Tag Archives: Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters
Most observers of the Amelia Earhart saga are well aware of the longstanding speculation that a plane change gone wrong during one of Amelia’s many stops along the route of her 1937 world-flight attempt might have contributed to the fliers’ doom, or in some way unlocks some key aspect of the so-called “Earhart Mystery.” If only we could locate at least one of these planes, the thinking goes, the rest of the puzzle might just fall into place.
The scenarios range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I won’t include examples of the latter that can be found in a few of the books that exemplify Fred Goerner’s “lunatic fringe” in this post. Among the serious, well-researched theories, we have Paul Rafford Jr.’s “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change,” posted here on Nov. 14, 2014, and Dec. 5, 2016, and I’ve continued to wonder about the possibilities inherent in David Billings’ still viable New Britain theory.
Please understand that I’m not taking a pro or con position relative to whether Amelia might have changed planes at some point during her world flight. I simply don’t know, and so I present the ideas of researchers with definite, more finely honed and better-educated opinions. We’ve already seen the ideas of Paul Rafford Jr., who strongly believed a plane change happened in Miami.
Next, we’ll examine the evidence presented by Bill Prymak, who strongly disagreed with Rafford. One of them was wrong, of course. The following is the first of two provocative pieces that appeared in Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, this in the November 1998 edition.
DID AMELIA REALLY CHANGE AIRPLANES?
By Bill Prymak
Several serious researchers over the years have bandied about the possibility that AE, for some secretive covert reason, switched planes “somewhere along the route.” Strong anecdotal evidence backs these folks, but I have recently come across another way to identify her airplane as it flew some 22,000 miles from Oakland to Lae, New Guinea. I call it a “signature.”
Aluminum aircraft skin production in the mid 1930s was a new, burgeoning science, and the process produced various different tones and shades, even from sheet-to-sheet off the same lot. So, each tone or shade becomes a unique signature, and if we study the rear half of the left vertical rudder below the horizontal stabilizer as illustrated on the blow-up below you will find that the same dark shade consistently repeats itself on every photo I have ever seen as the plane wends its way around the world.
I have only included in this NEWSLETTER five photos showing this unique signature, and I would certainly like to expand my file on this issue. If anybody out there has a photo of AE’s airplane with the above signature clearly shown, please send a clear copy to me, it’ll be deeply appreciated.
In the March 2000 edition of the AES Newsletters, we find a more extensive photo essay by Bill Prymak, with plenty of information that was lacking in his first piece. Thus, a few photos are repeated to avoid confusion.
HOW MANY DIFFERENT AIRPLANES DID SHE REALLY FLY?
The feeding frenzy continues to this day . . . rumors, stories, swear-accounts, and “positive documentation” that Earhart flew more than one airplane on her final flight. Some of the “documentation” pointing to multiple airplanes is pretty darned good, suggesting government involvement with cloak-and-dagger overtones, spy missions, a second Electra 10 being shipped to Australia, all making great reading for the conspiracy-hungry American public, but sadly, the true-grit hard copy proof still remains elusive.
This analysis is presented after searching through Lockheed Documents, Purdue Library SPECIAL COLLECTIONS papers, and CAA documents, which together give an accurate and objective perspective of the events of May 1936 thru July 2nd 1937 re: the acquisition and registration of her airplane, plus an in-depth study of the timing and implantation of the various modifications, alterations and additions done to her ship during the above period. The author bears no pre-conceived opinion re: the multi-plane theory. Let the chips (and the facts), fall as they may.
May 16, 1936: George Putnam telegraphs Bob Gross, President of the LOCKHEED CORPORATION, directing him to proceed with the construction of Amelia’s LOCKHEED ELECTRA 10E, but, for confidentiality reasons, GP orders Gross to temporarily name CLARA LIVINGSTON as purchaser until the aircraft is delivered to Earhart on July 24 with the assigned registration number of 16020. It’s appropriate at this time to discuss the Lockheed Electra 12A discovered on Mount Tierfort, Bicycle Lake Calif., in 1961 by Joe Gervais, bearing the same registration number, N16020. With the serial number 1243, and delivered 12 May 1937, this airplane acquired a strange twist of fate when it was later purchased by PAUL MANTZ, technical advisor to Earhart on her final flight. In June of 1957 Mantz requested and obtained a change from the aircraft’s existing registration N 60775 to N 16020 (the number on Amelia’s lost aircraft, but lacking the “R”), and the 12A still had that number when it crashed in 1961.
A PHOTO ESSAY ON AE’S AIRPLANE CHANGES,
ALTERATIONS AND MODIFICATIONS
Earhart’s airplane, delivered to her on July 24, 1936, had a single window at each side, but by the end of the year it had been extensively modified with six cabin fuel tanks, four filler ports instead of the original two, and two windows added: one in the entrance door and another opposite in the fuselage for a total of four. These two added windows were larger than normal and were optically flat, for accurate celestial navigational purposes. Later, just before her second attempt, the starboard large window was removed and the fuselage skinned over. This appears as a bright shiny patch easily seen on photographs taken at Miami, circa June 1, 1937.
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AMELIA WITH HER NEW AIRPLANE IN JULY 1936
The “R” designation, plus the Hooven faired DF housing on top of the fuselage, plus the solid door, plus the shiny new metal all-around, dates this photograph pre-November, 1936. Also note the “light-colored” logo on the right rudder. Further note the horizontal bar in the side window, the purpose of which still baffles researchers.
P.S. Note the dark “Prymak” signature, the vertical left bottom rudder rear section that seems to ubiquitously find its way right up to Lae New Guinea.
After July 1936, Amelia’s aircraft adorned the registration number of X 16020 as seen in the photo below (“X” designated factory test work).
R 16020 was seen on the aircraft when she entered the BENDIX AIR RACE in September 1936, at which time the engine cowlings were painted in a New Zealand motif. The “R” designation was requested Aug. 6 and approved the next day. On Sept. 21, 1936 the Bureau of Air Commerce finally approved NR 16020, but the aircraft continued to display R 16020 well into the end of 1936.
R 16020 was seen on the aircraft when she entered the BENDIX AIR RACE in September 1936, at which time the engine cowlings were painted in a New Zealand motif. The “R” designation was requested Aug. 6 and approved the next day. On Sept. 21, 1936 the Bureau of Air Commerce finally approved NR 16020, but the aircraft continued to display R 16020 well into the end of 1936.
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The photo below taken late October 1936 shows the FRED HOOVEN DF dome, solid door, dark-colored logo, bar in window, and bottom protruding wing navigation light. Trailing antenna fairlead is also clearly shown at rear of airplane.
The photo below shows the post-crash mess at Luke Field, Hawaii. Note the door has built-in window.
Photo below, arriving back in the states, shows ADF loop, larger rear starboard window, and large dark fuselage panel, just above right wing. This dark panel can also serve as a “signature” for photos in other locations.
Photo below shows well-documented Miami June 1 takeoff. Note the shiny new patch over rear window, our side fuselage dark panel over the wing, the dark long skinny panel over the two windows, visible in both photos, and it becomes apparent that both photos show the same airplane.
The Lockheed drawing below shows the configuration of the aircraft just before her May 20 departure on the second attempt. As noted on the drawing, the flush navigation lights appear, probably because the new right wing installed after the crash had the flush design already incorporated into the wing, necessitating the left wing to be similarly configured. Note 4+1 filler ports, window in door, and dark logo.
And finally, conspiracy buffs get all cranked up over a photo like this, claiming all kinds of sinister things like” positive proof-another airplane,” but this most likely was just another PR stunt (for which AE was famous) with the letter “E” painted or taped on the right side. “E” for what? EXLAX?
What can we deduce from the previous photos?
1. The cabin door was certainly windowed around January 1937. I have found no work orders to confirm actual date of installation.
2. The bar in the window vanishes before the first round-the-world-attempt March 15 — clothes rack for Fred?
3. Right side second large window [was] skinned over and shown as “new, shiny aluminum” before AE left for Miami. But why would they cover an oversized window fitted with optically perfect glass for Fred’s navigational work?
4. The mystery of the 4+1 fuel ports pretty well explained on previous pages.
5. The navigation lights were installed when the new right wing was installed during the factory repair days, March 30 to May 20, 1937.
6. The airplane sports the Hooven domed DF antenna housing in the fall of 1936, then it falls out of favor to the loop antenna, which remains on the airplane until the very end, Lae, New Guinea. However, we still cannot explain Paul Rafford’s close friend Bob Thibert stating that at Miami he was instructed to install an open DF loop on NR 16020, where he found only VIRGIN SKIN ABOVE THE CABIN. Should we invoke the “faded memory” clause at this time as one possible answer? (End of “HOW MANY DIFFERENT AIRPLANES DID SHE REALLY FLY?”)
Your comments are of course welcomed.
We begin 2019 with a closer look at one of the more controversial characters in the history of the Earhart saga. Art Kennedy was an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, and first met Amelia in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race. Later, he directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the March 20, 1937 accident at Luke Field, Hawaii, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death.
Much speculation surrounded the cause of the Electra’s so-called “ground loop,” and Amelia herself said that “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.” Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst,” but Harry Manning, who was in the co-pilot’s seat that day, said Amelia “lost it” on takeoff.
“The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected,” Fred Goerner wrote in a 1992 letter to Ron Reuther. “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.”
In his 1992 autobiography co-written by JoAnn Ridley, High Times — Keeping ‘Em Flying, Kennedy offered a far more sinister explanation for the crash. 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, who passed away in September 1998 at 85, 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.
Most recently we heard from Kennedy when his account was featured in “Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?” on Nov. 2, 2018. The following interview, titled “A Visit With Art Kennedy in Portugal,” by Bill Prymak, appeared in the February 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. Prymak described Kennedy, who then lived in Cellerrico De Beria, Portugal, as a “walking encyclopedia on every aspect of airplanes in the Golden Years of Aviation and at the age of 81 [in 1993] his mind is incredibly sharp. . . . It is with a feeling of deep veneration that we sit and break bread with a man who knew Amelia Earhart so intimately, a man who worked with her, laughed and joked with her, took her home at nights when she didn’t have the car, dined with her. There is virtually no one alive today who knew her as well as Arthur Kennedy.”
As an added feature in this interview, still relevant after 25 years, Kennedy lent his considerable expertise to the early TIGHAR claims that made so much international noise in its early days, and sadly, continues to do so, though only those without critical thinking ability pay any attention these days. We begin:
AES: Art, you spent quite a bit of time with Amelia, both professionally and personally. What was she like?
KENNEDY: Bill, this gal was a true lady . . . lots of class, but no snob, friendly with all the shop guys, very inquisitive about the work being done on her airplane. Always looking over the shoulder, but never interfering with the mechanics. She and I developed a special relationship as I was the only one, once she got to know my work, who she would allow to work on her engines. Polly (Art’s high-school sweetheart and wife of 45 years, who died in 1978), Amelia and I would go out for supper many times when we were working late. On one occasion she lamented how she was tiring of all the notoriety, sick of all the false fancy friends, fed up with George’s constant pressures, and simply yearned once more to be a simple American gal who could enjoy her privacy like the rest of us could. Polly and Amelia got along great, went shopping together, had girl-to-girl private times, and really developed a close friendship.
AES: If they went shopping together, did they ever shop for shoes, and if so, do you recall if Amelia’s shoe size ever came up?
KENNEDY: If you’re alluding to Mr. Gillespie and his size 9 theory, with all the hoopla I’ve recently read about this “great discovery,” let me put it to rest once and for all. Polly wore a size 7 and COULD NOT fit into Amelia’s shoes . . . not by a longshot. That TIGHAR theory is pure baloney. (ED. NOTE: Art was more inelegant in his choice of words, and we simply had to clean it up.) Where did they find this guy?
AES: What about Paul Mantz?
KENNEDY: Paul was one of the finest pilots I had ever met, but everybody used to call him the HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR BOY, and I did quite a bit of work for him before I moved over to PAC, and it was Paul who first introduced me to AE. He gave her countless hours of dual (instruction) in the Electra and Paul was pretty satisfied that she could tackle the world flight. He could never figure out the groundloop [sic] at Hawaii . . . that puzzled him to his dying day. But Paul in his business dealings was a bulldozer, and quite a wheeler and dealer.
AES: Did you ever meet her husband George?
KENNEDY: No, but I saw him several times looking for AE in the shop, and, on one occasion, when she saw him beckoning with this finger, AE pleadingly caught my eye, and her facial expression seemed to say: Gad, why did he have to show up at this time, when I was really enjoying these guys around me and my airplane! Polly and I never went out with the Putnams as a foursome. George was too big to socialize with a ramp rat. Amelia was different that way.
AES: You indicate in your book that Amelia told you that she was told, immediately before takeoff at Hawaii bound for Howland Island, to somehow abort the flight. This is potent stuff, Art, and not many are buying this. Can you expand on this?
KENNEDY: I never did ask her who ordered her to abort at Hawaii and it really was none of my business, and she probably would not have told me even if I did ask her, but indeed she did state that she was ordered to abort. I can think of only two reasons for this; something was not ready downstream, or, somebody figured she needed bigger generators as the existing generator blew fuses or burned out on the way to Hawaii.
AES: But Art, if somebody wanted to abort an airplane, I could think of a dozen safer ways to do it — run the wing into a telephone pole, hit a pickup truck, slide into a ditch, fake a brake failure and run into a brick wall . . .
KENNEDY: Yea, I know, but she was probably planning on a very slow, deliberate ground loop at very slow speed, where she figured there’d be no risk with all that has on board. But in a situation like that, if you start the takeoff roll and hesitate for just a fraction of a second, bam . . . you’re already past the “safe zone” and you find yourself doing things that are absolutely crazy! One spark in the wrong place and they all would have been fried.
AES: Was she really a good pilot?
KENNEDY: Bill, I flew with a bunch of the old timers, even got a pilot’s license myself. A lot of the final checkouts, such as rigging and engine performance, had to be done in flight . . . and yes, Earhart was a good solid, pilot. I flew with her many times, even once watched her bring in the Electra down to the runway with a 25 mph crosswind straight as a die. When the Bendix rep who was halfway down the runway during the ill-fated Hawaii takeoff told me that her tailwheel was already high when the groundloop began, I could not believe it! Even a dumb student pilot does not groundloop on takeoff at 50 mph. Something very fishy here.
AES: You’re still convinced she was on a spy mission?
KENNEDY: Absolutely! I’m 81 years old and have no need for storytelling or ego trips at my age. I have only one trip left, and that’s to meet my Maker. I can’t tell you everything she told me about the mission because other people were involved who might still be alive, but I will tell you this: She mentioned the mission taking her over Truk, the big engines received brand new from Pratt & Whitney in May 1937, were modified by me personally to accommodate the bigger generators, and even though her regular engines were being overhauled, these two new super engines were charged to NR 16020 — her airplane! Many strange things and many strange people were involved in her last flight.
AES: How do you address the claim by TIGHAR [The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has never recovered a single historic aircraft, to my knowledge] that the piece of aluminum they found came from the belly of NR 16020?
KENNEDY: This simply cannot be! When the damaged aircraft came back from Hawaii, Amelia Earhart and I personally and meticulously went over the entire fuselage. We had to raise the fuselage high enough to get a low-boy tractor underneath for transport to the Lockheed factory on the other side of the field. In lifting the fuselage, Amelia and I got a good look at the belly, and there was absolutely no damage, not even dirt, from the groundloop accident. There was however, cable sling damage from hoisting the airplane onto the boat from Hawaii, and in unloading same stateside. Cable sling damage was observed at Station 239, where two stringers were buckled in, and it was here that Lockheed removed and replaced stringers and full skin sections, NOT patches, as TIGHAR claims.
AES: But Gillespie claims that Lockheed people like Ed Werner and Harvey Christen are wrong when they state that the rivet and stringer spacing could not vary from the original specification, as found on TIGHAR’s piece of aluminum.
KENNEDY: I don’t remember Ed, but if Harvey Christen says after studying the TIGHAR piece that it could not have come from the Electra, well you can bet the farm, the wife, and your bottom dollar that it did NOT come from an Electra. Let me tell you something about Harvey . . . there was a guy, who in the early days of Lockheed, started as a wrench rat and who, through his some forty years with the firm, rose to be Vice-President of Quality Control Engineering. He was revered, respected, and loved by everybody, and nobody knew his job better than Harvey. There is no greater authority on this argument than this man. For Gillespie to say that Lockheed “could have changed” original design integrity is ludicrous, stupid and pretty damn arrogant of him. He must have a lot of money riding on this piece of aluminum.
AES: But TIGHAR claims that the piece has an ink-stained stencil reading 24S-T3, in red ink, and that because it was “hand-stamped” at the factory, it had to be pre-World War II.
KENNEDY: All aircraft companies bought their aluminum from ALCOA starting in 1932. 24S-Condition 3 was used on all aircraft prior to World War II. 24S-T3 was produced right through the beginning of WWII and was used on tens of thousands of American aircraft, including the PBY, DC-4, P-38, P-51, P-47, and the 247D. Lockheed and other airplane manufacturers were stacked to the rafters with 24S-T3 on the onset of WWII, and as far as identifying the date of manufacture of a piece of stamped aluminum, hell, I saw the stamps put on in blue, red, green, black . . . they used every color under the sun, and sometimes they stamped with the grain, sometimes against the grain, diagonally, every which way. Nobody today, shown a piece of 24S-T3, can pinpoint the date of manufacture just by the color of the ALCLAD stamp or by the shape of the letters.
AES: You have seen a sketch of the TIGHAR artifact. Comments?
KENNEDY: Absolutely no way would Lockheed permit a change of rivet spacing on the replacement of a skin panel . . . it would never pass inspection. Nobody in their right mind . . . in any repair situation, would ever change the pattern of the rivet holes and make different holes thru stringers, circumferentials [sic], keels, and other attaching structures and put more holes in these structures and thusly compromise the structural integrity of the original design. This TIGHAR piece of aluminum might have come from the nose gear door of a Catalina Flying Boat because they got easily damaged and were always in constant repair. You might also check the bottom of the floats as they have a rivet pattern similar to what you showed me. Lockheed did skin replacements, not patches.
AES: TIGHAR claims that they have evidence that Amelia and Fred removed a fuel cell from the cabin and with an engine cover jury-rigged a water-catchment device on Gardner Island, using only a screwdriver. Your comments?
KENNEDY: Bill and Joe, you guys can’t be serious that somebody would try to bamboozle the American public into thinking that AE and Fred would even attempt such an impossible job on a deserted island. First, you’d have to remove the radio blocking your way to the fuel tank to be removed. Then you have to tear apart the floor boards of the entire rear of the airplane . . . then you need special wrenches to get at the nuts tying down the tank; then you need BIGGER 1.5-inch wrenches to release the B-nuts tying the vent lines to the other tanks. And when this is all said and done what have you got? I’ll tell you what you’ve got! Ever try drinking water out of an aluminum can that’s been full of aviation gas for two months? It’ll kill ya, and Fred certainly knew better. Didn’t I read someplace that somebody suggested that if they really were down on a deserted island they simply would have deployed their life raft for water-catching purposes?
AES: Yeah, we suggested that in a previous AES Newsletter.
KENNEDY: And another point . . . the engine covers were never taken on the final flight. I remember walking into Firman Grey’s office at Lockheed several weeks after she went down and seeing engine covers in the corner stenciled NR 16020. Firman said Amelia thought they were too bulky and heavy to be trucking around the world.
AES: But AE’s book Last Flight states that they used engine and prop covers at Timor.
KENNEDY: That’s baloney. Putnam wrote that book and filled in all that fancy prose. Amelia was too busy and dog tired at every stop to write notes for George. GP got a few scraps of information from phone calls to AE and from the press, but there was no press or telephone at Timor, so George filled in some empty space with his own creations.
AES: Art, you’ve been a superb host, and a fabulous source of “firsthand” information on the greatest Lady of Aviation. In closing, what do you feel really happened?
KENNEDY: I am convinced she went down in the Marshall Islands, as so many researchers besides you two guys have theorized. Something BIG has always bugged me: I kept immaculate fuel low records from the tests cells on her engines, and so help me, from her last message to Itasca at 20 hours and 14 minutes into the flight, she had AT LEAST five hours of fuel left. Think about it: if you’re really lost, then when your fuel runs out, you’re about to die, and you know it. Talking to somebody there on the radio is your only lifeline, and it costs you nothing to talk and yell for help, as the average pilot would have done in this situation. The silence with an operational radio and five hours of fuel left really bugs me. That was not the Amelia I knew. She had somewhere else to go to. It was planned. (End of Kennedy interview.)
In High Times, Kennedy wrote that Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the Luke Field 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 agreed with Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claim about the Luke Field accident. On the other hand, Prymak wrote that “Joe Gervais (who accompanied Prymak to Portugal) and I were left with some lasting impressions of Art Kennedy, not the least being his total love and admiration for Amelia, his uncanny knowledge of the Lockheed Electra, and his unquestioned honesty and resolve not to embellish when we quizzed him on matters that happened 55 years ago that since became fuzzy. We appreciated that kind of candor.” So what are we to think?
It’s hard to buy Kennedy’s claim about the ground loop, as it’s difficult to imagine that Amelia would purposely endanger Harry Manning and Fred Noonan, who were both aboard. It’s more likely that she honestly blew the takeoff at Luke Field, but what of Kennedy’s assertion about Amelia’s “mission taking her over Truk,” and that the Electra received “big engines” in May 1937 that he personally “modified” for the flight’s extra miles? We have no credible evidence that supports the idea that a new pair of “big engines” was put on NR 16020, but could it have happened?
The total distance from Lae to Truk to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 statute miles when flying direct from Lae, well within the Electra’s normal range of 4,000 miles, even without modified engines. Can we so easily dismiss these separate and altogether plausible — at least in this observer’s opinion — claims from Kennedy? Most probably the fliers reached Mili in a different way, but a definitive answer continues to elude us.
Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, passed away on Dec. 10 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97. Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side. “We lost a great man on that day,” Betteridge said in an email.
Earhart fans will recall Paul’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight. In 2006, Paul’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a treasure trove of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Paul’s fascinating and inventive work. In the past few years, I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga; Rafford’s “Earhart Deception” presents intriguing possibilities; and Rafford’s “Enigma” brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?
Paul was a regular contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most imaginative and compelling possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time. He even wrote two pieces with the nearly the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle Earhart researchers.
Paul began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006. “Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems. We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.”
With Paul Rafford’s passing, we can now mark the end of the “Greatest Generation” of Earhart researchers, an exclusive club whose members include Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak, Thomas E. Devine, Almon Gray, Joe Gervais, Joe Klaas, Rollin Reineck, Don Kothera and of course, Paul himself. If there were an Earhart Research Hall of Fame, Paul Rafford Jr. would have been inducted long ago on the first ballot. He was a fine and decent man, admired and respected by his peers, and loved by many. He made many significant contributions to the Earhart saga, and he will be missed. May he Rest in Peace.
We’ve seen the account of Ted Burris, a federal employee on Kwajalein in 1965, who was told by an old Marshallese man of the nearly certain presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan near Ebeye Island in 1937. In today’s post we return to the vaults of the Amelia Earhart Society to examine more evidence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Marshall Islands landfall.
Reverend Joseph C. Wright, a Presbyterian minister from Gulfport, Mississippi, was an Air Force major on temporary duty at Guam in the spring of 1967. Writing to Fred Goerner in July 1967, Wright recalled that while visiting his brother-in-law on Majuro Atoll, he and a Majuro-based missionary made a “field trip” to Mili Atoll, 80 miles away.
The inset paragraphs, edited slightly for clarity, are taken from Wright’s letter to Goerner, and appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.
I am a member of the Air Force, S.A.C., in a B-52 Unit that just recently returned from a six months TDY [temporary duty] in Guam. While there I had the great fortune to wrangle myself a 10 day leave to visit Majuro in the Marshalls. My brother-in-law is principal of the High Schools there, and in addition I knew an Assembly of God Missionary, Sam Sasser, who, with his family have been living there for over five years. It was an act of God (or Providence) that allowed me to make the contacts that we were able to, which was part of a Grecian Odyssey in itself.
Our Trust Territory aircraft arrived in Majuro on a Wednesday morning, 26 April 1967, a few hours after the klunker [sic] vessel, the Mieco Queen, had departed for a supposedly five-day field trip to Mili Atoll. Sasser, a native sailor, and myself elected to take a 14 ft, 40 hp motor boat across 15 miles of stormy ocean late in the afternoon to try to catch the “Queen” at Arno Atoll that evening. After 3 tries at “jumping the reef,” we successfully got into the rolling ocean swells and after four tough hours (no life vests) caught the vessel at 8:00 P.M. that night.
With rough weather and a breakdown aboard the ship, we extended to almost three weeks. The trip to Mili was tremendous, and the discoveries were even more exciting. They hadn’t seen half a dozen white people in over 25 years! The missionary effort was tremendous, and on Mili Island itself, which had been completely bombed out in WWII, we explored war wreckage that had been completely untouched since the War.
All kinds of Betty bombers, fighters, and the most exciting – a wrecked American P-38. I identified it, and recovered his little brass radio call sign dash panel plate — the guy turned out to be quite a hero, which is another story, and which I intend to follow through and identify.
During the voyage, Wright met Captain Leonard deBrum, “master of the vessel, Mieco Queen,” who told him of three people on a Mili island who might have information about the Earhart mystery. Wright’s letter to Goerner continues:
But the most thrilling discovery was to locate the specific island that Amelia Earhart crashed on. Yes, it is circumstantial evidence, but here is the story: I became good friends with Capt. Leonard de Brum, the master of the vessel, Mieco Queen, and himself [sic] is quite an exciting legend in the Marshalls. We discussed the Earhart mystery, and I let him read the concluding chapters of your book. Yes, he had heard rumors of the lady American flyer, but didn’t pay much attention, or put much stock in them. It had been so many years ago. So he referred Sasser and myself to three aged people on a particular island in the Mili Atoll.
On Enajet Island, Wright asked an old man if he remembered an American airplane landing in the area many years ago.
Thru the interpreter I asked him if “many years ago do you remember an American airplane being in this part of the world.” Keep in mind that this old guy hasn’t even seen white people in many years. He puzzled and remembered by “so and so dying, somebody else getting married, having babies, etc. – then went on, “yes, it was thirty years ago, and I remember very well now, because the person from the airplane was not a man, but a lady with man’s clothes and man’s haircut.
“Also she had a man with her with white cloth around his head,” he continued. . . . . “But we could not be curious. It was in Japan times and they were very hard people. One woman would not cooperate and they cut off her head . . . but the story was that these people had papers and hid them in a hollow hole of a May tree. In a couple of days the Japs came and took the two people away, and also the wreckage.”
Several months later, Wright sent Goerner two photos of the old man, and with the help of Dirk Ballendorf, a Peace Corps official on Saipan, the native was identified as Lammorro, then living on Mili Island. No further contact with Lammorro was ever reported. Wright’s story was published in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald on July 3, 1992.
Joseph Wright’s report enhances the likelihood that the American fliers were taken to Kwajalein Atoll soon after their July 2 disappearance. In their 2001 essay, “Next Stop Kwajalein,” published only on the AES Website, Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais speculated that some Marshall Islands reports of a plane landing on the water were not, as most assumed, sightings of Earhart’s Electra, but of a Japanese seaplane with the American fliers aboard. The authors’ analysis focused on Burris’ account, and “Next Stop Kwajalein” will be the subject of a future post.
Today we return to the halcyon days of the summer of 1966, when Fred Goerner’s classic, The Search for Amelia Earhart, was brand new and just a week away from publication by Doubleday & Co., and the story of the KCBS newsman’s six-year Earhart investigation was about to become the only New York Times bestseller ever penned about the Earhart disappearance. Although Goerner didn’t find Amelia Earhart on Saipan, he interviewed enough witnesses who either saw or knew of her presence there to convince any jury of that fact — with the exception of one composed of members of the American political establishment.
It’s not clear where the following promotional essay first appeared, but I found it in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. It’s presented today to remind readers, young and old, exactly when the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart began, and that there was once a time when it appeared that the “solution” to the so-called Earhart mystery might be imminent. Who knows when that time might come again?
THE EARHART MYSTERY
by Fred Goerner
“Go ahead with the book. Fred, it should bring them the justice they deserve.”
The advice came from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He was referring to Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan and my six-year investigation into their mysterious disappearance during a flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
The search had included four expeditions to the Mariana and Marshall Islands, the questioning of hundreds of witnesses and unfriendly confrontations with several high-ranking members of the U.S. military and government in Washington, D.C.
The search had also brought me the friendship of the legendary Admiral. It was late 1965 and we had been waiting for months for answers to pertinent questions regarding disposition of certain classified material in Washington. The conclusion long ago had been reached that Earhart and Noonan were keys to an incredible series of events which involved with the United States and Japan and the tense years preceding the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
“It’s possible you won’t be too popular in some quarters in Washington,” Nimitz continued. “’But you will gain respect for your research. It’s obvious no one wants to accept responsibility for what was done.”
It appears the Admiral will be proven correct. When “The Search for Amelia Earhart” is published by Doubleday on Sept. 2 (1966), I will probably achieve a high rank on the displeasure charts of the CIA, Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
Japan will evidence her unhappiness, too. She will not savor being forced to admit the illegal use of the mandated islands of the Pacific prior to World War II, a violation of international law.
The U.S. Marine Corps will be embarrassed as it tried to explain what happened to the human remains recovered from an unmarked grave on Saipan Island in July, 1944, or what happened to the personal effects of Earhart and Noonan recovered by Marines the same year.
The U.S. Navy may attempt to maintain silence when asked why $4 million were spent on an apparently bogus search for Earhart and Noonan in 1937 and why highly secret equipment was made available for their flight. There may also be several coughing fits when questions are posed regarding classified files, especially one labeled “Amelia Earhart, Location of Grave Of.”
The U.S. State Department will also have difficulty explaining why it has maintained a classified file on the matter for more than 29 years while denying to the public the existence of such a file.
The U.S. Department of Commerce won’t like explaining the activities of a man named William Miller, who was responsible in 1937 for “Aeronautical Survey of the South Pacific Ocean.” Miller spent much time with Amelia Earhart and also served Naval Intelligence.
The Central Intelligence Agency will try to avoid comments regarding its activities on Saipan Island from 1952 to ’62 and how one of this nation’s best kept post-World War II intelligence secrets blended with the Earhart investigation.
Is the pen mightier than government’s desire to cloak embarrassments of the past?
It is my contention, supported by those who have assisted in “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” that Earhart and Noonan were the first casualties of World War II. Their story pales fiction.
The most important fact I learned during six years of research is that American newsmen are still free to pursue answers to questions which involve major departments of government and even the presidency. As long as that remains true, our basic freedoms are relatively secure. (End of Goerner’s preview.)
Editor’s note: Goerner’s final asseveration, that “our basic freedoms are relatively secure,” was written with great optimism 50 years ago, but much in our once great nation has changed for the worse since then. Even Goerner’s early access to the secret Earhart files, granted partially by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, had been ripped away by LBJ, and soon, following Time magazine’s scathing, game-changing review of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner’s findings would be relegated to the popular file marked “paranoid conspiracy theories,” and deemed unfit for conversation in polite circles. Since then, nothing substantial has changed in that regard.