Tag Archives: Amelia Earhart Society

Weihsien Telegram: Another sensation that fizzled

We begin 2017 with a look at the notorious Weihsien Telegram, as it was known, one of the more sensational claims we’ve seen in recent years.  In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II.  This notion sprang from the 1987 discovery in State Department archives of an unsigned telegram, or “speedletter” to George Putnam from Weihsien in 1945; Amelia Earhart was soon “identified” as its sender by a group heavily invested in the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam canard.  The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weihsien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself.

During the ensuing debate within the Amelia Earhart Society, Bright, working with Patrick Gaston, an Overland Park, Kansas, attorney, obtained key documents, witness accounts and other evidence that helped put the lie to this lingering pest of a theory. Before we get to Bright’s findings, which hammered the final nails in the coffin of the Weihsien falsehood, we’ll hear from others involved in the promotion and debunking of this once-popular idea.

Longtime researcher Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash.,

In 2001,. longtime researcher Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash., with a few associates, debunked the Weihsien Telegram theory, which proponents claimed showed that Amelia Earhart was alive in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945.

In the September 1993 issue of Omni Magazine, Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak offered an informed rebuttal of the false claims by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) that Earhart crashed-landed on Nikumaroro Atoll, formerly known as Gardner Island, in the central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain. As for her true fate, Prymak said he had “tantalizing evidence but nothing concrete. We do have a telegram from her to her husband, George Putnam, which was dated Aug. 28, 1945, from a prison camp in China.” Thus, Joe Gervais’ long-discredited claim in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart had lived in the Emperor of Japan’s palace before returning to the United States as New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was transformed into an equally implausible — if less glamorous — scenario. Bright’s findings would later force Prymak and most others to admit their errors, but not before several years of confusion had passed.

Though Prymak and many of his AES associates believed that the telegram sent to George Putnam “informed Putnam that his wife was alive” in a Japanese internment camp in 1945, others with knowledge soon attempted to debunk this notion.  In late July 1993, Devine sent me a copy of a recent letter from Langdon Gilkey, 73, author of Shantung Compound (Harper and Row, 1966) to retired New York Police Department forensic specialist and Earhart theorist Jerome Steigmann, who died in 2003, as did Devine.  

In 1943 Gilkey was an American bachelor teaching at Peking’s Yenching University, a privately owned Anglo-American school and one of 10 “Christian Colleges” in China. Gilkey was advised by the Japanese that he and other American and British nationals then in Peking would be sent to a “civilian internment center” for their “safety and comfort.” Many people, including doctors, professors, instructors, businessmen, missionaries and travelers were incarcerated in the facility in Weihsien. Shantung Compound is Gilkey’s account of his experience there. Gilkey was released from captivity on Sept. 25, 1945.

Undated photo of Langdon Brown Gilkey....

Undated photo of Langdon Brown Gilkey, author of the 1966 book Shantung Compound, his first-person account of American and British nationals in China who were incarcerated by the Japanese at the Weihsien, China civilian internment center for several years during World War II. Gilkey, who authored 20 books, has been called “one of the most influential American Christian theologians of the 20th century,” by a colleague who taught alongside him at the University of Chicago for 20 years. Gilkey passed away in Charlottesville, Va., at 85 in November 2004.

In his letter to Steigmann, Gilkey says, “I have never heard of the Yank female, nor of her solitary captivity in Weihsien. I am also as positive as I am of anything in my life that this story is fiction, that, in other words, it did not and could not have happened without one hearing or knowing of it. I am, as I say, as sure of this as I am of anything in my past.”

“Not one person of the hundred or possibly thousands of internees held at Weihsien has ever reported Earhart’s presence at the camp,” Devine wrote in “The Concealed Grave of Amelia Earhart,” his unpublished manuscript. “Langdon Gilkey certainly would have known, as he emphatically states.”

Responding to my July 2001 letter asking his clearance to quote him in my 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Steigmann provided more evidence against the idea that Earhart spent time at Weihsien. He sent copies of a few introductory pages to The Mushroom Years: A Story of Survival (Henderson House Publishing, 1998), by Pamela Masters, another veteran of the Weihsien “Civilian Assembly Center.” Masters, who was held at Weihsien with her family, briefly discusses the alleged Earhart-Weihsien connection and says she recently located the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) major who commanded the operation to liberate Weihsien in 1945.

“The first time he heard of Amelia Earhart supposedly being in Weihsien was in December of ’97,” Masters wrote in her opening note to The Mushroom Years. “And to all those souls who want to find closure regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I empathize with you, but all I can say is: Forget Weihsien — look somewhere else.”

Steigmann also sent Devine a copy of a letter from former Col. John A. White of Millbrae, California, who wrote, “I have never heard anything about Amelia Earhart being a prisoner in China.” White told Steigmann a friend of his had been interned in Weihsien during World War II. Devine wrote to this woman, who informed Devine, “I have asked old friends whether the rumor was true about Amelia Earhart coming into the camp at the end of the war, and protected by Catholic priests and sisters. NO is the big answer.”

This is the story of one such group of American, British, and Allied nationals who were caught in North China and imprisoned in Wei-Hsien (Way-shen) Prison Camp in Shandong Province.

Pamela Masters’ 1998 memoir, The Mushroom Years, is “the story of a group of a group of American, British, and Allied nationals who were caught in North China and imprisoned in Wei-Hsien (Way-shen) [sic] Prison Camp [sic] in Shandong Province,” according to Masters’ website.

Gilkey did not respond to Devine’s correspondence, but in another letter to him, Steigmann wrote, “In addition to the Gilkey letter, I have been in contact with other former internees of the Weihsien, China Camp. They all agree Amelia Earhart was never in the hospital or any other part of the camp.”

In late August 1993, Steigmann took his information to the Amelia Earhart Symposium, sponsored by the Amelia Earhart Society and held at Morgan Hill, Calif.  There, amid a gathering of AES luminaries including Gervais, Prymak and Reineck, Steigmann ripped a gaping hole in the Weihsien Telegram theory: “The ‘Heavy Hitters’ of the AES were putting the audience to sleep,with their boring discussions about fuel, navigation, radio messages, etc.,” Steigmann wrote. “Ann P. [Pellegreno] persuaded the ‘Good Ole Boys’ to let me speak, and I ‘Awakened Them’ very fast, and even though there was a time limit, the audience insisted that I have all the time I needed to finish my scenarios. The AES ‘Clique’ [sic] were upset that they were upstaged by an ‘outsider!’ During the breaks, I was surrounded by publishers, authors, members of female flying groups, etc., who wanted me to speak at other events. Rollin Reineck, of Hawaii, who still claims Amelia was ‘interned’ at Weihsien, China, was not too happy when I produced additional letters from former camp residents that AE was never at the camp.”

Steigmann’s derailing of the telegram theory was convincing enough for Prymak and company to rethink their ideas. In the Dec. 3, 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Prymak wrote, “Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical.”

Meanwhile, Steigmann had other ideas about the Earhart disappearance, strange flights of fancy far removed from logic. In Steigmann’s world, Amelia was a “double agent, working simultaneously for the U.S. Marine Corps, the ONI and the Japanese from the early 1920s through her contact with Admiral Yamamoto and Japanese Naval Intelligence: As an agent for Japan, Amelia Earhart rendered technical assistance to the Japanese Naval air forces and in the development of their fighter plane, the Zero. She furnished Japanese Naval Air Intelligence photos of U.S. Army and Navy airfields in Hawaii as well as their schedules.”

The infamous Weihsien Telegram, which caused such an uproar in the Earhart research community during the 1990s.

The infamous Weihsien Telegram, which caused an uproar in the Earhart research community during the 1990s.

Steigmann also advocated the Joe Gervais-Joe Klass idea that Earhart lived in the Japanese Imperial Palace during the war: “When Amelia was liberated from ‘guest status’ at the Imperial Palace, she was secretly repatriated to the U.S. by the unseen hand of the Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. It was Forrestal who had inherited the Amelia Earhart mission from his predecessors, who was the prime architect when Amelia was facially renovated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.”

Steigmann concluded his fantasy by claiming Earhart “is still alive, at 96, awaiting the appropriate time to emerge from her long exile.” Steigmann sent Devine a copy of an unidentified tabloid with a picture of Earhart, Fred Noonan and the Electra. The story is headlined “Amelia Earhart’s Plane Is Found — In Japan” and subtitled “U.S. knew it for 48 years.” As if this validated Steigmann’s ideas, he wrote over the headline, “It was never on Aslito Airfield, Saipan!” and under the subtitle he wrote, “So did Jerry Steigmann.”

Devine had no use for such delusions, nor did he need Steigmann to shed the light of truth on the Weihsien Telegram theory. He already possessed decades-old information that strongly suggested the possible identity of the telegram’s originator, and it certainly wasn’t Amelia Earhart.

“Many years ago, during my early investigation, I had located the son of George Putnam. David Binney Putnam was in the real estate business in Florida,” Devine explained. “During our phone conversation, he was a bit cool regarding Amelia since it was Amelia who parted his parents. I questioned as to which branch of the service he may have served in during the war. He immediately responded he had spent most of the war years in a prison camp in China. I did not want it to appear that I was about to cross-examine him so I did not press on which branch of the service he may have served in. But he may have been incarcerated as an American citizen, or he could have been employed in clandestine activities involving our secret Office of Strategic Services [OSS].”

Devine said that when he first heard about the telegram, he was merely amused. He recalled visiting Muriel Morrissey in Boston in 1961: “She was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned David Binney Putnam, and asked me for his address, which I forwarded to her on a later date. She had lost track of him for many years. He was, she said, in a prisoner-of-war camp, which she thought was in China. When I first saw the news item of a woman in Washington who had found the cablegram, unsigned, I thought it may have been one that he had sent to his father. I never realized that Gervais and his cohorts would stipulate it was from Amelia. I had nothing in writing to refute them, only a phone conversation.”

Seeking to confirm his theory, Devine tried to contact David Binney Putnam in 1993, but learned he had passed away in May 1992. Hoping David’s brother, George P. Putnam Jr., could help clear things up, Devine was initially disappointed. Finally responding to Devine’s inquiries, Putnam told Devine he hadn’t the “faintest idea” what he was talking about. “No member of our family was ever in prison in China during the WWII era,” Putnam told Devine.

“If Putnam had received a telegram from his wife Amelia in 1945, he would have announced it to the entire world. Since it was unsigned, Putnam would know it was from his son of a prior marriage,” Devine wrote. “‘Love to mother’ was indicative of this association. Prymak’s remark, ‘We do have a telegram from her to her husband George Putnam which was dated Aug. 28, 1945 from a prison camp in China’. . . perpetuates the three-ring atmosphere, rather than the authenticity of the tragedy that befell Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Perhaps the general public is receptive to some of the rumors peddled by these individuals, since they are so succinctly resolved. But because of my firsthand knowledge and eyewitness involvement, I feel it is sickening.”

The Weihsien Telegram’s true author found

As it turned out, Devine’s best guess was wrong. Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston initiated a well-executed investigation aimed at nailing the source of the Weihsien Telegram, the details and results of which were initially published in the May 2001 TIGHAR Tracks newsletter. As I’m not a member of TIGHAR, Bright kindly provided a copy for my use, and it was included in With Our Own Eyes.

Ahmad Kamal, circa 1935, who sent the "Love to Mother" speed letter from Weihsien, China, to George Putnam in August 1945.

Ahmad Kamal, circa 1935, who sent the “Love to Mother” telegram from Weihsien, China, to George Putnam in August 1945. The speedletter created a sensation among Earhart researchers when it was discovered in U.S. State Department archives in 1987.

Bright found that the author of the controversial telegram was Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who was interned at Weihsien from summer 1943 to August 1945. Kamal knew George Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother, who apparently lived in the Los Angeles area, while he was away. Bright also secured what he called “the entire list of the 1,800 plus internees at Weihsien” from former camp administrator Desmond Powers, a Canadian.  Needless to say, Amelia Earhart’s name wasn’t on the list.

(Editor’s note: A google search reveals a site that contains a spread sheet that claims to be said list of Weihsien internees.  Neither Amelia Earhart nor any Putnam is on it. To view the list, please click here.)

Kamal died in 1989, but Bright found his son, Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weihsien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.

Bright’s investigation finally put the Weihsien speculation to rest. Here is the former ONI agent’s summary of his findings:

Sometime about 1939–1940, Kamal returned to China where he met and married his wife at Tientsin, China. The war broke out in December 1941 and, soon afterward, the Japanese Secret Police captured him and his wife. Refusing to cooperate, they were transferred to Weihsien Camp in the summer of 1943. There they remained until liberated in August 1945.

Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weishien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam, and Amelia Earhart.

Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weihsien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.

According to his son, shortly after the camp was liberated, Kamal sent out two radio messages: One to Scribner and Sons about publishing a book, and one to George Putnam. His son said he has seen either notes or a journal of that message and could repeat it almost by heart — something like “camp liberated, all was well, volumes to follow and love to mother.” The “love to mother” was added, said Kamal’s son, because Putnam had agreed to look after Kamal’s aging mother when Kamal left for China. Mrs. Kamal lived nearby and Putnam was to look in on her. It was an informal caregiver arrangement.

Kamal said his father often discussed Amelia Earhart and the mystery of her disappearance, and believed she went down in the sea. The elder Kamal had also told his son that Earhart was not at Weihsien while he was there, from 1942 until August 1945.

Kamal was an American, and probably a convert to Islam, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ian Johnson, author of A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Johnson obtained Kamal’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which reveals that Kamal was born on Feb. 2, 1914, in Arvada, Colo., and his birth name was Cimarron Hathaway; his mother was Caroline Grossmann Hathaway, his father, James Worth Hathaway. According to an interview Johnson obtained with a daughter, James was a stepfather and Cimarron’s biological father was Qara Yusuf, a Uyghur from Turkestan who was much older than Caroline – he was 64 and she 16 when they married.

This lengthy story by Ahmad Kamal appeared in the Sept. 26, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.

This compelling first-person account by Ahmad Kamal appeared in the Sept. 26, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.

Kamal’s 1940 book Land Without Laughter, was “one of those fascinating, slightly archaic, offbeat adventure books set in that mysterious region, Chinese Turkestan,” wrote Leslie Evans, whose review of A Mosque in Munich and more on Kamal can be found online at The Strange Career of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe.Kamal also wrote Full Fathom Five (Doubleday & Co. 1948), “a wonderful story of the sponge fishermen Americans of Greek ancestry of Tarpon Springs, Florida, their strange and beautiful customs, and the warmth and goodness of their way of life,” according to the book’s paperback description on Amazon.com. “It is a story told by Alek Paradisis, a man who believed he could solve any problem with his fist.”

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Paul Rafford Jr., “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers, dies in Florida hospice at 97

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.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, is among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, is among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s. He wrote more than a dozen unique, scholarly articles for the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000.

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.

Paul Rafford Jr., now 95, the elder statesman of Earhart researchers. As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford is uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

A recent photo of Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers. As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford was uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

“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.

Klaas tracks lost fliers in “Next Stop Kwajalein”

Joe Klaas, who passed away earlier this year, is best known for his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, the 1970 book that introduced Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart and forever cast a shadow on the credibility of all Earhart research, further driving the truth into the tiny corner it now inhabits, largely ignored, if not ridiculed by the mainstream media, entrenched in its longtime refusal to acknowledge the truth in the Earhart disappearance.

But Klaas didn’t create the Irene Bolam travesty. His fellow Air Force officer and friend, Joe Gervais, wove the Bolam fiction out of whole cloth and his Earhart-addled imagination. Klaas, the author of 11 other books, served mainly as Gervais’ personal stenographer during the creation of Amelia Earhart Lives, though he might have questioned Gervais’ absurd Bolam claim a bit more assiduously before he wrote a book and exposed himself to ridicule from nearly every corner of the Earhart research community, as well as much of the reading public.

None of that is relevant to the following essay, however, written by Klaas in 2001 and posted on the website of the Amelia Earhart Society. In “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas takes the available eyewitness and witness testimony and crafts a plausible version of the events surrounding the delivery of Amelia and Fred Noonan by the Japanese, from stops at Jaluit and Kwajalein, to their final destination at Saipan. 

Several aspects of the scenarios laid out by Klaas, such his belief, based on statements made by Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, that Amelia was allowed to broadcast by captors or that the fliers may have been taken to Japan, are clearly false or highly doubtful, and are not endorsed by this writer, but have not been edited out of Klaas’ narrative, which I present for your entertainment and discernment.

“Next Stop Kwajalein” by Joe Klaas with Joe Gervais      

Four years prior to the three weeks of media frenzy triggered by the 1970 suggestion in Amelia Earhart Lives that the supposedly dead flying heroine might be alive in New Jersey, Fred Goerner, whose The Search for Amelia Earhart deduced she had died of dysentery or was executed on Saipan, wrote to her sister, Muriel Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts.      

Joe Klaas, circa 2004, who survived a death march across Germany in 1945 and wrote Amelia Earhart Lives, passed away on Feb. 25, 2016.

Joe Klaas, circa 2004, who survived a death march across Germany in 1945 and wrote the 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives, passed away in February 2016 at 95. 

“I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years,” Goerner told Earhart’s sibling on Aug. 31, 1966.  “He said, ‘It (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.’ The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that his knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.”   

What “strong reasons for not wanting the information made public” short of their being assassinated by our own government would motivate the endless cover-up of the fact that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were still alive after July 2,1937?   

“Even when we investigators join together in The Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, and The [Yahoo!] Earhart Group on the internet, those who’ve been out here spend so much energy picking each other’s evidence apart,” I said to Joe Gervais aboard a 95-foot boat anchored off a bomb-dented concrete relic of a seaplane ramp in Imiej harbor at Jaluit, “we look only at how one another’s interviews with islanders don’t agree.”  

It was Joe’s seventeenth trip to Pacific islands in search of Amelia Earhart.  Ten of us aboard the 1997 AES expedition led by Bill Prymak disagreed 10 different ways.     

“To hell with the differences!”  I complained.  “Why don’t we focus on only those details which match?”     

I told Joe that when we got home I would follow five decades of conflicting interviews from dot-to-dot to determine only the ways they agree on Amelia Earhart’s after death journey from across the 1937 pre-war Pacific until now.   

“To hell with inconsistencies that lead nowhere!” I griped. “Let’s see only where we all match will take us.”     

1937 residents of Jaluit and Majuro atolls said they heard the white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her flying companion with knee and head injuries were taken by Japanese ship to Saipan in the Mariana Islands where the Emperor’s South Sea Islands military governor was in command. Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.   

“After I treated the man’s knee with paraply,” Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak, “I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein.  I remembered that because I had relatives on Kwajalein.  From there it would maybe go to Truk and on to Saipan.”    

Majuro Attorney John Heine, who clearly remembered seeing the flyers in custody at Jaluit after their prematurely reported deaths, also believed that “after the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” From there, according to what he was told by his missionary parents, whom the Japanese at Jaluit later beheaded as spies, “he thought the ship would later go to Japan.”   

Heine told Joe and Bill a simultaneous event at his school enabled him to place the crash and departure for Kwajalein in “the middle of July 1937.”

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron's Majuro home in 1991.

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at his Majuro home in 1991.

Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in the 60s that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.” In The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner reported that four Likiep Island residents of Kwajalein, Edward and Bonjo Capelli, and two men known only as Jajock and Biki told Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher, stationed on Kwajalein in 1946, that a man and a woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”

Ted Burris, a 1965 government employee on Kwajalein, volunteered as neighborhood commissioner for the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America.  He set out to establish Scouting three islands-north of Kwajalein on Ebeye [Island]. In January 1997 he informed members of the AES that while waiting for a boat back to his workplace one night his interpreter, Onisimum Cappelle, introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there “five years before the war” even though “the Japanese had closed the Marshall Islands to foreigners in the late ’20s.”     

The war reached the Marshalls in 1942, so “five years before” meant 1937, when Earhart and Noonan vanished. 

“How did you meet the Americans before the war?”  Burris asked the old man.      

“Well, I didn’t exactly meet them,” he said.  “But I did bring them in.”      

“Bring them in? I don’t understand. What happened?”

A plane landed on the water,” he said.  “A big plane.”

“Where?”

“Come.  I show you.”

They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses with a line of coconut trees.    

“You see those trees?” the old man asked.  “The plane was exactly in line with them.”      

“How far out?”      

“About a hundred yards from the land.”      

“What happened then?”      

“Two people got out.  A man and a woman.  The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”      

“The Captain?”     

“The boss. The Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.”  

Arrival of the boat to take Burris to nearby Kwajalein ended the conversation.

All who heard the story, including Burris, jumped to the conclusion that the plane was Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E, not a very “big plane” in comparison to Japanese flying boats that occasionally landed there. They assumed that was where she had actually crashed.      

Lotan Jack, who worked as a mess steward for the Japanese in 1937, told researcher T.C. "Buddy" Brennan in 1983 that he was told by a "Japanese Naval Officer" that Amelia Earhart was "shot down between Jaluit and Mili" and that she was "spying at that time -- for the American people."

Lotan Jack, who worked as a mess steward for the Japanese in 1937, told researcher T.C. “Buddy” Brennan in 1983 that he was told by a “Japanese Naval Officer” that Amelia Earhart was “shot down between Jaluit and Mili” and that she was “spying at that time — for the American people.”

But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there. Aircraft with landing gear are seldom said to have “landed on the water.” They would normally have been said to have “crashed into the water” or “ditched in the water.” Not that they had “landed on the water.”   

One simple question, “Did the plane land or crash?” might have cleared that up, but apparently assumption overcame curiosity, and that question was never asked.

Jaluit and Kwajalein had something in common.  In 1936 a concrete seaplane ramp was built at Kwajalein in addition to its already existing airstrip for land planes.  Land planes and seaplanes used two different Kwajalein facilities.  

A year later in 1937 at Saipan, a concrete seaplane ramp was under construction to augment an air strip already used only by land planes.  Had a flying boat ever before made a water landing at Saipan?  It’s a good question.   

Isn’t it more likely that, unbeknown to the Marshallese at Jaluit, instead of taking Earhart and Noonan to Kwajalein aboard ship on the Koshu, they changed plans and flew them there in a flying boat which would match the old man’s memory of  “a big plane” which “landed on the water”?

To understand what an eyewitness meant, might it not be a good idea to take what they said literally?  Going a step further, would it not be possible that natives of Saipan, who might only have previously seen planes touch down on their one airstrip, might mistakenly think a flying boat landing in Garapan Harbor was a land plane crashing into water off-shore?     

How would the Japanese Captain be able to tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived from Jaluit already accused of espionage?         

“None of this registered with me in particular until a couple of years later when I had moved to another assignment on Roi Namur (also in the Kwajalein group),”  Burris said.  “The Island Manager there was Frank Serafini. I mentioned the story the old man had told me.”         

“Let me tell you a few things.” Frank went to his desk and took out a letter from a Navy Commander, whose name Burris couldn’t remember after thirty years. “He was with Navy Intelligence during the war, and was attached to the 4th Marines when they invaded Roi-Namur. He went in with the first wave on Roi. His specific task was to look for evidence that Amelia Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been there!”         

“Why here?” Burris asked.         

“Because Roi had the only airfield on the atoll at that time,” Frank said. “If the Japs were going to take them anyplace from Kwajalein Atoll, they had to come through here!”         

“Did he find anything?”         

“Here, read this letter.” He pointed to a place on its second page: “I was rummaging through a pile of debris in a corner of the burned-out main hanger,” the writer said, when I came across a blue leatherette map case. It was empty. But it had the letters AE embossed on it in gold. They were here all right!”  

 “What did the Commander do with the map case?” Burris asked.         

Frank H. Serafini. circa 1970.Atoll. (Photo courtesy Frank B. Serafini.)

Frank H. Serafini, circa 1970, at his office on Kwajalein Atoll. (Photo courtesy Frank B. Serafini.)

“He said he turned it over to Naval Intelligence. He doesn’t know what happened to it after that.”         

“Does anybody know about this?” asked Burris. “Why would they keep such a thing secret?”         

“Because even now the Navy doesn’t want to admit they had anything to do with spying against the Japanese before the war.”  

When Burris heard about a plane with two American spies aboard landing 100-yards off-shore at Kwajalein, he naturally assumed it was Earhart’s land plane.     

It wasn’t.     

But couldn’t a twin-engine Japanese seaplane have “landed in the water” at Kwajalein, from which they were then flown to Saipan where the Japanese pilot landed alongside the beach?     

As reported in both Goerner’s book and mine, Josephine Akiyama watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water at Saipan and “saw the American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her . . .  led away by the Japanese soldiers.”    

At first, those who heard her story assumed it was Amelia Earhart’s plane.  

It wasn’t.     

All of us who heard eyewitness reports from Kwajalein or Saipan made the same mistake.  We all wanted so hard to find the Earhart plane, we assumed any aircraft that came down with her aboard was hers.  At both Saipan and Kwajalein we were wrong.  She and Noonan were aboard all right in both places, not as pilot and navigator, but as captured spies!     

Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce from eyewitness reports that Earhart and Noonan were flown from Kwajalein Atoll in a seaplane which made no attempt to land on Saipan’s completed airstrip, but instead “belly landed” along a beach in Garapan Harbor?     

“None of it can be true!” objected a radio engineer at a 1998 gathering in Aspen, Colorado. “Those islanders made it all up!”     

“What makes you think that?” I gasped.   

“Because it’s all predicated from the start on her originally ditching into the water at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937  and then sending out a bunch of so-called radio signals for three days. That could never have happened.”     

“Why not?”    

“Because if she went down in the water, she couldn’t have broadcast at all.  Her transmitter was incapable of broadcasting from the water.”     

No one thought to ask a radio engineer how he would have made a radio work if he crashed in the water off a strange island in the middle of the Pacific.  In such a matter of life and death, wouldn’t a radio engineer figure out some way to make a transmitter broadcast from a downed airplane still afloat in salt water?

An udated photo of Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia's mother, and sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey.

An undated photo of Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, and sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey.

Absolutely impossible!  Without a bigger source of power than the battery aboard that Lockheed 10E aircraft, I was assured by three other experts I consulted, there was no way it could happen! Without the extra power provided by the engines operating, she could not have broadcast from in the water!   

And yet the messages existed, logged by professional radio operators all across the Pacific so they can be read to this day. AES President Bill Prymak sent me a copy of actual loggings of her radio calls for help.  Remember, she was supposed to have died the morning of July 2,1937.  (Editor’s note: For a lengthy discussion of the alleged “post-loss messages,” please see  Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals.”)

Here were 30 distress call broadcasts recorded on paper as actually heard by experienced operators at twelve different radio stations from one side of the Pacific to the other. . . . Beginning on July 3, 1937, 12 experienced operators at official radio stations thousands of miles apart across the vast Pacific heard and logged 30 distress messages they identified as Earhart’s for three days after she supposedly crashed and drowned on July 2, 1937.   

Since these 30 distress signals were obviously heard as logged by 12 of the most highly trained and experienced radio operators across the Pacific, how could she have sent them if her radio transmitter could not possibly operate from her plane sitting in the water at Mili Atoll?   

Could Amelia Earhart’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, give us a simple clue as to how her daughter managed to transmit these “impossible” broadcasts? Was Mother Earhart, from sources of information peculiarly available to her, in possession of knowledge withheld from the public that would explain how her daughter was able to send all these messages for help?         

“I know she was permitted to broadcast to Washington from the Marshalls,” Amelia’s mother told the Los Angeles Times on July 25, 1949, and then does she give us the answer? . . .  “because the officials on the island where she was taken — I can’t remember the name of it — believed she was merely a trans-ocean flier in distress. But Tokyo had a different opinion of her significance in the area.  She was taken to Japan.”         

Is it not rather clear from Mother Earhart’s inside information that Amelia Earhart was rescued as a celebrity by the Japanese on Mili Atoll? Wouldn’t the Japanese on that island permit the famous American flyers to use their island transmitter to call for help for three days?     

Isn’t it obvious that if it were impossible for her to transmit messages from the water, she must have done so from the land? And wasn’t a Japanese transmitter the only way that could have been done? And wouldn’t the messages suddenly stop when Tokyo ordered the Mili Atoll Japanese outpost, through channels, to quit sending her distress broadcasts and arrest Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan for espionage?

“I am certain that Amelia’s voice was recognized in the radio broadcast from the Marshalls to the capitol,” Earhart’s mother told The Los Angeles Times and later repeated in a letter to Earhart’s flying instructor, Neta Snook.         

“I have kept quiet through the years, but certainly this could hurt no one now.”     

“That’s quite a stretch,” Joe Gervais said in awe when I explained how all of us had mistaken Japanese planes for hers, and seaplanes landing on the water for her land plane crashing at sea.  It may seem a stretch to those who want to believe Earhart and Noonan drowned at sea near Howland Island on July 2,1937.     

“All Earhart hunters have been so busy challenging differences in eyewitness reports each of us gathered,”  I sighed, “we became blind to all the many points we agree on, where the truth may finally be found.” “Well,” Joe exhaled slowly.  “If we’re gonna quit sneering at one another’s versions of what happened, and connect dot-to-dot to what’ll crack one of the biggest cover-ups in American history, we’d best not be afraid to stretch!”   

Next stop for prisoners Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was by land plane or flying boat to Saipan, it makes small difference which.  There on Saipan, more witnesses than were talked to on all other islands combined remembered seeing them alive.     

They were in custody as spies!  

(End of “Next Stop Kwajalein.”)

The Hiro H4H1 Navy Type 91 Flying Boat, a twin-engine monoplane in limited production since 1933, that might have been mistaken by the native witnesses for a land-based plane crashing in the water. “It was not exactly like the Electra, of course,” Mandel wrote in an e-mail: It was a two-motor, all-metal (aluminum, usually non-painted!) monoplane with two radial engines over the wing, also with a twin tail, and the size and dimensions of the plane were similar to the Electra. It was used by the Japanese Navy, but not extensively, so its visit to Saipan could be a rare event, possibly the first such event between the bases in Japan and Japanese Mandated Islands. From a distance, the Hiro could look pretty much like a landplane for any unaware witnesses, as it was a flying boat, not a float plane—i.e., it didn’t have a large obvious float under the fuselage as other seaplanes had, and its quite little under-wing floats were not obvious from a distance.

The Hiro H4H1 Navy Type 91 Flying Boat, a twin-engine monoplane in limited production since 1933, that might have been seen by a native witness landing on the water off Kwajalein, and later mistaken for a land-based plane crashing in the waters of Tanapag Harbor off Saipan.  “It was not exactly like the Electra, of course,” researcher Alex Mandel wrote. “It was a two-motor, all-metal (aluminum, usually non-painted) monoplane with two radial engines over the wing, also with a twin tail, and the size and dimensions of the plane were similar to the Electra. It was used by the Japanese Navy, but not extensively, so its visit to Saipan could be a rare event, possibly the first such event between the bases in Japan and Japanese Mandated Islands. From a distance, the Hiro could look pretty much like a land plane for any unaware witnesses, as it was a flying boat, not a float plane—i.e., it didn’t have a large obvious float under the fuselage as other seaplanes had, and its quite little under-wing floats were not obvious from a distance.”

Two years before Klaas and Gervais collaborated on “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas advanced a scenario that differed from the seaplane-landing-on-Saipan situation they proposed in 2001. In a 1999 e-mail to Rollin Reineck, Bill Prymak and others, Klaas reviewed the Ted Burris account and insisted it wasn’t a seaplane that landed in Tanapag Harbor:

This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein. But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there. Planes with landing gear don’t land “on the water.” What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. . . . Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.

Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble. [Italics mine.] Josephine Akiyama, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water along a beach. She “saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tall man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.”

We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant. We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Mili to Kwajalein to Saipan. Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses. Why would they lie?

I asked Klaas if he could explain his differing visions of Earhart’s arrival at Saipan, suggesting that a land-based aircraft might indeed be most likely in the Tanapag Harbor-landing scenario. “Very well could be,” Klaas told me in a September 2007 email.

However, I do believe it was a seaplane that landed in the water at Kwajalein, according to the man who picked her up there and rowed her ashore. There was a landing field there at that time.  A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that she had crashed into the water there, according to witnesses. However that was only because the native who picked her up said the plane had landed in the water, obviously flown there from Majuro. She could very well have been transferred to a land plane there [at Kwajalein] after that and have been flown in it on to Saipan, where a lot of us at first mistook as she and Noonan crashing on the beach in her own plane. It was obviously a Japanese aircraft, however.” 

So despite the many witnesses who reported that they saw a woman flier who could only have been Amelia Earhart in the Marshalls and later on Saipan, how she reached Saipan from Kwajalein is a major question that lingers. Was it a land plane or a seaplane that took the doomed fliers to their final destination?

Another credible account puts Amelia in Marshalls

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.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, Majuro Atoll. Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen clearly had seen some rough seas since since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll's Enajet Island in 1967.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, at Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen had seen some rough seas since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll’s Enajet Island in 1967.

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: 

Leonard deBrum, at this Majuro home in 2003.

Leonard deBrum, then 87, at his Majuro home in 2003. (Photo courtesy Sue Rosoff.)

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.” 

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

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.

Conclusion of Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio”: Former PAA flight officer’s findings still fascinate

In the conclusion of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio,” the former Pan American Airways radio flight officer examines further technical and other aspects of Amelia Earhart’s final flight, including the origin and effectiveness of the radio direction finder on Howland Island, some of the possible post-flight radio transmissions that may have originated from the Earhart Electra, and Fred Noonan’s alleged drinking problem as it may have affected the flight. As always, the real mystery is what transpired aboard the Electra in the hours before and after her last radio transmission, and the biggest question remains unanswered: Was Amelia actually attempting to reach Howland Island? If she was, then Gray’s conclusions remain highly relevant today.

THE HOWLAND ISLAND RADIO DIRECTION FINDER

Obviously Earhart had a misconception of the radio direction finder installed on Howland Island. She apparently envisaged it as being a PAA type Adcock high frequency system, or its functional equivalent, which would take bearings on her 3105 kHz signals and send them to her just as the PAA station at Mokapu Point had done during her flight from Oakland to Honolulu. Because of that she repeatedly asked Itasca to take bearings on 3105 kHz and transmitted signals upon which bearings were expected to be taken.   It appears that there may have been some justification for her having that concept.

When the decision was made to fly easterly around the world, and the long Lae-Howland leg was being studied, Earhart and Noonan suggested to the Coast Guard that a radio direction finder be set up on Howland (“PLANE SUGGESTS DIRECTION FINDER BE SET UP ON ISLAND, IF PRACTICABLE”). According to the research of Capt. Laurance F. Safford, USN, it was at about this time that Mr. Richard B. Black, the Department of the Interior representative, who was to go to Howland in Itasca, conceived the idea of “borrowing” a so-called high frequency radio direction finder from the Navy to use on Howland Island.  Black advised G.P. Putnam, Earhart’s husband and business manager, of his plans and advised him when the gear had been obtained and put aboard Itasca.  No doubt Putnam passed this information along to Earhart.

It was on Howland Island that Black supervised construction of the air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radioroom of the USCG Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

Richard B. Black, the Interior Department representative who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop. Black was in the radio room of Itasca, as Earhart sent her last known radio transmissions. As a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1939, he was assigned as the U.S. Antarctic Service base commander, East Base, U.S. Antarctic Expedition. In 1954, Black served as the base operations officer of the first U.S. Navy Deep Freeze expedition.

In a message sent June 27 to Commander, San Francisco Division, USCG, the C.O. Itasca [Cdr. Warner K. Thompson]reported on his readiness for supporting the upcoming flight.   One item was “DIRECTION FINDER INSTALLED ON HOWLAND.”  This fact was reported to Mr. Putnam, then in San Francisco, and he in turn passed the news to Earhart, who was then at Darwin, Australia. While the Itasca message did not specifically say “High Frequency Direction Finder,” there apparently had been sufficient other information, probably via telephone from Putnam, to cause Earhart to believe that it was such a device. She likely assumed that the DF had been installed at Howland in response to the suggestion made earlier by Noonan and herself , and fully expected it to be a functional equivalent of a PAA-Adcock system.

According to Capt. Safford, who was in an excellent position to know, the direction finder station on Howland Island actually consisted of an aircraft type radio receiver and an aircraft type rotatable loop antenna which had been “hay-wired” together into a temporary DF installation. It operated off storage batteries borrowed from Itasca. The receiver and loop had been “moon-light requisitioned” (obtained by informal means) by Mr. Black and Lt. Daniel Cooper of the Army Air Corps, from a Navy patrol plane at Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor.

The equipment appears to have been a military version, or perhaps a twin, of the Bendix receiver and loop in the Earhart plane. At any rate, with a loop antenna, it certainly was not a high frequency direction finder and the probability of taking meaningful bearings with it on 3105 kHz over any significant distance, was practically nil. The Howland DF operator [Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani] had only two opportunities to try taking a bearing on the plane, and in each case the plane’s transmission was so short that a really good attempt could not be made. Had the transmissions been sufficiently long the operator no doubt would have found that he could get no “minimum” and hence no bearing.

POST-FLIGHT SIGNALS

NAURU

On July 3 (GMT date) an operator at public service radio station VKT, Nauru, sent the following “wire note” (an informal communication between operators) to RCA radio station KPH at San Francisco, with the request that it be passed to Itasca:

VOICE HEARD FAIRLY STRONG SIGS STRENGTH TO S3 [at] 0843 and 0854 GMT 48.31 METERS (i.e. 6216 kHz) SPEECH NOT INTERPRETED OWNING BAD MODULATION OR SPEAKER SHOUTING INTO MICROPHONE BUT VOICE SIMILAR TO THAT EMITTED FROM PLANE IN FLIGHT LAST NIGHT WITH EXCEPTION NO HUM ON PLANE IN BACKGROUND.”

Note that these signals were heard about 12-and-a-half hours after Itasca last heard the plane.

There is nothing that directly and positively connects these signals with the Earhart plane, however there is indirect evidence that warrants serious consideration:

(a) The frequency (6210 kHz) was right for it being the plane. It was not a com­monly used frequency in that area.

(b) The Nauru operator reported good signal strength and was able to judge the tone or timbre of the speaker’s voice yet was unable to understand what the speaker was saying. He suggested the possibility of modulation problems. The operator who had checked the plane at Lae and the DF operator at Howland who was trying to take a radio bearing on the plane, both had noted similar symptoms and suggested possible modulation problems.

(c) The probability of there being more than one transmitter in the area exhibiting the same symptoms of over-modulation on the same frequencies at essentially the same time is very small.

It is this writer’s opinion that the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the Naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford's verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers "were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew." Did Safford know more about the fliers' fates than he ever publicly admitted?

Capt. Laurance Safford, the father of Navy cryptology, who established the naval cryptologic organization after World War I and headed it, for the most part, though Pearl Harbor. Safford’s verdict on the Earhart disaster was that the fliers “were the victims of her over-confidence, an inadequate fuel supply, bad weather, poor planning . . . miserable radio communications and probable friction between the crew.” Did Safford know more about the fliers’ fates than he ever publicly admitted?

PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS

Shortly after the Earhart plane became overdue at Howland, the Coast Guard requested PAA to use its communication and radio direction finding facilities in the Pacific areas to assist in the search for the plane and survivors. Instructions were immediately issued for the stations at Mokapu Point, Midway and Wake to monitor the plane’s frequencies as much as limited personnel would permit and be prepared to take radio bearings on any signals heard which might reasonably be believed to be coming from the plane. A special radio circuit was set up to permit intercommunication among the three stations.  Numerous weak signals were heard but nothing of interest until 0948 July 5, GMT time and date. The following is extracted from a report made by R.M. Hansen, the Radio Operator in Charge at the Wake Island station:

At 0948 a phone signal of good intensity and well modulated by a voice but wavering badly suddenly came on 3105 kc. While the carrier frequency of this signal did not appear to vary appreciably, its strength did vary in an unusually erratic manner and at 0950, the carrier strength fell off to QSA 2 (2 on a scale of 0 to 5) with the wavering more noticeable than ever.   At 0952, it went off completely.  At 1212 (GMT July 5) I opened the DF guard on 3105 kc. At 1223 a very unsteady voice modulated carrier was observed on 3105 kc approximately.  This transmission lasted until 1236 GMT. I was able to get an approximate bearing of 144 degrees. In spite of the extreme eccentricity of this signal during the entire length of the transmission, the splits were definite and pretty fair.

After I obtained the observed bearing, I advised Midway to listen for the signal (couldn’t raise Honolulu). He apparently did not hear it. This signal started in at a carrier strength of QSA5 (5 on a scale of 0 to 5) and at 1236, when the transmission stopped, it had gradually petered out to QSA2 during the intervals when it was audible. The characteristics of this signal were identical with those of the signal heard the previous night (0948 GMT) except that at DF the complete periods of no signal occurred during shorter intervals.  While no identification call letters were distinguished in either case, I was positive at that time that this was KHAQQ [Earhart’s plane]. At this date I am still of this opinion.

Midway heard a signal having the same characteristics, and almost certainly the same station, at 0638 GMT July 5.  A quick bearing of 201 degrees True was obtained, however the signal was not audible long enough to take a really good bearing and the 201 degree figure was labeled “approximate.”

Honolulu (Mokapu Point) also heard the “peculiar signal” on 3105 kHz several times. From 1523 to 1530 GMT July 4 an attempt was made to take a bearing on it, however due to weakness and shifting of the signal, only a rough bearing could be obtained. It was logged as 213 degrees, but it was implied that it was a doubtful bearing. Sometime between 0630 and 1225 GMT another bearing was attempted on the “peculiar signal.” The log describes it thus: “SIGNALS SO WEAK THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO OBTAIN EVEN A FAIR CHECK. AVERAGE SEEMS TO BE AROUND 215 DEGREES — VERY DOUBTFUL BEARING .” It is obvious that the bearings from Honolulu were greatly inferior to those taken from Wake and Midway and are useful mainly as indications that the unknown station continued to function.

Not much attention was paid to these interceptions at the time because no one was aware that Earhart’s radio signals had been abnormal. Had it been known that she was having over­ modulation problems more attention probably would have been given  them  because the “Wavering” in the carrier strength is consistent with a varying degree of over-modulation rapidly increasing and decreasing carrier power.  The gradual drop of signal strength from QSA5 to QSA2 over a span of 13 minutes is consistent with the further discharge of an already partially discharged storage battery power supply. The peculiar signals on 3105 kHz heard by Wake, Midway and Honolulu may very well have come from the Earhart plane, and there is good reason to believe that the radio bearing taken on those signals by Wake was accurate within a degree or so. The one from Midway may have had a somewhat larger error.

(Editor’s note: A number of radio operators, including several in the continental United States, reported hearing signals that they believed originated from Earhart and Noonan, and some have already been presented on this blog. Please see  Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages’ Real or fantasy?  and Experts weigh in on Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages.)

FREDERICK J. NOONAN

There has been much speculation as to whether or not Fred Noonan could send and receive International Morse code. From personal observation the writer knows that as of late 1935 Noonan could send and receive plain language at slow speeds, around eight to 10 words per minute. Recent research by Noonan biographer Michael A. Lang has revealed that circa 1931 Noonan held a Second Class Commercial Radio Operator license issued by the Radio Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Second Class licenses of that vintage certify that the holder has been examined and passed the following elements:

(a) Knowledge of the general principles of electricity and of the theory of radio­ telegraphy and radiotelephony.

(b) Adjustment , operation and care of apparatus.

(c) Transmitting and sound reading at a speed of not less than sixteen words a minute Continental Morse in code groups and twenty words a minute in plain language.

(d) Use and care of storage battery or other auxiliary.

(e) Knowledge of international regulations and Acts of Congress to regulate radio communications.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia and Fred. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as has been alleged.

Perhaps the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea. Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as some have alleged.

Those writing about the Earhart disappearance have, in general, been very rough on Noonan because of his admitted problem with alcohol. In some cases much rougher than was justified by the facts. For example in one book it is related that the night before the departure from Lae for Howland, Noonan went on a binge and did not get to the airfield until just before the plane was due to take off, and even then was so intoxicated that he had to be helped aboard the plane. The implication being that he was largely responsible for the failure of the flight. The official report of Guinea Airways Ltd., at Lae, made in response to a request from the U.S. Government, paints quite a different picture. According to it the Lae wireless operator made attempts all throughout the day of June 30 to get time signals, requested by Earhart and Noonan, to permit Noonan to check his chronometer, but owing to local interference was unsuccessful that day.  That indicates that Noonan spent most of June 30 at the radio station.

At about this point, Earhart decided to take off for Howland Island at 9:30 a.m. on July 1, subject to obtaining the time signal.

At 6:35 a.m. July 1st Earhart took the plane up on a 30-minute test hop after which the tanks were topped off and she was ready to go, except that a time signal had not yet been obtained. This day the difficulty was at the radio station which transmitted the signals. Extraordinary steps were taken to get a time signal but when one had not been obtained by 10:50 a.m. Earhart decided to postpone her departure until the next day, July 2. During the rest of the day constant watch was kept for the reception of time signals and finally at around 10:20 p.m. an excellent signal was received by Noonan which showed his chronometer to be three seconds slow.  Noonan obviously had spent most of that day at the radio station.

On July 2 at 8:00 a.m. another time signal was received, this one from Saigon, and the chronometer checked the same as the previous night. Both Noonan and Earhart expressed their complete satisfaction and decided to leave at 10:00 a.m., which they did.

Only Noonan would have checked the chronometer, so the report seems to indicate clearly that Noonan was sober and in good shape at 8:00 a.m. and probably was that way when the plane took off.

CONCLUSIONS

From the standpoint of radio, Earhart’s decision to rely completely on radiotelephony, and her removal of the trailing antenna, showed poor judgment and introduced unnecessary and unjustifiable risks. However it cannot be denied that she got as far as Lae without trouble with what she had. It was her mistake in designating 7500 kHz as the homing frequency for Itasca that got her into deep trouble. Even that difficulty probably could have been overcome had she been able to communicate with Itasca and agree on a suitable homing frequency. Fate intervened, however, and something occurred in her receiving system which made it impos­sible for Earhart to hear any signals with her gear set up in the configuration she was accustomed to use for communications.

She did not understand the technical aspects of radio well enough to diagnose her problem and was not sufficiently familiar with the radio gear to know all the options available to her. She had been taught to shift the receiver to the loop antenna when she wanted to take a bearing, but probably no one had ever explained to her how the loop also could be used in carrying on communications. Had she been aware of that option and listened on the loop for Itasca‘s voice signals on 3105 kHz, no doubt she would have heard the ship and been able to establish two-way communications.

The probability is very high that the failure of the receiving system to receive signals when using the fixed antenna was due either to a defective feed line between the receiver unit and the “send/receive” relay in the transmitter, or a defect in that relay itself. The odds are about 95 to 5 that the relay was at fault. It is considered therefore that a failure of that relay was the one single thing most responsible for the failure of the Earhart flight.

If it is assumed that the “peculiar signals” intercepted by Nauru and the PAA stations at Wake and Midway were in fact from the Earhart plane then the following may be deduced from the radio signals:

(a) The landing was fairly successful. The plane did not nose over or break up, otherwise the radio could not have been used.

(b) The landing was not in the open sea. Had it been, enough salt water would have seeped in to enter the wiring and disable the radio transmitting gear in a relatively short time.

(c) Earhart survived the landing. She was heard by the Nauru operator long after the plane would have run out of gas.

(d) Noonan survived. A man’s voice was distinctly heard on the “peculiar signal” by Midway. It was unintelligible.

Almon Gray at Gray's Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray's analysis of Earhart's radio problems "

Almon Gray at his Blue Harbor, Maine, home shortly before his death in September 1994. Gray, a Navy Reserve captain and Pan American Airways China Clipper flight officer, flew with Fred Noonan in the 1930s and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and president, called Gray’s analysis of Earhart’s radio problems during her last flight “one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.”

(e) Either Earhart or Noonan, or both, were alive and with the plane at least until 0948 July 5, 1937 GCT time and date. The “peculiar signals” were last heard then.

(f) The “peculiar signals” probably were coming from the eastern or southeastern part of the Marshall Islands. (End of Almon Gray’s “Amelia Earhart and Radio.”)

Bill Prymak’s note:  Capt. Gray, USNR (Ret.) received his Commercial Radio Operator License in 1930, and went with Pan American in 1935, when they started the trans-Pacific service. He became Flight Radio Officer on China Clipper type aircraft, and later was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Communication in 1937.

The AMELIA EARHART SOCIETY finds the above radio analysis of the last flight to be one of the finest pieces of work ever presented on this subject.

Editor’s note: We should remember that in considering this analysis of Earhart’s final flight, Almon Gray took the position that the fliers were actually trying to reach Howland Island, and that all their actions were directed toward that goal.  If Amelia and Noonan were not trying to reach Howland, but were engaged in some sort of covert operation, which certainly cannot be ruled based on our limited knowledge of what transpired during those final hours, then many of Gray’s findings become largely irrelevant. 

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