decided to reverse the direction originally chosen for the flight. Revising the Pacific program was a sizable task in itself. The Coast Guard had arranged its routine cutter cruise to Howland Island so as to be on hand there at the time of my flight, other provisions had been made by the Navy.
The original course from Brazil though Panama, Central America and Mexico would be replaced by a cross-country flight to Miami, a “practical shakedown flight, testing the rebuilt ship and its equipment . . . thereby saving the time of running such tests in California,” Earhart wrote, adding that any necessary adjustments or repairs could be made in Miami.
Do Goerner’s letter and Prymak’s dismissal of Kennedy’s claims really mark the end of the story? Can we really declare “case closed” with confidence, based on the word of these two experts, as well as what some of our own “better angels” would have us conclude?
The words of a few others might give some of the more suspicious among us reason to pause. We still don’t know precisely how much Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart knew, for example, as I discussed in a Dec. 9, 2014 post, “Amy Earhart’s stunning 1944 letter to Neta Snook.“
And in Amelia Earhart’s Radio (2006), respected researcher Paul Rafford Jr. made an astonishing revelation:
Yet 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 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.”
“Earhart’s crack-up in Honolulu is a classic example of how minor events can change world history,” Rafford wrote. “Had she not lost control and ground looped during takeoff, Earhart would have left navigator Fred Noonan at Howland and radio operator Captain Harry Manning in Australia. Then, she would have proceeded around the world alone.
“Fate decreed otherwise.”
(Updated Oct. 30.)
Just three years after Typhoon Soudelor, a Category 4 monster with sustained winds of 130 mph with gusts in excess of 160 mph, became the worst storm to strike Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands in nearly 30 years, beleaguered citizens of the U.S. Trust Territory are facing another serious crisis.
Surprisingly, however, if early video is any indication, many of the larger buildings along the Saipan shore appeared to be in better shape than I expected, based on the early reports. To view the brief Oct. 26 Saipan KSPN2 News “Typhoon Yutu Round-Up,” please click here. .
On the other hand, global satellite images present a far starker view of Yutu’s destruction. To view the Weather Channel’s “Super Typhoon Yutu’s Destruction in Saipan, Tinian Seen in Before and After Satellite Photos,” please click here.
The Washington Post framed the awful news as well as any of the U.S. media it its Oct. 25 headline: “Category 5 typhoon Yutu devastates the Northern Marianas in worst storm to hit any part of U.S. since 1935“:
Typhoon Yutu’s 180 mph winds overturned cars, knocked down hundreds of power poles and left an island of thousands without a medical center and another without an airport. Buildings were reduced to haphazard piles of tin and wood; if a structure wasn’t made of concrete, one resident said, it was probably wiped out by the most powerful tropical cyclone to hit any part of the United States since 1935.
. . . According to figures released by the Weather Underground website, Yutu was tied with the fifth-highest wind speed of any storm on record as it made landfall. Only a few storms, including 2013′s Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines, have been stronger, and even then not by much. For the United States, just one storm — the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys — is believed to have been more powerful.
To read more of the Washington Post story, please click here.
Everyone knows know about Hurricane Michael, which made landfall at Mexico Beach, Fla., as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph on Oct. 10, and has claimed at least 54 deaths, but if you blinked you’d miss the news about Yutu. Because the fortunes of the approximately 55,000-plus indigenous people of the Trust Territory of the Mariana Islands, consisting mainly of Saipan and Tinian, present no immediate political benefit to the U.S. media establishment, network coverage of the tragedy has been scant.
In the Weather Channel’s Oct. 26 update, “Super Typhoon Yutu Impacts: 1 Killed, 133 Injured by Storm,” we learn:
- Super Typhoon Yutu left major damage on the Northern Mariana Islands after a direct hit.
- The entire island of Saipan suffered damage and it may take weeks to restore power to everyone.
- The governor’s office confirmed one death and at least 133 injuries in Saipan.
In an Oct. 26 story, “Tinian destruction: 10 out of 10,” the Saipan Tribune reported, “On the smaller island of Tinian, which took a direct hit from Super Typhoon Yutu, most of the houses were destroyed, and even some concrete ones were reduced to rubble, resident Juanita Mendiola said.”
Recovery efforts were well under way by Oct. 29, and in a few parts of the island, power had been restored. To see the latest KSPN2 News reports, please click here.
Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, October was always my favorite month, as its fresh, cool, blue days trumpeted the end of another hot, humid summer, but as we see, it can also be the cruelest month if you live in the wrong place.
“Our Lady of Mount Carmel intercede for All on Saipan and Tinian as they embrace their journey to Recovery,“ Saipan residents Evelyna and Carlos Shoda, spared from certain months without power, wrote from their temporary home in Fountain Valley, Calif. “Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.“
And Frances Sablan, secretary of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee and a close friend of Marie Castro, its guiding light, wrote in understatement Oct. 25, “Si Yu’us Ma’åsi’! We need all the prayers to help us through this recovery phase!“
Just after midnight, Oct. 27, my prayers were answered when I received a brief email from Marie Castro: “Thanks for your prayers,” she wrote. “Allen [Marie’s nephew] came and shut all the shutters to secure the house from the typhoon, Yutu. I was in total darkness for two days. I did not have any damage around the house, everything is OK other than fallen trees along Navy Hill. I was reading the book [Truth at Last, presumably].”
With the recent news of Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s return to Saipan at age 92, I had been cautiously hopeful that some progress was being made there in favor of the planned Earhart Memorial Monument. But this worthy cause and all the controversy it brings will now be set aside for another time, as far more pressing matters occupy the unlucky citizens of Saipan, Tinian and the rest of the Mariana Islands.
Your prayers are needed and appreciated.
Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose childhood sighting of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor in the summer of 1937 ignited the true modern search for America’s First Lady of Flight, returned to her birthplace Oct. 6 and was warmly welcomed by family and friends at an invitation-only reception hosted by the Amelia Earhart Memorial Committee at Garapan’s Fiesta Resort and Spa Oct. 9. (Boldface mine throughout.)
At the reception dinner, also attended by reporters from the Marianas Variety, Saipan Tribune and Saipan’s KSPN2 News, Josephine, appearing well at 92, who’s lived in San Mateo, Calif. since 1957, said she still “still vividly remembers her only encounter with the American aviator,” Lyn C. Lirio wrote in her Marianas Variety story Oct. 11, headlined, “2 say they saw Amelia Earhart on Saipan.”
This happened in 1937, Josephine said; she was 11 years old and didn’t know the woman’s name until much later, nor did she say anything publicly about it until she was 20 years old, working on Saipan as an assistant to Navy dentist Dr. Casimir Sheft.
In her story, Lirio cited two key paragraphs from the 1960 book that started it all, Daughter of the Sky, by Paul Briand Jr.:
In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Mastsumoto, his lunch and was hurrying along because it was nearly 12 noon. Josephine has a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area. On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and a saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.
The plane crash-landed in the harbor. She and her brother-in-law joined the people who gathered to watch. She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sport shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.
The most surprising aspect of the evening featured Joaquin Salas, a relatively unknown native Chamorro, whose claimed eyewitness account was discussed in Rich Martini’s “Amelia Earhart on Saipan” YouTube video, but, to my knowledge, has been otherwise unreported, telling the group he was also 11 years old when he saw Earhart on Saipan — in front of his family’s house in Chalan Kanoa. Lirio continued with Salas’ account:
“I saw a Japanese military truck. They were loading three people — two men and one lady. A Japanese soldier used black ribbons to tie their hands. They parked in front of our house. We were watching them,” he said, adding that it was the first and last time he saw Earhart. “I don’t where the Japanese took them.”
Lirio added that Rep. Donald Barcinas, president of the memorial committee, “said their plan to build an Amelia Earhart monument on island has the support of the Marianas Visitor Authority, the Department of Public Lands, the Historic Preservation Office and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.” This sounds encouraging, but with the exception of a recent significant donation by a local, independent couple, the vast majority of contributions to the memorial has come from U.S. contributors, and remains a relative pittance.
Rep. Barcinas said Josephine’s eyewitness account “is a living testimony — she is a living history, and we are very proud and honored to have her here. She is in the books written about Amelia Earhart.”
Meanwhile, Saipan’s other newspaper, the Saipan Tribune, whose coverage of the monument issue has been tepid since the proposal was announced last February — see “$150K requested for Amelia Earhart statue” and “Group behind Earhart memorial seeks assistance from Rotary Club” — showed up, but one can only wonder why they bothered.
A moving photo of Josephine with two of her nephews at the dinner is nice, but otherwise it’s hard to imagine a more halfhearted effort than the Tribune presents in “I saw Amelia Earhart,” by reporter Erwin Encinares. This mediocrity wasn’t even on the Tribune’s front page, but was buried somewhere back in the paper. I had to actually search for it in the online edition because it wasn’t even listed on the first page of the local news items, which themselves were buried.
“Two persons reportedly saw on two separate occasions the lost aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart on Saipan, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean,” Encinares wrote in his uninspired lead, which went downhill from there. In addition to turning off virtually anyone who might have been remotely interested, Encinares got Josephine’s current age, 92, wrong (93), as well as her age when she saw Amelia, 11, not 12 as he wrote.
The Saipan Tribune should have opted out of this event rather than undermining it with this poorly written story that, in fact, signaled its readers that the occasion of the return of the most important of the Saipan eyewitness is all but meaningless to them. Moreover, the story contained nothing about the planned Earhart memorial monument.
To read the Saipan Tribune story, which has garnered no “Likes” and one comment — a correction of another factual error in the story — since its publication on Oct. 11, please click here.
TV is always more effective in our video-centric media culture, and the Saipan KSPN2 News (Saipan’s Destination Channel) story was far better than the Saipan Tribune’s lame effort, though its report on the Oct. 9 event didn’t air until Oct. 15. The three-minute, 40-second segment featured Ashley McDowell interviewing Josephine at the dinner, with cutaways to file footage of Amelia and still shots of Josephine and Dr. Casimir Sheft. McDowell’s visit to Tanapag Harbor, where Josephine saw the fliers in 1937, was a nice touch.
Otherwise, McDowell’s decision to display, or more accurately, flash the July 1, 1960 front page of the San Mateo Times, with its 100-point banner headline proclaiming, “Amelia Earhart Mystery is Solved,” which readers have seen many times on this blog, highlighted a mostly flat, disappointing report, much too low-key and uninspired than this rare occasion demanded. Having the famous Josephine Blanco Akiyama live and lucid at 92 was a miracle in itself, but you’d never know it by watching this video.
The segment ended with McDowell voicing no real conclusion or telling point, and again, nothing was said about the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a 5 at best, and it likely didn’t change any minds among the uninformed masses on Saipan. It’s also fair to ask whether the ugly local politics surrounding the memorial initiative — overwhelmingly against it from the beginning — exerted an insidious influence on the tone, content and efficacy of the KSPN2 News report.
On the other hand, some credit is indeed due to KSPN2 News, as Saipan’s Destination Channel is the only TV news station in the world that has produced two important stories recently about Amelia Earhart, Marie Castro and the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument (see “Saipan TV News supports Earhart monument“), while not a single American media outlet has breathed a word of it. Thus, the U.S. establishment’s total and absolute hatred for the truth in the Earhart disappearance remains stronger than ever, and the 81-year travesty shows no signs of abating.
To watch the Saipan KSPN2 News video of the story, please click here.Marie Castro sent me the below prayer that she wrote for the special occasion of Josephine’s visit, lovingly prepared to close the evening’s events of Oct. 9. “I told Allen [Marie’s nephew] to play the recorded music, ‘Amazing Grace’ in the background while I read the prayer,“ Marie wrote. “I hope the people will be inspired and believe this significant event of 1937.”
Thank you for your amazing grace which is enabling Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama, the last living person to witness the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan here on Saipan in 1937 to be with us here tonight with the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument group.
81 years is a long, definitely overdue, time for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan to be given the recognition they deserve as human beings who unfortunately met their death on Saipan soil.
Tonight, as we acknowledge their presence here on our island, we ask that you guide our efforts to honor the memory of these two great American aviators with a memorial to be built in their honor.
This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God Bless us.
In an overdue but much-needed and appreciated development, on Oct. 1, Saipan’s KSPN2 News presented the first-ever TV news interview with Marie S.C. Castro, 85, whose strident advocacy for the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan has been the subject of several posts on this blog since the plan was announced in the Feb. 7 Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan.”
“Every human being that dies,” Marie told reporter Ashley McDowell, “we have to give the honor they deserve as human beings. And I was thinking that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were never given anything to honor them or to acknowledge them here on Saipan.”
Thanks to the technical skills of longtime Oakland, Calif., supporter David Kaspiak, you can watch the three minute, 30-second KSPN2 News piece by clicking here: KSPN2 News.mp4.
McDowell finished the segment by announcing that “Josephine Blanco [Akiyama], who says she saw Amelia Earhart and the navigator Fred Noonan at Tanapag harbor here in Saipan when she was just 11 years old” would be coming to Saipan Oct. 7, and promised a report. Co-anchor Adrianna Cotero added the final touch by enthusiastically telling McDowell, “What a great idea to have a monument here on Saipan!”
Among the several fine stories have been published here and in the Marianas Variety on the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument, was “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past,” which appeared in the March 28 Marianas Variety, with a longer version here on April 2,“Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history,” in praise of this brave woman whose vision birthed the bold but highly unpopular initiative to build an Earhart memorial on Saipan. But these print-based efforts have done little to improve the ugly politics that surround this movement, which, according to one informed source, are running 99-1 against its success.
Undeniably, TV’s power to persuade and change minds is far greater than newspapers or radio, and this interview is a badly needed boost. In attempting to convert even small numbers of the historically ignorant and propagandized on Saipan, only via TV can the truth break through the stone wall of massive resistance.
Saipan TV: The Visitors Channel (SaipanTV.com) is clearly not connected with any of the American alphabet networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC or Fox, actually the worst of them all for its blatant hypocrisy — or any other U.S. establishment news source, or this interview with Marie Castro would never have been contemplated, much less have seen air. Unsurprisingly, nobody the United States has touched the story of the proposed Earhart monument on Saipan, which should remind everyone how much the Earhart truth continues to be hated, ignored and denied by our establishment and its media toadies.
The news of Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s imminent visit to Saipan was likely an important factor in the decision by the independent station’s management to do the interview with Marie Castro shortly before the most famous of all the Saipan Earhart eyewitnesses returned to her birthplace.
Please consider contributing to the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. This is a most deserving and worthy cause that has, sadly, been largely ignored. You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee. Thank you for whatever you can give.
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.