Tag Archives: Bill Prymak

Conclusion of Bill Prymak’s “The Jaluit Report”

Finally, Expedition Amelia” is in our rear-views, and today we present Part II of “The Jaluit Report,” Bill Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with Joe Gervais, infamous as the creator of the mendacious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Boldface and italics emphasis are mine throughout, capitalizations for emphasis are Prymak’s, and some have been edited for consistency.

The Jaluit Report,” January 1991 (Part II of two)
by Bill Prymak and Major Joe Gervais, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

DAY TWO ON EMIDJ: Spent the first hour with Joel who suggested we motor some ten miles further up the lagoon to visit a very old Japanese native who lived on a remote island.  “TOKYO apparently had worked on the construction phase of the seaplane base, and would surely have some interesting experiences to relate. With great apprehension (OL’ BOOM-BOOM was really gasping and belching at this stage) we chugged northward past dozens of islands . . .  finally, a settlement came into view, with a beautiful white church perched just off the beach.  The Pastor was amazed that any white man would chose to visit his Parish, but a ten dollar donation popped his eyes and put him at our service.  Yes, Tokyo was around, back in the bush.  He was frightened to have white visitors, but our Pastor soon put him at ease. He was awed at the attention bestowed, spoke no English, but our Pastor conveyed the following, acting as interpreter:

Tokyo had been brought to Emidj from Japan as a labor foreman to run concrete pouring crews.  Thousands of Koreans and Marshallese were conscripted for this work, which began about 1934-’35.  Several years into the work, according to Tokyo, there was a great flurry of excitement one day as the weekly barge came up from Jabor.  

The barge normally carried construction materials off-loaded from the larger ships in Jabor Harbor, but on this day the barge carried no ordinary cargo.  All work was suspended for the day and the entire work force was kept off base.  Tokyo could see from a distance that a silver land airplane partially covered by a canvas tarp was being off-loaded by bulldozers with winches and dragged to a remote area where it was promptly fenced off and camouflaged.  Tokyo stated that this event was excitedly discussed amongst the Japanese soldiers, but such talk amongst the civilian work force was forbidden, and would result in severe punishment.

“Joe Gervais with donut maker Kubang Bunitak, who corroborated Bilimon Amaron and John Heine’s experiences,” wrote Bill Prymak in the original AES Newsletter photo caption of May 1991.

Tokyo worked as foreman on. the base until the start of bombing raids, when he fled, with other Marshallese, to remote islands in the Jaluit Chain.  With no family to go home to in Japan after World War II, Tokyo decided to embrace the Marshallese as his own and remain for the rest of his days.  He is currently 75 (give or take a few) years old.

DAY THREE: JABOR: The BOOM-BOOM boat finally boomed out, so we decided to seek out old-timers in the village. The Mayor was still gracious and helpful. First stop: KUBANG BUNITAK, the donut baker.  He’s some 75 years old, and his donut shop is something to behold: #5 bunker oil in a 55-gallon drum over a wood fire . . . and there you have it!  DONUTS!  Joe gave Kubang five dollars for a bag of donuts, and his eyes nearly popped out!  He had never received so much money for his goods.  I accidentally dropped one of the donuts: it hit the floor and bounced up to the ceiling!  Joe later remarked that they would make great wheels on supermarket shopping carts!

The interview with Kubang was brief but very interesting.  He had been at Jabor since 1935.  Many thousandsof Japanese soldiers and construction workers were based both at Jabot, the deep harbor, and at Emidj, the Naval seaplane base, he related.  He remembered Bilimon Amaron working in the Naval Hospital and the flurry of excitement when Bilamon treated “two American flyers who were ’shot down’ near Mill Island and brought to Jabor for medical treatment and interrogation.  He further described how a strange-looking airplane was unloaded from a Naval Tender ship, put onto the Emidj barge, and disappeared from Jabor that night.  Great secrecy was imposed by the military during this operation, and several Marshallese received cruel punishment for “being too close.” 

Kubang went on to describe the terrible devastation rendered Jabor Island during the American bombing raids.  He remembered well Carl Heine and his two sons John and Dwight.  The previous Marshall Island Report describes our interview with John Heine and his witnessing the silver airplane on a barge at Jabor.  (See newsletter for Mr. Heine’s interesting report re: the letter addressed to Amelia Earhart that was delivered to the Jaluit Post Office in November, 1937.) 

The only white men Kubang had ever seen were the occasional contract school teachers at Jabor, and, rarely, when a sailing ship popped into the Harbor.  He told us that he was delighted to share with us his experiences, as he had never talked with white visitors before. He never asked what the outside world was like . . . their simple lives seem to be self-fulfilling and pretty content.

Mr. Hatfield was next interviewed.  A very soft-spoken elderly gentlemen who could communicate with us in broken English, he was the Mobil agent for the Island, and ran what passed for a country store.  It was here that Joe and I found our survival rations for the week . . . Spam and beans!  In discussing the Earhart issue, yes, he knew Tomaki Mayazo, the coal tender who [believed he] loaded the Kamoi.  He remembered the ship hurriedly leaving port for Mili and returning a few days later to Jabor under great security and much fanfare.

The aircraft carrier Akagi entered service with the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1927 and took part in the opening campaigns of World War II.  Akagi was a major player in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and aided in the rapid Japanese advance across through Pacific until be sunk by American dive bombers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.  Claims of Akagi-based aircraft involvement with the downing of Amelia Earhart near Mili Atoll in July 1937 do not hold up under scrutiny.

Mr. Hatfield’s most interesting story was of his close relationship with a Mr. Lee, who, unfortunately for us, had died in 1987.  Lee was the chief translator between the Marshallese natives and the Japanese military, and evidently commanded considerable respect and fraternized quite frequently with Japanese officers.  Lee told Mr. Hatfield several times the events on the night of July 2nd, 1937, when he (Lee) was drinking heavily with some high-ranking naval officers.  Suddenly one of the officers jumped out of chair, slammed his fist on the table, and boasted to Lee: “We know that the American Lady Pilot is flying over (these) islands tonight!”  Joe and I were astonished to hear such a statement.  Hatfield went on to relate how Lee told him of the arrival of ahugeaircraft carrier and several destroyers that engaged in war games back in 1937 (this, incidentally, was corroborated by Capt.  Alfred Parker; see Joe Klaas’s book, Amelia Earhart Lives, page 40).  These war exercises were conducted at Jaluit and surrounding waters.

Mr. Hatfield concluded our interview with a startling statement: Lee told him that he had met one of the carrier pilots who, during a drinking bout, had claimed that he had shot down Amelia Earhart near Mill Atoll!  Such a statement by itself may not be very credible, but I refer the reader to [T.C.] Buddy Brennan’s book Witness to the Execution (page 117) and immediately we see a hard connection.  Brennan, nor Lee or Hatfield had never met before.  Could Fujie Firmosa be the one and same person? Could the Akagi be the aircraft carrier seen at Jabor by several different persons?

(Editor’s note:  The Akagi was shown to be in Japan’s Sasebo Navy Yard from 1935 to 1938, undergoing a major modernization.  Fujie Firmosa, who, according to Buddy Brennan, told Manny Muna on Saipan that he shot down Amelia Earhart’s plane in the Marshalls while assigned to the Japanese carrier Akagi.  Firmosa’s last known address was in Osaka, according to Brennan (Witness to the Execution, footnote p. 118) but he “was recently deceased” circa 1983.  Further, I’m not aware of any claim by “several different persons” of seeing an aircraft carrier at Jabor.  Anyone out there who can shed light in this one?]

DAY FOUR: BACK TO EMIDJ

Boom-Boom boat was dead.  But somebody had another outboard, and after much ceremony and cussin’ the engine kicked into life and we were on our way. Joel, our schoolmaster friend, greeted us with the warmest smile imaginable, and the candy we had brought from the States made a great hit with the kids.  We were told that an American airplane has been shot down during the February 1942 air strike, and that a native boy had recently seen it in some twenty feet of water several hundred yards off the seaplane ramp. It took some 30 minutes of trolling before I finally spotted the outline.  Donning fins and snorkel gear, I made an amazing discovery: As I dove on the aircraft, it clearly turned out to be a TBF Torpedo Bomber in pristine condition.  The black barrels of the twin machine guns on each wing clearly stood out in the semi-hazy water.

The aircraft had apparently pancaked into the water, nosed over, and settled in 20 feet to the bottom on its back.  I was to learn later that the pilot, either Ensign R.L. Wright or Ensign W.A. Haas was still in the plane.  Studying the strike reports from the Yorktown, the two pilots had radioed they were ditching together.  Both to this day are [listed as] MIAs.  Neither Joel, nor the other older natives had any knowledge of any person ever making an attempt to recover either parts or the remains of the pilot.  It was an eerie feeling, knowing that I was the first to dive on an American military plane sequestered in the water for nearly 50 years. I plan to go back and complete my search of the aircraft.

At the old Emidj seaplane ramp, Joe Gervais stands in the crater of a 500-pound direct hit, incurred during one of several American bombing missions against Emidj between Feb, 1, 1942 and Oct. 6, 1944.  (Photo courtesy Bill Prymak.)

It was sad leaving Emidj; we cemented deep bonds of friendship with natives, and promised to come back.

Parting Jabor on our final day, Mr. Hatfield had one last bit of information for us: Capt. Fukusuke Fujita, commanding the base at Emidj during the war, wrote a book re: his experiences, and this book is in the possession of a certain Japanese restaurant owner on Majuro.”  We held our breath: could this be the final clue?  The undeniable clue?  Landing at Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, we did meet the restaurant owner, we did make a copy of said book; after weeks of tracking down competent translators . . . no cigar!  Capt. Fujita had simply documented his post-war trips to the Islands to honor the war dead.

EPILOGUE

The long flight back to the states gave ample time for reflection.  So many compelling questions begging for a rational answer need to be addressed: Exactly whose airplane was down there on the ramp at Emidj as shown on the United States Air Force pre-strike photo?

What did the bulldozers bury or push into a indefinable mass of aluminum back in 1977?

Just what did the old Japanese labor foreman see on that barge in 1937?

Why would a Japanese donut baker, who had never been interviewed before, talk of a “strange-looking” (can we read-non Japanese?) airplane being loaded onto a barge during the same period of time as the Bilamon Amaron experience?

Is this all hot smoke and sheer coincidence?

Joe and I did agree on one point: Our week at Jaluit and Emidj sure n’ hell beat laying on the beach at Fiji sipping pina coladas!  (End of “The Jaluit Report.”)

Bill Prymak, along with several members of the Amelia Earhart Society, returned to Jaluit in late January 1997 and interviewed several new witnesses for the first time ever.  We’ll hear from them soon. 

 

Prymak’s “Jaluit Report” recalls ’91 Jaluit visit, interviews of hitherto unknown Earhart witnesses

Today we return to Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters for another look at true Earhart research history.  “The Jaluit Report” is Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with his longtime friend, the strange, unreliable researcher Joe Gervais, best known as the progenitor of the notorious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth“The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.  Please understand that the words and opinions in this piece are those of the writers and others quoted, and not necessarily those of the editor.  Boldface and italics emphasis is mine throughout.

The Jaluit Report,” January 1991 (Part I of two)
by Bill Prymak and Major Joe Gervais, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

FOREWORD

This report summarizes the events experienced during our recent expedition to Jaluit and the great Japanese Naval Seaplane Base at Emidj, eight miles north of Jabor, the only harbor located in the Jaluit chain of islands, and where the administrative seat of Japanese Government was located prior to and during World War II.

Bill Prymak received considerable flak from the assemblage of critics out there for failing to maintain strict objectivity in the reporting of eyewitnesses interviewed during last year’s trip to Mill Atoll, so this report will simplytell it as it happened, with no editorializing, no personal opinions.  It shall be for the reader to judge the veracity of the many eyewitness experiences related to us, and the impact these experiences may have on the Earhart MysteryIt should be noted, however, that we went so far back into the bush that many of these natives interviewed had rarely, if ever, seen a white visitor to their remote part of the Marshall Islands: none of them had ever been interviewed before, so we were fortunate indeed to visit with “uncontaminated” witnesses. 

And yet, as the following report will detail, they knew of the “American Lady Spy who flew her own airplane” not from books (they have none there), not from previous visitors, not from their own government people, but they knew of the American Lady Spy relating only to a time many years ago, before the “Great War,” and always in concert with their servitude under harsh Japanese rule.

*********************************************************

Joe Gervais, the father of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory, and Joe Klaas, his right-hand man and author of Amelia Earhart Lives, in a typical news photo from 1970, when Amelia Earhart Lives was creating an international sensation.

“Hey Bill, this is Joe Gervais.  You gotta come down: I’ve got something important to show you, and when you see it, you’ll agree with me that we gotta take another trip to the Marshall Islands.  There’s some unfinished business there.”

A typical Gervais call.  Full of energy, optimism, and rarely failing to come up with a new tidbit on the Earhart mystery that has consumed the man for over thirty years.

Visiting Maj. Gervais has never been unpleasant nor without excitement; he lives in Las Vegas, and with my good fortune to own an airplane, it was a quick hop from Denver that late October, 1990.  He is ever the gracious host, and his EARHART SUITE contains literally thousands of research data painstakingly procured over the past thirty years.  It’s amazing how much Earhart material he has acquired that did not make his book.

Joe had photographs and spread sheets all over the table as he ushered me into the Earhart Suite.  Bill, let’s backtrack a bit: virtually every credible AE researcher has her down in the Marshall Islands, and every one of them tried to get to Jaluit, but because of time constraints, money, or logistics, none of ’em made it to Jaluit.  Think about it; we have at least five sightings of what might be the Electra at Jaluit: Bilimon Amaron see it on the fantail of a Japanese naval ship; John Heine sees it on a barge [see page 156 Truth at Last] ; Oscar DeBroom reports seeing it at Jaluit; Tomaki [Mayazo, see pages 140-141 TAL for clarification], loading coal on the Kamoi, hears about the American Lady pilot and plane.  And Jaluit was administrative headquarters for the Japanese long before World War II got underway.  Why shouldn’t a ‘spy’ airplane be brought to Jaluit, placed on a barge for the inland water trip to a naval seaplane base under construction at that time, and far removed from prying eyes?

Take a look at this, Joe continued, his eyes lighting up with excitement, as he showed me classified pre-strike Target Detail Photos of Emidj, the Japanese naval seaplane base, taken by U.S. Air Force reconnaissance planes July 1943.

My God, I uttered,that’s a mini Pearl Harbor down there, as I studied the photographs.  Clearly outlined were two massive concrete ramps leading into the lagoon, a main concrete apron 1,500 feet long by 360 feet wide, two enormous hangars scaling 240 feet by 160-feet wide (each!), numerous other support structures, and several giant Emily flying boats parked on the aprons.

Study that overhead photo real hard, Bill, and see if you note anything unusual.”  Joe was testing me.  Besides the aforementioned ramps, hangars and airplanes, I could pick out AA guns, barracks, roads, and evidence that a tremendous amount of labor and materials had gone into this huge complex.  But nothing that would precipitate an urgent trip to Las Vegas caught my eye.  I looked up at Joe, plaintively, my eyes conceding defeat: I give up — what’s so sensational down there?

Joe whipped out a photo-enhanced copy of the recon photo and proudly placed it in front of me, pointing to what obviously was an Operations building . Behind the building, in what was apparently several years’ growth of underbrush, was a silver airplane!  I was stunned!  Intense magnification and scrutiny showed the object to be a twin-engined land airplane, twin tail, 55-foot wingspan, and looking just like a Lockheed Electra would look like from an overhead camera shot.

This may have been the 1944 overhead photo of Taroa — not 1943 Emidj,  the Japanese naval seaplane base referenced by Prymak in his newsletter story — that so electrified Joe Gervais that he convinced Bill Prymak to take another trip to the Marshalls in search of the Holy Grail of Earhart Research:  the Earhart Electra.  I’ve seen no other that fits the description, though another could well exist in Gervais’ files, which I have not searched.  This photo can be found in Randall Brink’s 1993 book, Lost Star, which contains plenty of other dodgy material as well.  The plane in question was never found and could have been anything — anything except the Earhart Electra, which had been taken to Saipan, repaired, flown and later destroyed and buried under Aslito Field sometime in 1945, according to eyewitness Thomas E. Devine.  (Photo courtesy National Archives.)

“Bill,” Joe said softly, “What the hell is a civilian land based airplane doing on a Japanese Naval Seaplane Base in the middle of a war?”  I couldn’t even begin to answer, noting further on the photo that all the Jap military aircraft were clearly camouflage gray.  Our attention was riveted upon a silver-looking (READ-Aluminum) airplane that just didn’t seem to belong there.

Joe,I asked,when do we leave for Jaluit?

*****************************************************************

You pay for at least three phone calls to the Marshall Islands before you finally connect with someone who might help you connect to Jaluit.  And then the response to our request to visit Jaluit went something like:Hey, mon, what for you wanna visit Jaluit?  Nobody goes dere . . .  dere ain’t no airport, no hotel, no beaches, no white folk . . . are you guys plannin’ on runnin’ dope or sumtin?  Finally, at no little expense, our twin-engine plane was headed southeast out of Majuro (capital of the Marshall Islands) some 115 miles down the road.  It’s a big, big ocean out there.

Jaluit Atoll will never make the cover of ISLAND PARADISE MAGAZINE.  It’s a scrawny looking string of very thin islands stretching some 40 miles in length and 20 miles at its widest girth.  No beaches to speak of.  We asked our pilot to make a low pass over Emidj for some photos; when we mentally compared our 1943 photos with the view below, we knew our work was cut out for us, as the encroaching jungle over the aprons and hangars showed a solid blanket of green.

 

As we approached Jabor, capital of Jaluit Atoll, I sat right seat next to the pilot; I jokingly asked if Jabor had a control tower.  “We don’t even have an airstrip to land on,” complained the pilot, pointing to a narrow winding coral road.  He skillfully dumped it in, however, and we were unceremoniously off loaded in front of a rusting hulk of metal vaguely resembling a beat-up pickup truck

It had been previously arranged that the Mayor of Jabor (population some three hundred natives and thousands of chickens and pigs) would meet our flight and arrange food and lodging.  But the fellow in the truck, a most agreeable chap who spoke some English, and who also happened to be the official Postmaster, advised us the Mayor was on a remote island attending a funeral, and his time or date or return was, well, uncertain.”  Mr. Johnson, our newfound Postmaster friend, took us to the Post Office to wait for the Mayor.

And then the rains came . . .  in sheets like I’ve never seen before.  Joe was resigned to sleeping on the P.O. desk, while I deliberated the delightful prospect of sleeping on the floor amongst all those crawling inhabitants.  Suddenly Mr. Johnson remembered: school was on holiday, but one teacher remained, and might find us a bed in the teachers’ quarters.  Miss Kimberly, a delightful transplant from Arkansas, saved the day for us, and proved to be a most charming hostess for the duration of our stay on Jabor.

Bill Prymak with Jabor Mayor Robert Diem in front of the original Jaluit Post Office. (Photo courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Mayor Robert Diem was to be our guide and translator for the rest of our stay on Jaluit.  His warmth, friendship and eagerness to help will be long remembered.  First order of business on the first day was to get the BOOM-BOOM BOAT as they called it (didn’t Mill also have a BOOM-BOOM BOAT?) operational for the trip to Emidj, some eight miles up the lagoon.  With much noise, fire and smoke by mid-morning we chugged northward and arrived some two hours later.

EMIDJ.  What a great naval seaplane base this must have been.  Begun in 1935 with 8,000 Korean and Marshallese labor, the enormous seaplane ramps, except for the 500-pound bomb direct hits, are today in excellent condition.  The 30-foot-high bomb depository, with its 6-foot-thick walls and roof, stands as a testimony to the advanced engineering skills of the Japanese in that era.  The structure today is as sound and solid as the day it was built.

Along the shore lay strewn dozens of radial engines, props, bomb carrier dollies, and rusting hulks of the machines of war.  The big hangars were downed, devoured entirely by the creeping jungle.  By my calculation, at least a hundred thousand tons of concrete were hand mixed to build this base.

In his description of this photo, Bill Prymak wrote, “Remains of a direct hit from American bombers on the Emidj ramp.”

Approximately 90 natives live on the concrete apron in tin shacks, with absolutely no visible sign of meaningful employment; the trading boat comes once a month with basic staples in exchange for the copra harvested.  We were introduced to Joel, the school teacher who spoke fairly good English, and two native boys were assigned to us for initial reconnaissance work.  We had previously plotted out precisely where the “aircraft in question” should locate, and as we brought in our survey lines, ground ZERO was surrounded by a solid wall of green.  We were bitterly frustrated and disappointed at this turn of events, but “take heart!” we cried.  This is only the first day.

Our two guides told us nothing existed at our ground ZERO, but we hacked our way to four corners of the huge hangars and were shown piles of aluminum aircraft debris that has been obviously bulldozed into one great mass.  The jungle had flexed its muscles and embraced this mass of aluminum with a canopy that virtually defied penetration.  We did identify several Japanese aircraft, including one huge Emily Flying Boat, but found nothing made in USA.

(Editor’s note: For those wondering about the one-winged plane that brought Gervais and Prymak to Jaluit, no trace of it was ever found.)

Crawling out of the jungle was like stepping out of a blast furnace, and nothing in the world refreshes like a cool drink of nectar out of a coconut. Joel, our schoolmaster friend told us that in 1977 the U.S. Army came in with bulldozers to deactivate any live ordinance strewn about and resettle the natives on Emidj.  This was distressing news to us; it would take an army of men to cut through the jungle and mass of aluminum to affect a meaningful search for anything USA.  We thanked our gracious hosts for their help and promised to return the next day.  (End of Part I; witness interviews to come in Part II.)

 

Another gem from Bill Prymak’s AES Newsletters: “The Strange Story of Interview #23”

The late Bill Prymak’s abundant contributions to Earhart research, though ignored and unappreciated everywhere else in our know-nothing media, are gifts that keep on giving to readers of this blog and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last Bill, the founder and former president of the Amelia Earhart Society, who passed away in July 2014 at 86, was the central hub and repository of the writings, reports, analyses and speculations of a wide variety of Earhart researchers. 

This material’s accuracy, also quite variable, must be carefully sifted to separate the wheat from the chaff, and was compiled in his two-volume Assemblage of Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, covering Prymak’s AES Newsletters from December 1989 to March 2000. 

The following treasure appeared in the January 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and concerns a familiar face among the Saipan witnesses, Joaquina M. Cabrera, and a revealing interview she did with Joe Gervais, Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam chief of police; and Eddie Camacho, Guam chief of detectives, during their 1960 Guam interviews.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.) 

Bill Prymak with Bilimon Amaron, whose eyewitness account is widely considered to be the most important of the Marshall Islands witnesses, in the recreation room of his home in the Marshalls capital of Majuro, circa 1989.  As a Japanese hospital corpsman in 1937 Jaluit, Amaron’s shipboard treatment of an injured white man, surely Fred Noonan, accompanied by an American woman the crewmen called “Meel-ya,” is legendary among the Marshallese. (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

“THE STRANGE STORY OF INTERVIEW #23”

When Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas presented their manuscript of Amelia Earhart Lives [1970] to McGraw-Hill, it was bulging with some 650 pages of research work.  Much good material had to be trimmed to meet the publisher’s mandate not to exceed 275 pages in final form, and it has always bugged Gervais that one of his most profound witnesses had a crucial part of her testimony stricken from the book by the editors.  Major Gervais recreates that scene for us, the way it should have been presented in the book:

At Chalan Kanoa, a village on Saipan, the investigators located Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera, fifty-one, who during 1937 and 1938 had been employed as a servant in the [Kobayashi Royakan] hotel.

l used to have to take a list of the persons staying in the hotel to the island governor’s office each day, Mrs. Cabrera remembered.  One day when I was doing this I saw two Americans in the back of a three-wheeled vehicle.  Their hands were bound behind them, and they were blindfolded. One of them was an American woman.”

Gervais showed her a photo of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Are these the two you saw?

Undated photo of Earhart eyewitness Joaquina Cabrera.  She passed away in 2004 at age 92.

She squinted at the photograph.  “They look like the same people I saw, and they are dressed the same way.”

What happened to them?

“I only saw them once in the three-wheeled truck.  I don’t know what happened to them.”

The threesome, Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam Chief of Police; Eddie Camacho, Guam Chief of Detectives, and Capt. Gervais, were shocked when, after finishing the above interview, she suddenly came forward to Gervais and deliberately spat on the ground, in front of his feet.

Capt. Gervais regained his composure and asked Capt. Quintanilla

“Why is this woman so enraged at me?  I had never met her before?”

Unknown artist’s sketch of Joaquina Cabrera accompanying this story in the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters January 1997 edition.

Capt. Quintanilla, in a quiet voice, asked Mrs. Cabrera to explain her actions, and after a lengthy exchange of words in Chamorro, Quintanilla turned to Gervais with an ashen face and slowly, deliberately told him what Mrs. Cabrera had said:

“You Americans are two-faced people!  What are you doing here in 1960 investigating what happened to Amelia Earhart 23 years ago when all the time you Americans knew she was here and none of you lifted a finger to help her?

“What kind of people are you?” (End Strange Story of Interview #23)

Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit.  But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion that Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years, that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing. 

It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done.  The above incident is another example of important witness testimony that most will never see.

If you’d like to get reacquainted with all the sordid details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Earhart-as-Bolam myth, I did a four-part series on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, beginning with Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015.

Fred Goerner also interviewed Joaquina at length in 1962, and later wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart, “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness.”  See my April 17, 2018 post, Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness and pages 101-102 of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last for more on Goerner’s interview with Joaquina.

(Editor’s note:  “I was surprised to learn what Joaquina did after she was interviewed,” Marie Castro wrote from Saipan just after this post was published.  “But I can also understand Joaquina’s reaction to Gervais, it was out of frustration because of the way Amelia suffered as a detainee.  Joaquina noticed the bruises around Amelia’s arm and neck, so did Matilde.”)

(Editor’s note No. 2: In an Aug. 21 comment, Les Kinney wrote:  “I don’t believe Cabrera’s statement. It’s inconsistent with remarks made to other researchers and out of character for a Chamorro woman to speak in this manner.  Sadly, at times, Joe Gervais embellished and flat out lied to further his argument.  It’s a shame since some of his reporting was sound. Goerner’s account is probably more credible.  Don Kothera and the Cleveland group interviewed Cabrera twice – there is no mention of anything close to what Gervais reported.” 

After Marie Castro was told about Les’s comment, she responded with this in an Aug. 22 email:  I also believed with Les Kinney, spitting at a person is unheard of in our culture.  It  is highly unlikely that a Chamorro woman would ever do such a thing.  I was really surprised of that reaction on Joaquina.  I would rather skip that comment of Joe Gervais, it was a made up story.” 

As I wrote to Les, “Gervais, on balance, did far more harm than good for the truth in the Earhart disappearance. Bill Prymak obviously believed it, or he wouldn’t have included the story in his newsletters, but Bill was far too trusting of Gervais, and even kept the lid on the truth in the Bolam case to protect Gervais.”  I should have picked this up before posting the story, and expressed at least some skepticism about it, but it slipped my attention.  Now you have the rest of the story.)

 

Did Earhart switch planes during world flight?

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.”

Undated, rare photo of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E with painted cowlings. Note also “R” registration, meaning “Restricted,” without the “N” which denotes country of origin, in this case, the United States.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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.

Amelia with brand-new Electra, July 1936. Note “dark signature” in rear half of the left vertical rudder.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Lockheed Aircraft Company photo taken July 28, 1936.  Prymak’s comment: “P.R. photo before second flight.  Note bar in window, no DF (direction finder) loops, light colored logo and Prymak signature.  Further note solid cabin door.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Caripito, Venezuela, June 3, 1937.  Amelia wrote, “Rain clouds hung thick about Caripito as we left on the morning of June third.  We flew over jungles to the coast, and then played hide-and-seek with showers until I decided I had better forgo the scenery, such as it was, and climb up through the clouds into fair weather.  An altitude of 5,000 feet topped all but the highest woolly pinnacles. . . . Soon we saw the river Surinam, a silver streak meandering to the coast, a wide tidal stream full of floating green islands of small trees and water plants, and bordered with vast stretches of mud. Twelve miles from its mouth is Paramaribo, capital of Dutch Guiana, and twenty-five miles further inland the airport. . . . No makeshift airport this, but one of the best natural landing areas I have ever seen.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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.

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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

TheR 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 (Xdesignated 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.

Prymak’s comment: “Note the protruding top of the wing navigation) light, and the horizontal bar in the window, plus the dark logo.” (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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.

This photo of AE on same day as previous photo.  Note two-filler-hole
fuel fill system, but this seven-tank fuel system was removed shortly thereafter and only six tanks went back in, and the two-fill tube manifold system was dropped in favor of each tank having its own filler neck.  This resulted in the four (plus one blank ) filler-hole system, as seen on all photos taken thereafter right up to Lae, NG.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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 asignature 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 Electra taxis for take-off on Amelia’s all-fated round-the-world flight Miami, Florida, June 1, 1937.

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.

 

Prymak’s comment: “Quite a crowd at Assab, Eritrea, Africa, June 15.  Note window in door, dark logo and dark right rudder.”

Karachi, Pakistan, June 17. “Again, window in door, dark logo and the ‘Prymak’ dark lower fin,” Prymak wrote.  In her book, Last Flight, Amelia wrote, “In Karachi I was told that a non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India had not previously been made.  Certainly with or without stops it is no hackneyed route.  For me, who had never flown outside of North America (excepting a couple of oceans) this bit of far-away air adventuring was a deeply interesting experience.” 

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?

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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.

 

Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?

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 thatpossibly 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 expertsexpressed 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.

The seriously damaged Electra 10E after Amelia’s Luke Field, Hawaii “ground loop” on March 20, 1937.  Amelia and Fred can be seen standing next to the pilot’s side of plane.  The Electra was sent back to the Lockheed plant in Burbank for months of costly repairs, including bigger engines, according to Art Kennedy, who worked on the Electra during that time.

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.

Undated photo of Art Kennedy, back in his heyday.  According to Bill Prymak, who knew him well, Kennedy fabricated stories about what Amelia Earhart told him after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937.  These tales from Kennedy have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission.

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 thesafe zoneand 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?

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais traveled to the Marshall Islands to visit with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.  A year later, Prymak and Gervais journeyed to Art Kennedy’s home in Portugal to interview the controversial expert who personally worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E.

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, pilotI 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 thisShe 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.

High Times — Keeping ‘Em Flying, Art Kennedy’s 1992 autobiography with Jo Ann Ridley, is “a lively account of growing up in early West Coast aviation, working on famous aircraft with famous flyers; of practical jokes and competitive dirty tricks; and of significant innovative contributions to aircraft safety. . . . Aviation has given this old ramp rat one hell of a great life!”

AES:  But TIGHAR claims that the piece has an ink-stained stencil reading 24S-T3, in red ink, and that because it was hand-stampedat 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.

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, 1991.

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 saida 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?

Was this Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated flight route on July 2, 1937?  This map appeared in the September 1966 issue of True magazine, along with a lengthy preview of Fred Goerner’s soon-to-be-published The Search for Amelia Earhart.  Art Kennedy may have thought so, and to this day the true path of Earhart’s last flight eludes us, and remains the biggest mystery of the Earhart saga.

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 enginesCan 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.

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