With the recent publication of E.H. “Elmer” Dimity’s 1939 analysis of Amelia Earhart’s last flight, I’ve been gently reminded that, as an editor, I could have done a far better job of reviewing Dimity’s article. I’ve never been particularly drawn to the Itasca flight logs and have never claimed any expertise about them, as for me, they provide more confusion than clarity, but I can still proofread and compare times and statements attributed to them.
This I failed to do, in large part because I assumed that Bill Prymak, the editor of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, had done this already, before presenting Dimity’s work, or that Prymak would have made some kind of a disclaimer to accompany it. He did neither, and my own disclaimer following Part II, in light of Calvin Pitts’ stunning findings, should have been far more emphatic. I broke a journalism rule — never assume anything — that I’ve always done my best to obey, until now.
Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Calvin, best known for his 1981 world flight, when he and two co-pilots commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Wiley Post-Harold Gatty World Flight in 1931. The 1981 flight was sponsored in part by the Oklahoma Air & Space Museum to honor the Oklahoma aviator Post. Calvin has already graced us with his impressive five-part analysis of Amelia Earhart’s last flight. To review this extremely erudite work, please click here for Part I, from Aug. 18, 2018.
Our focus today is a striking example of a difficult exercise in attention to detail, and an object lesson in the old axiom, “Never assume anything.” We appreciate Calvin taking the time to set the record straight. With his learned disputation below, in addition to his previous contributions, Calvin has established himself as the reigning expert on the Itasca-Earhart flight logs, if not her entire final flight, at least in my opinion. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Calvin, who has many important things to tell us:
First, I want to thank Mike Campbell for his passion and dedication to The Amelia Story. SHE — and history — have had no better friend.
I also appreciate Mike’s ability to dig up “forgotten” history. As a lover of history’s great moments, I am always fascinated by the experiences of others. Also, as one who has made a 1981 RTW flight in a single-engine plane, passing over some of AE’s ’37 flight paths from — India – Singapore – Indonesia – Australia – New Guinea – Solomon Islands, Tarawa and within a few miles of Howland — I was drawn to this story, and to this blog’s record of it.
Recently, I was fascinated by the publishing of Dimity’s 1937-1939 insights into the details of AE’s flight. However, upon reading it, I spotted some errors. Ironically, I was at that very time re-studying the Itasca Logs as I re-lived some of the details and emotions of the most famous leg of any flight. I had the Itasca details in front of me as I read.
Because it is easy to unconsciously rewrite and revise the historical record, I felt an unwelcomed desire to share some errors which were in Dimity’s interesting account. I shared my thoughts privately with Mike, and he, in turn, asked me to make them public. I’ve had a long aviation career, and have no desire to add to it. At 85, I’m retired in a log house on a small river with more nature-sights than anyone could deserve. I’ve no yearning for controversy. But Mike asked, so here are some observations. If you spot errors in my response, please make them known. Only one set of words are sacred, but these at hand do not qualify.
Calvin Pitts’ analysis of:
“Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart” (First of two parts)
by E.H. “Elmer” Dimity, August 1939
(Editor’s note: To make it easier to understand and track the narrative, Dimity’s words will be in red, Calvin Pitts’ in black, with boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
At 3:15 [a.m.] in the morning after her takeoff Miss Earhart broadcast “cloudy weather,” and again, an hour later, she told the Itasca that it was “overcast,” and asked the cutter to signal her on the hour and half hour.
I am sitting here reading Dimity’s Part II of the “Grounds for Earhart’s Search” with a copy of the Itasca LOGS on the screen in front of me. My challenges to Dimity’s reproduction of the Itasca Earhart flight logs are based, not upon prejudice, but upon the actual records compiled and copied from those 1937 Logs.
At 3:15 a.m. Howland time, times recorded by the crew of the Itasca, there is no such record of “cloudy weather.”
From position 2/Page 2: At 3:15 am, Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts records: “3:15-3:18, Nothing heard from Earhart.”
Position 1/Page 1: At 3:14 am, Thomas J. O’Hare, Radioman 3rd class records: “Tuned to 3105 for Earhart,” with no additional comment. Seven minutes later at 3:21 am, he records: “Earhart not heard.”
Position 2/Page 2: However, at 3:45 a.m., not 4:15 a.m., Bellarts records: “Earhart heard on the phone: WILL LISTEN ON THE HOUR AND HALF ON 3105.”
Position 1/Page 1: At the same time, 3:45 a.m., O’Hare records: “Heard Earhart plane on 3105.” That was it. No reference to “overcast,” and no request for a signal.
However, in his book, Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday (2003), Laurance Safford copies Bellarts’ statement, except that he adds the word “Overcast.” The word “overcast” is not in the Itasca log at that time.
Position 2/page 2: According to the log’s record, it was not until 4:53 a.m., more than 1.5 hours later, that the phrase “PARTLY CLOUDY” appears.
Earlier, at 2:45 a.m., Safford quotes a statement by author Don Dwiggins about 30 years later: “Heard Earhart plane on 3105, but unreadable through static . . . however, Bellarts caught “Cloudy and Overcast.”
Yet, Bellarts, who was guarding Position 2/Page 2 made no such statement on his report. The statement, “unreadable through static” was recorded by Bellarts at 2:45, but that was it.
Bellarts was also the one who recorded, an hour later at 3:45: “Will listen on the hour and the half on 3105.” These issues are very minor to most readers. But to those at the time, where minutes count for survival, the devil was in the details.
Also, there is the historical and professional matter of credibility. If one is not accurate, within reasonable expectations, of quoting their sources correctly, then the loss of credibility results in the loss of confidence by their readers.
More than an hour later, at 4:42 a.m., the Earhart plane indicated for the first time that it might be off course, and made its first futile plea for aid in learning its position. The plane asked, “Want beatings (sic) on 3105 KC on the hour. Will whistle into the microphone.”
At 4:42 a.m., which is a very precise time, there is nothing recorded at any station. But we can bracket an answer. Bellarts records the following at 4:30 a.m.: “Broadcast weather by Morse code.” His next entry, at 4:42 a.m., is an empty line.
At 4:53 a.m., Bellarts states, “Heard Earhart [say] ‘Partly Cloudy.‘ ”
Also, Position 1/Page 2 of this record states: “4:40 a.m. – Do you hear Earhart on 3105? . . . Yes, but can’t make her out.” Five minutes later at 4:45 a.m. (with no 4:42 notation at this position): “Tuned to Earhart, Hearing nothing.” There is no recorded statement here from her about being off-course or whistling.
Half an hour passed (5:12 a.m.), and Miss Earhart again said, “Please take a beating on us and report in half hour will make noise into the microphone. About 100 miles out.” Miss Earhart apparently thought she was 100 miles from Howland Island.
5:12 a.m.? At neither position is there a posting at 5:12. At 5:15, one says, “Earhart not heard.” And the other, at 5:13 says, “Tuned to 3105 for Earhart signals. Nothing yet.”
The above “about 100 miles out” message was sent at 6:45 am, about 1.5 hours later.
The Itasca could not give her any bearing, because its direction finder could not work on her wavelength. An hour later, at 7:42 a.m., Miss Earhart said, “We must be on you but cannot see you. Gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”
Strangely, even amazingly, sandwiched between numerous bogus times, 7:42 am IS correct.
This was a little more than 15 hours after the takeoff.
Would you believe that, more than 19 hours after takeoff, this call was made? Here, there are four unaccounted-for hours in Dimity’s record-keeping.
The ship carried 1,150 gallons (sic) of gas, enough for about 17 hours in the air under normal conditions.*
Would you believe “more than 24 hours” of flight time, a seven-plus hour discrepancy?
* AES calculates 24-25 hours. — (Whoever AES is, this is more realistic and accurate. Editor’s note: AES is The Amelia Earhart Society, almost certainly Bill Prymak’s estimate.)
Perhaps the plane had encountered heavier weather earlier, or in just bucking the headbands had used more gas than anticipated. At any rate, Miss Earhart must have flown about 1,300 miles from the point of her first known position, when she first said her gas was running low.
An interesting question: When was her first known position? And measured by what evidence? 1,300 statute miles from the transmission at 7:42 a.m./1912 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT and z, for Zulu, are the same) would put her about halfway between Nukumanu Atoll and Nauru. If Nukumanu was her first or last known position at 5:18 p.m. Lae/0718 GMT/ 7:48 p.m. (Howland, the previous day), then that is roughly 1,600 statute miles, not 1,300.
This distance, with perfect navigation, should have taken her to Howland Island, and that without doubt is the reason she said, “We must be on you.” If the plane had hit its mark, why could she not see the island or the Itasca (Having such a flight under my belt, I could offer several reasons) with a clear sky and unlimited visibility? Even a smoke screen laid down by the cutter to help guide her evidently escaped her view. It is impossible that she was where she thought she was — near Howland.
Although Miss Earhart reported at 11:13 a.m. that she had fuel left for another half hour in the air, the contact was poor and no landfall position was heard.
At 11:13 a.m., the Navy ships and Itasca had been searching the ocean for some two hours or more. The “last known” message from Earhart was at 8:43 a.m./2013z when she said, “We are on the line 157/337.” The message “fuel for another half hour” was made at 7:40 a.m./1910z, some 3.5 hours before Dimity’s “11:13 a.m.” time.
This particular time discrepancy possibly could be corrected by adjusting it to a new time zone in Hawaii, but that would destroy the other record-keeping. At no place in this Itasca log saga were they talking in terms of U.S.A. times. The Itasca crews were recording Howland local time. If someone has proof otherwise, it should be provided, and it will alter the story.
Fifteen minutes later (11:28 a.m.) she said, “We are circling, but cannot see island. Cannot hear you,” and asked for aid in getting her bearings. This plea she repeated five minutes later (11:33 a.m.).
This “circling” reference was made at 7:58 a.m., some 3.5 hours earlier. However, something which is often missed is the fact that the word “CIRCLING” is in doubt even within the footnotes of this log itself. It is listed as “an unknown item.” It was a word they did not hear clearly. It could have been, “We are listening.” No one knows.
It will be recalled that at 11:12 a.m., Miss Earhart said she had only a half-hour’s fuel left, but an hour later, at 12:13 p.m., she called the Itasca to report, “We are in line of position 157 dash 337. Will repeat this message on 6210 KC. We are running north and south.”
This “line 157/337” radio call, NOT a “line of position” call, was made, as already stated, at “8:43 a.m./2013z” and NOT at “12:13.” Somehow Dimity has a discrepancy here of some 3.5 hours from the Itasca logs.
The “157/337 line of position” is not only NOT what she said, but it is inaccurate for any researcher who understands basic navigation. The LOP of 157/337 existed only as long as the sun’s azimuth remained 67 degrees.
As the sun rose above the horizon, its azimuth changed 1+02 hours after sunrise (6:15 a.m. Howland time on July 2, 1937.) That meant that at 7:17 am, there was no longer a 67 degree azimuth by which to determine a “157/337” line of position (LOP). It simply no longer existed. It lasted only an hour-plus. After that, she could only fly a heading of 157 or 337 degrees.
(Editor’s Note: As a non-aviation type, I’m lost when Calvin starts using terms such as azimuth. For others like myself and for what it’s worth, Wikipedia (image above) defines azimuth as an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system. The vector from an observer (origin) to a point of interest is projected perpendicularly onto a reference plane; the angle between the projected vector and a reference vector on the reference plane is called the azimuth. Calvin will provide clarity in Part II.
(End Part I)
Today we present the Conclusion of 1981 World Flight pilot Capt. Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.”
When we left Part IV, Calvin speculated that Amelia, finding the Electra in the anomalous Area 13, had decided to head toward the Marshall Islands rather than risk a landing at Howland. At 8:43 a.m. Howland time, Amelia told the Itasca, “We’re on the line 157-337 . . . Will repeat this message.” Turning to Fred Noonan, she might have said, “Give me a heading, and there’s no time to discuss it. If we land here, I probably won’t be able to get airborne again. Heading, please.”
Conclusion of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.”
By Calvin Pitts
In analyzing Amelia Earhart’s final flight, we can definitively say we don’t know the answers to several key questions. But by comparison with the conclusions of others, I believe we can say we that WE DO KNOW:
(1) The Electra did not go down at sea.
(2) They did not go to the uninhabited Phoenix Islands such as Baker, Gardner (Nikumaroro), Canton, McKean, etc., where they would have been completely cut off from other human beings who could have helped them.
(3) The Gilberts had thousands of friendly people who could have helped, although the Electra probably would have been sacrificed in that case, since there were no runways, with this option supporting the logic of No. 2 above.
(4) They did not turn back to the Gilberts, deciding not to follow the contingency plan so carefully laid out with Gene Vidal, a matter written about often.
(5) They did not land at Howland.
(6) The Electra was never seen by personnel on the Itasca or on Howland.
(7) The Electra never made an approach to Howland’s runway.
(8) There must have been a reason the all-important trailing antenna was removed.
(9) Fred Noonan had a 2nd class radio license, which required knowledge of Morse code, a knowledge he demonstrated with Alan Vagg between Australia and Lae.
(10) There must have been a reason Amelia was so casual with her radio calls.
(11) Noonan was not drunk the night before the final takeoff from Lae.
(12) Amelia was radio-savvy at first, maintaining two-way conversations with Harry Balfour at Lae until her position report at 0718z / 5:18 p.m. local time over Nukumanu Atoll.
(13) Amelia had no two-way conversations with the Ontario nor the Itasca at Howland.
(14) Although Amelia requested only voice-talk, Itasca’s radioman William Galten keyed 50 Morse code transmissions by himself, plus those sent by other Itasca radioman, indicating that they had not been so informed.
(15) Neither Nauru nor Tarawa Radio, important mid-range stations, had been informed.
(16) The mid-range ocean station, the Ontario, had not been properly informed.
(17) With government involvement in everything else, the key radio players, both Navy and ground, were ill-informed on the very last half of the Howland leg.
(18) The Howland runway log, which was hidden for years, now reveals that the men who constructed the runways did not consider the longest 4,000-foot, north-south runway to be safe due to soft-spots, massive numbers of birds and daily crosswinds of 20 mph.
(19) By the same token, the east-west runway for wind was only 2,400-feet long, too short. The width of the entire island was only one-half mile, with sloping beaches.
(20) With 30 days of pressure, problems and decisions, the Electra crew was exhausted with extreme fatigue by the time they took on their most dangerous assignment.
(21) The Electra came back to earth near Barre Island on Mili Atoll.
(22) The Electra pair were taken by the Japanese to their Marshalls headquarters at Jaluit.
(23) Amelia and Fred were flown to Saipan, where they were imprisoned.
(24) While under Japanese imprisonment, the Electra crew lost their lives.
(25) Via Tokyo, the Japanese lied to the U.S. government throughout the early days of the search about the movements of the Kamoi and the results of their search.
(26) In 1937, the Unites States, having broken the naval and diplomatic codes of Japan, could listen to radio conversations between Japanese naval vessels in the Pacific, and Saipan, the Marshalls and Tokyo.
(27) Three of the most senior U.S. military leaders of World War II in the South Pacific, Gen. Alexander A. Vandergrift, Gen. Graves Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, independently knew about the presence of the Electra and the fliers on Saipan, and each informed Fred Goerner or his close professional associates of their knowledge.
(28) By extension and by all available evidence and common-sense deduction, the top U.S. political leader — President Franklin D. Roosevelt — also knew that the Japanese had custody of the fliers at a very early date.
(29) Some evidence suggests that documents revealing the facts in the disappearance of Amelia and Fred are filed in a “World War II” file, even though the disappearance occurred four years BEFORE the war.
(30) To this day, the Earhart documents are labeled “Top Secret” (although the U.S. government denies any such files remain classified, or that they even exist) for a civilian who just wanted to finish off her career with a world flight “just for the fun of it.” What is this overkill attempting to hide, and if there’s “nothing to hide,” then why do the establishment and its media toadies continue their blanket denials of a truth that’s hiding in plain sight?
If these 30 factual bits of evidence, and much more, are not sobering enough, there are more, under the heading of “Human Factors,” keeping in mind that this list, while exhausting, is not exhaustive.
WE ALSO KNOW:
Other things that we likely know include:
(1) Amelia’s primary and foundational motivation was her own self-interest in adding to the aviation record she had worked so hard to establish. She loved daring and adventure, and other things about a world flight that fit her dreams and desires included:
(a) her intense personal interests.
(b) her desire for an adventure not yet experienced. She had done what Lindbergh did, in her 1932 Atlantic solo flight, showing that a woman can do what a man can do, something extremely important to her. But she had never done what her close friend, Wiley Post, had done twice. One of Amelia’s passions was to demonstrate to the next generation of girls that the world is open to them, but they must reach for it. Don’t downplay the power of this motivation. She wanted to be a role model while adding to her records. She wanted both fame and immortality, to be an example as a leader of women for generations of girls to follow.
(c) by labeling her plane “A Flying Lab,” she added a scientific motif, like Wiley Post, for her activities. If, in the course of her flying, she could test things like a new direction finder etc., that would add credibility and justification for all the money she and others were investing in the world flight.
(d) Amelia’s big heart, especially toward girls just starting out, that always reached out to see how she could help, first as a social worker, a nurse, as a teacher and finally as a role-model. She never stopped promoting her own interests, but not at the expense of failing to help girls who wanted to follow her example. For the 1930s, she was a great role model, not as a fake, pretend movie star, but as a truly outstanding performer in her own real adventures.
(2) Amelia had had many setbacks in her aviation career. She crashed a plane while in the process of taking flying lessons. She had more than one engine fire. Although she did well, she did not win the Powder Puff Derby. Third place is never good enough for a first-class person. She had more than one crack-up. But with determination, she not only survived, she prevailed, proving that determined women are equal to men.
In spite of setbacks, she had great confidence. As a professional pilot and former instructor, I often spotted a potentially dangerous quality in student-pilots, not confidence, but overconfidence, confidence that exceeded their ability at the time. With wrong circumstances, it is a dangerous quality. Respecting one’s own self-acknowledged limitations is the heart of safety.
(3) Amelia’s radio behavior on the world flight was uncharacteristically strange. Who can understand or explain it? It bordered on unprofessional, unless there was a bigger player and a bigger reason that influenced the entire operation. In preparation for Flight No. 2 in Oakland and Miami, several of the Pan Am workers revealed some not-so-pretty things about Amelia’s rudeness and temper. Pan Am’s offer for radio support and flight following was uncharacteristically refused, at no cost to her — why? That borders on irrational, unless something else was afoot.
In my opinion, a woman, fighting a man’s world, finds it more difficult than does a man. I can spot several things in Amelia’s world flight that illustrate over-confidence and negligence in accepting one’s own limitations. That was a demon flying with her that she did not need. Her interactions with Paul Mantz are a great illustration of this. He saw several things that he didn’t think were good, and tried to change them, but she found it hard to listen.
Next, we must ask, WHAT DO WE NOT KNOW?
From what we do know, we evaluate the things we do not know. Because of the unselfish work of others, we are satisfied that we know the essence of what did happen. From the words of the three flag officers, they tell us that the Electra and its crew were on Saipan.
For us, the end of the story is solid. For reasonable people, this answers the central essence of the WHAT of the story. But the WHY remains unanswered.
Were the Marshalls the ORIGINAL destination of the fliers?
That strictly depends on the meaning of the word ORIGINAL. If you identify the origin as that point just following 2013z / 8:43 a.m., where we came to see “Intent,” then YES. From that point, Amelia intended to fly to the Marshalls.
If, however, you mean something else, then several scenarios arise.
(1). Original destination No. 1? Did Amelia intend to go to the Marshalls when she began Flight No. 1 going west toward Hawaii? No. That’s too much of a stretch.
(2). Original destination No. 2? Was that her intent when she left on Flight No. 2, flying the opposite direction? Here it gets complicated. Did those military men who had a private meeting with her while the Electra was being repaired, suggest a plan that included the Marshalls? I don’t think we will ever know how much the government spoiled Amelia’s innocent preparations with secret plans. Whatever they injected was poison from the beginning, no matter if it was as benign, as is one of my scenarios.
What “military men,” one asks?
“They would now fly from west to east instead of east to west. The reason given was because the prevailing winds would be more favorable, but Margot DeCarie, Earhart’s secretary would later declare that her boss had long secret meetings with military authorities [Bernard Baruch, a close adviser to FDR, and Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, chief of the Army Air Corps] during the rebuilding period [at March Field, in Riverside County, Calif.].” (Paul Rafford Jr., Amelia Earhart’s Radio. p. 27.)
In 1966, DeCarie told the San Fernando Valley Times that she believed these meetings concerned plans for a secret mission “to get lost on the theory that the Japanese would allow a peace mission to search for her. Then the United States could see if the Japanese were fortifying the (Marshall) Islands in violation of mutual agreements.” (Col. Rollin C. Reineck, Amelia Earhart Survived, p. 26.)
(3). Original destination No. 3? Did the U.S. government suggest something in Miami while the Electra was being fitted with new radios and having their lifeline, the trailing antenna, removed? Some very suspicious things happened there, giving rise to some strange actions and reactions on Amelia’s part.
Currently, with the limited knowledge we have, my “original destination” begins in what I call Area 13 during the time shortly after 2013z / 8:43 a.m. Howland time.
But I can also suggest several scenarios which could easily push that “origin” back much further than Area 13, 2013z / 8:43 am. (Five are listed at the end of this posting.)
And if that were case, you need to explain precisely why they would want to head for Jaluit as an original destination, and not Howland. For me, Jaluit as an “original destination” began at about 2013z / 8:43 am on July 2, 1937, unless the government involvement started in Oakland or Miami. That is possible, but if that happened, then the Marshalls may have been a “faint,” or a ruse.
The military involvement versus the lesser government insertion, is a stretch, but believable with the information we have. At this point, Amelia appears to still be a “peace-loving,” war-hating citizen like Lindbergh and his Isolationists. Whatever sinister part she was contemplating still seems, at this point, to be somewhat innocent, as “My Earhart Scenario” lays out. It is still difficult to see her as a “heavy hitter” connected with a military plot, although the later condemning words of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. seem very convincing.
“The obvious answer would be to see what the Japs were doing,” Mike Campbell wrote in a recent email, “but why would anyone think that the Japs would stand by for this and allow the U.S. Navy to search for them and pick them up once found? This would have been an idiot’s game plan, and I just don’t buy it.”
Neither do I. Not only would the Japs not stand for it, neither would U.S. military leaders at that point in the pending conflict. Amelia had no training in aerial reconnaissance. The military could not have been that short-sighted. Nor had Amelia received any training whatsoever in “spying.” That is the hardest designation for me to accept. I think it was much more benign and innocent than that, which is the theme of “My Earhart Scenario.”
“Other possible scenarios involve approaching Mili from the west and north on the way to Howland,” Campbell added, “after overflying Truk to get snapshots of the Japs’ work there. They could have run out of fuel on the way to Howland and been forced down at Mili.”
This seems much too sinister for the Amelia of 1936, as well as 1937. A “little favor,” perhaps, but not Truk or Jaluit reconnaissance. Yet, we keep hearing the theme of Morgenthau and FDR saying, in effect, If the public knew, it would be so bad that it would totally ruin Amelia’s reputation.
Morgenthau’s actual words in the transcribed phone conversation were: “It’s just going to smear the whole reputation of Amelia Earhart . . . If we ever release the report of the Itasca on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she’s got is gone . . . I know what the Navy did, I know what the Itasca did, and I know how Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders, and if we ever release this thing, goodbye Amelia Earhart’s reputation.”
I also tend to the belief that it’s most probable that the decision was made to head for Jaluit at some point, but am not at all certain about this. Other possibilities do exist, that’s why the how and the why of their Mili landing is the true mystery in the Amelia story.
Japanese headquarters, Jaluit, Marshall Islands, was probably their intended destination because of its strong radio signals. Capt. Almon Gray of Pan Am, who flew with Noonan, said: “Fred often listened to Jaluit on his Pan Am flights, taking bearings on them.” This general territory was not new to Pan Am navigators.
However, Mili probably came into the picture unexpectedly. After more than 24 hours of flying, when Amelia saw Mili Atoll en route to Jaluit 150 miles away, she had to know she was down to mere drops in the fuel tanks. One engine may have started sputtering, signaling imminent fuel exhaustion. Both engines would seldom run out of fuel at the exact same time. Hence, it’s “make a controlled landing now, or a gliding landing into the water later with only minimum control.” This would account for landing at Mili, short of Jaluit.
Regarding the matter of “decision,” after studying on Google Earth the difference in an “intended” heading for the mid-Gilberts, bringing them accidentally to the Marshalls, is pure fantasy to me. You cannot move me from my belief that, for whatever reason, there was absolute INTENT in picking up a heading for the Marshalls. The strong Japanese radio signal fits into that scenario, whether that decision was the government’s or not. Those were signals Noonan knew well from his Pan Am days. There was the intention of going there. They did not accidentally wake up and say, “Oh, how did we get to the Marshalls Islands?”
Once I was convinced that Amelia intended to go to the Marshalls, the next question was: To what destination? Jaluit was the most logical, since it was the source of the radio signals, plural, because there were 11 reported radio stations there. Jaluit, in my opinion, was where Amelia thought she could get fuel and help.
As for Mili being the spot where they actually landed/crashed, that was probably a glitch in the plan. The Mili landing was forced on them, as I view it, due to fuel starvation. Ironically, during the period of the world flights, few of Amelia’s expectations seemed to play out precisely as she intended, including Honolulu, Oakland, Miami, Africa, Australia, Lae, Nukumanu, Howland and now Jaluit.
In fact, the original change in direction from Flight No. 1 was probably not her idea in the beginning, but was the result of the “military men” who met with her at March Field.
In Amelia Earhart’s Radio (p. 25), Paul Rafford Jr. wrote that Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, “heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard. Mark Walker was a Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: ‘This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.’”
For what it’s worth, from one who has lived this story for countless hours, we take it as being worth a lot. Where we part company with the “spy theorists” is the degree of cooperation. It seems much more innocent and benign than a spy novel. She was asked, in one researcher’s opinion, to do a small favor “since you’re going to be there anyway.”
Probably, it was not that she wanted the government involved in her plan, other than helping with details such as clearances, landing sites, fuel, radio help, etc. It seems the government might have hijacked her personal adventure by offering help-with-a-price tag.
As I’ve said many times, the more I learn, the less I know. But what did Adm. Chester W. Nimitz mean when he told Fred Goerner through Cmdr. John Pillsbury, “You are on to something that will stagger your imagination”? I confess, this is strange language, and its meaning remains obscure. We simply do not know!
As for Goerner’s original theory of an Earhart overflight of Truk Island on July 2, as much as we deeply respect all the time and work he put into to this, and the doors he opened for everyone after him, it cheapens his otherwise stellar work by taking this seriously. Overfly Truk Island? This leaves me outside on the fringes, saying, “I just can’t believe it.”
Not for a moment should we sell Amelia short. She did what most men could never do, or at least have never done, nor even tried. It took determination, stamina, passion, foresight, commitment, confidence and character. She was the best — flawed, yes, (join the human race), but the best.
And she gave it her best. For that, she is to be applauded and respected for bringing to the surface of reality the achievements of a woman who will always be remembered as a record-holder, a role model and a regal angel who was at home in the air, leaving footprints in the sky.
Amelia, even with those things we don’t know nor understand, we salute you!
Afterword: As mentioned in these postings, there were several unsolicited government intrusions into the innocuous personal plans for a final adventure by a civilian, resulting in the following threads and snippets:
(a) “This was not my idea; someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
(b) Military men met with her privately, removing George Putnam, Amelia’s husband, and Margot DeCarie, her personal secretary, from the room.
(c) Amelia’s strange flight behavior suggested pre-determined decisions.
(d) Her close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, with personal interest and involvement by FDR in helping with funding and providing permission for the State Department to help with planning fuel stops. “Do what we can, and contact . . .” was written by his hand on Amelia’s Nov. 10, 1936 personal letter to him.
This raises the prospect of some differing but believable scenarios including:
(1). an original intent to land, unable to find Howland, rejecting the Gilberts contingency plan, followed by the personal decision to proceed to the Marshalls for fuel;
(2). an original intent to land, but then a last-minute decision to change, based upon comparisons with the takeoff from which raised the specter of the limitations for a safe takeoff from Howland, with a pre-planned decision to proceed to the Marshalls;
(3). original instructions not to land at Howland with a “faint” attempt to create a ruse, followed by instructions to proceed to the Marshalls;
(4). original instructions to actually land at Howland, then a “pretend” emergency after takeoff, followed by instructions to proceed to the Marshalls;
(5). or “disappear over the Gilberts” by landing on a beach, a “small favor” of staying hidden for two weeks to allow the Navy to search the waters without suspicion while actually obtaining maritime information and updated coordinates for islands, including sightings and soundings and military reconnaissance, to be useful for planes and ships if war breaks out, then “find and rescue” the Electra crew, saving their lives for future purposes.
(6) OR . . . That’s the subject of “MY EARHART SCENARIO.”
THIS IS AN ADVENTURE WHICH WILL NOT DIE UNTIL WE KNOW THE TRUTH. And sometimes, the truth surprises us by its mere simplicity. But then again, who knows?
(End of Capt. Calvin Pitt’s “Amelia Earhart’s Disappearing Footsteps in the Sky.”)
I extend my heartfelt thanks to Capt. Calvin Pitts for his superb analysis of Amelia Earhart’s final flight. In what is clearly a labor of love, Calvin has devoted countless hours to produce this exceptional commentary, and it will take its place among other leading Earhart researchers’ work, to be read often by those who sincerely seek the truth. I’m also confident we will be hearing more from him, as his multiple references to his yet-to-be-published “My Earhart Scenario” suggest.
Today we rejoin Calvin Pitts for Part IV of his fascinating and instructive analysis of the final flight of Amelia Earhart.
As Part III ended, Amelia had made her decision to turn northwest, not to the Gilberts but to the Marshall Islands, “and Japanese soldiers who may or may not be impressed with the most famous female aviator in the world,” Calvin wrote. “When she crossed into enemy territory, she apparently lost her charm with the war lords, and eventually her life.” We continue with Part IV of Calvin’s analysis.
Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY, Part IV
By Capt. Calvin Pitts
When we arrived at Area 13, unbeknownst to the casual observer, the entire narrative changed. Something different, something major happened.
The Itasca crew didn’t know. In their confusion, according to their log, they kept calling and trying to make contact for two hours. The radioman calling from Nauru didn’t know. Balfour from Lae didn’t know. Tarawa radio didn’t know. Husband George didn’t know. Hawaii radio didn’t know. But somebody from somewhere must have known. Who was it?
First, before we ask questions, we need to look at THE END in order to establish the ending of the so-called “disappearance.” It has been a mystery to those on the outside, but not to those who studied and embraced the evidence. Nor was it a mystery to Franklin D. Roosevelt– especially the president..
This, knowing THE END, and only this will enable us to make sense of what was happening during those early moments in Area 13: 2030z, 2100z, 2200z, 2300z, 2400z, or the local morning hours of 9 a.m., 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, noon and thereafter.
THE END produces, first, three stone pillars: Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Gen. Graves Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. What do such preeminent World War II men of honor have to do with this story, and what do they know that is so critical for what we will learn in the process? Three quotes will answer for us:
Gen. Vandergrift: “Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.” (TAL, p.257) Gen. Erskine: “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.” (TAL p.260)
Admiral Nimitz to Fred Goerner: “Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese [and taken to Saipan].” (TAL p. 132). “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination.” (Nimitz to Fred Goerner through Navy Cmdr. John Pillsbury) (TAL p. 178).
Those were Men who had honor, who would not lie;
Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries
They were tall men, sun-crowned, who lived above the fog in public duty, and
in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds, their large professions
and their little deeds, mingled in selfish strife,
LO! Freedom wept, Wrong ruled the land, and waiting Justice slept.
GOD, give us more Men like these where the times demand
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands;
Men whom the lust for office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will; Men who have honor … who will not lie.
— Josiah Gilbert Holland (modified)
They did not lie. These were three men, three impeccable sources, three individual answers, none of which were given in the presence of the other, at different times, with the same conclusion: Amelia had been on Saipan.
Earhart and Noonan were not in the Phoenix Islands; they did not die at sea. Noonan, the best navigator in the world, who had flown the Pacific often with Pan Am, was not lost. Earhart, prepared to execute the contingency plan so carefully worked out with Gene Vidal, did not turn back to the Gilbert Islands. Earhart and Noonan were taken to Saipan.
“You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves,” Gen. Graves Earskin said. And professional, competent people have been doing just that for 80 years.
What’s the staggering news here? One part is this: We know THE END of the story. Following the silence after Area 13, we have about a five-hour window or less of flying and survival time. Something unusual happened back in the states while the Electra was being repaired, the truth of which was being played out during those final hours after Amelia’s last official transmission at 2013z.
We know essentially the area in which they were last known to be alive in the Electra. Later, after the war, and the incredible leadership of three of our top warriors, we know where the doomed pair ended up. Therefore, if we want to unlock this so-called mystery, we need know not only where they were, but why and how they got there.
Here’s the point of establishing THE END. We have three pillar posts of evidence that cannot be doubted. They are anchors to which the end of this story is tied. But there are those who say this was only a temporary end, that a China scenario followed. Since there are so few researchers who accept this, we will leave that “conclusion” for another time. For now, we tie the end of the chain of this story to the Saipan anchor.
From Saipan, we can backtrack 1,700 miles to the Marshall Islands, thanks to several incredible and determined writers and investigators, among them Fred Goerner, Vincent Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Bill Prymak and others.
The eyewitnesses they found and interviewed are convincing. The Electra was seen on Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands. The crew and the plane were taken to the Japanese military headquarters on Jaluit Atoll. From there, all the evidence we have tells us they were taken by plane to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan by the Japanese. They were on Saipan, as the three flag officers told Goerner.
To that, we can add that Bill Prymak was one who could see the obvious when others missed it. Later, we want to visit the content of OVERLOOKING the OBVIOUS. Prymak observed the following: An eyewitness in the Marshalls described a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.
Yet, over 1,700 miles away on Saipan, in 1937 when travel between the two cultures was limited to small boats, Saipan natives described, during the same time-period, a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.
Does something not strike us as unusual? From two different cultures, with 1,700 miles of water between them, in only a very short time, native eyewitnesses in the Marshalls and in Saipan are telling the same story. How was that possible, unless they were both telling the truth?
Did they make up an identical tale without knowing what the other was saying? Two cultures, many miles apart, in a short time, were describing the same people to interviewers. Was this a coincidence? Obviously, not likely.
Where does this evidence leave us? With the Generals, we have three cornerstones, three reliable pillars, impeccable witnesses, impressive leaders, unassailable warriors separately telling the same truth. They spoke what they knew, although they did not want to embarrass the government they served, hence were restrained with their words.
What little they said was enough to establish the truth — Earhart had been on Saipan.
That buries the “sink and drown” [crashed and sank] theory. It also buries the Nikumaroro castaways “hypothesis,” the fake media’s favorite mother load of deception, embraced by the establishment’s Smithsonian, National Geographic and media outlets everywhere. Without them, the truth would have gained traction much earlier, but it’s the establishment world in which we are forced to live, which makes finding truth in the swamp infinitely more difficult.
Added to those three stellar voices who had no skin in the game were two separate cultures miles apart but saying the same thing — the American lady with short hair and the white man with a white head-bandage had been in the Marshalls and on Saipan at about the same time.
A cornerstone and a foundation, eyewitnesses giving interviewers the same story, which is the evidence upon which this truth is built. Even scripture says: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” We didn’t see it, but those who saw the evidence — Vandergrift, Erskine, Nimitz, Marshallese eyewitnesses, Saipanese eyewitnesses — gave us the truth to believe, accept and investigate even further.
I. With a tedious analysis of the records, times, speeds, radio calls and Itasca logs, we tracked the lady and the man to “Area 13” at 2013z. This is Data Point No. 1.
II. Data Point No. 2. Switch to the other side, 1,000 and 2,000 miles away. Three cultures converge, the Marshalls, Saipan and the Americans, where the eyewitnesses and the greatest military leaders provide the END for the same story.
III. The Gap. We are then left with a four- to five-hour gap that we must bring together if we wish to change supposition into knowledge, or mystery into history.
The factual and documented information on both sides of the Gap tells us WHAT. But we still wrestle with the WHY behind the WHAT. How do we answer the obvious things which have so often been overlooked?
How? By refusing to overlook them any longer.
During the four- to five-hour gap while we search, an amazing thing happens: an awakening. Consider two data points of that evidence:
(1) The Electra is flying an imaginary “157-337 degree (sun) line,” now merely a heading, at 2013z / 8:43 a.m. “looking” (?) for the Itasca. At about four hours remaining, they hit “Bingo” fuel. It’s time to go into action with the contingency plan: “If and when you come to your contingency fuel, turn back to the Gilbert Islands toward friendly people. Land on a good beach, and they’ll find you. Tarawa has a radio. We’ll find a way to get to you.”
Were those their words? No, but it was their plan that Vidal had designed. Even Noonan’s sister had said: “Remember to turn back if you can’t find Howland.”
A 160 mph true air speed, plus a 15 or more mph tailwind for four hours would get them to the Gilberts. But with what heading? “Heading, Fred. What heading?”
From a 2013z position of about 150 to 200 miles northwest of Howland, they needed a heading of about 260 degrees or less to hit the midpoint of the 500-mile north-south string of the Gilbert Islands.
However, based upon the END of the story, where they actually ended up, they needed a heading of some 290 degrees or more. That would get them to where the evidence said they were, the Marshall Islands, with a free trip to Saipan, courtesy of the Japanese.
Focus on the evidence. Heading 260 degrees or less to Gilbert’s midpoint. Heading 290 degrees or more to get to Mili Atoll where they actually landed on a coral beach — 290 degrees versus 260 degrees?
From a position at 2013z, to the Marshalls with a 260 degree heading? That didn’t happen. To the Marshalls with a 290 degree heading? THAT DID HAPPEN, and was no accident. Once this truth clearly dawned — the heading was not accidental — a missing, critical ingredient was added.
What’s the significance of this ingredient? Epiphany. That heading and that destination were intentional. INTENT. In that moment after consideration, we knew then what we didn’t know at 2013z, namely, they intended to go somewhere on purpose. A heading to the Gilberts would not — repeat, NOT — have taken them to the Marshalls.
With intent aforethought: For eyeball proof, open Google Earth and try it. They would need a hurricane-force crosswind to blow them from the Gilberts to the Marshalls with a Gilbert heading. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for the skeptic, they had a tailwind from the east.
We now have intent, the first moment of realization. They not only went to the Marshalls, they intended to. Something was driving them.
(2) Ironically, shortly after that epiphany, we read a comment by researcher Bill Prymak. It went something like this: “Why was AE so casual and so scarce with her radio calls? If it had been me in such an emergency, desperately trying to make contact and find Howland, I would not have waited :30, :45, 1 hour, 2:30 hours between calls. I would have been all over that radio:
Itasca, this is AE. Please answer. How do I home in on your frequency? I’ll hold the switch down for a full minute. No more occasional calls. Help me out . . . now. Are you there? I’ll stay on 3105 while you broadcast now on 3105, then 6210, then 7500, then 500. I’ll also listen to Morse code. Fred will understand your message, or key A.A.A. repeatedly , then key N.N.N. That will let me know you’re hearing me. Forget protocol. Talk to me. This is getting desperate.”
Not even one MAY-DAY CALL. Why so casual? No declaration of an emergency. Why so incredibly stingy with words? At 2:45 am? OK. But at 8:00 a.m.? May-Day, MAY-DAY!
2:45 a.m. – “??” unreadable (1 hour difference)
3:45 a.m. – “will listen” (2:30 hour difference)
6:15 am. – wants bearing – “about 200 miles out” (:30 difference)
6:45 a.m. – “take bearing – about 100 miles out” (almost 1 hour difference)
7:42 a.m. – “on you, can’t see you” (:16 difference)
7:58 a.m. – “circling (?), can’t hear you” (:02 difference)
8:00 a.m. – “received signals, take bearing” (:43 difference)
8:43 a.m. – “on line 157-337, will repeat” — S.I.L.E.N.C.E.
Not one call, not one, indicated an emergency. Perhaps the tone of her voice was tense, or even indicated “panic,” as Bellarts later stated, but not one hint of an emergency. Much too casual. Words cost nothing. What does the silence tell us?
If she doesn’t find Howland, it’s back to the Gilberts and the abandoning of the Electra on a beach. Amelia knows that. Consistently, she made very brief calls which lasted mere seconds, then she was silent for long periods. What is that telling us? That it is not normal behavior in an emergency. It is much too casual for a person facing fuel exhaustion and death. It is not rational.
Strangely, it may be telling us that she has no intention of landing here. If not, why? Don’t know yet, but how did Bill see that? Because if she wanted to land, there would have been desperation. She was cool and casual because she had another place in mind.
Amelia’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, said afterward: “Amelia had no intention of landing at Howland. It was a distraction.” (Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987); “Amelia Earhart: What Really Happened to Her?” (D.A. Chadwick’s Blog).
Paul Rafford Jr., in his book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, tells us: “Bill Galten also told me that although Earhart might have been able to land on Howland, he didn’t see how she could take off. His reason was the same as that offered by Itasca’s Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts, who told Fred Goerner that he felt that if she could land, she could not have been able to take off again.” So here are two of the original radio crew on Itasca agreeing about the serious dangers Howland posed to the Earhart Electra and its crew. We then did some investigation of our own.
These are only two of the many items which come under the category of OVERLOOKING THE OBVIOUS. The latest is THE HOWLAND RUNWAY scenario. When exploring the details and a comparison with the Lae takeoff, was the Howland runway even safe from which to take off in an Electra with a heavy load of fuel? Based upon details which we have been able to uncover, the answer may be obvious. She’ll know once she begins the takeoff, but then it will too late.
Let’s do some reasoning here. When Amelia took off at Lae, she had 3,000 feet of dirt runway. At the end, there was a 25-foot cliff dropping off to the Huon Gulf. The Electra’s takeoff run for about 2,900 feet broke ground, sank slightly, then more or less leveled, then at the end where the cliff dropped off, it descended about 20 feet toward the water where the props were creating an observed spray from the ocean.
That reality is in Amelia’s mind. She sees a picture. It is now behind her, but an even bigger challenge awaits her at Howland. How long is that coral-gravel runway? The flat part of the Island is 1.5 miles long by one-half-mile wide. If the longer N/S runway is just half that, since it is on the east side, rather than in the elongated middle, then we have about 4,000 feet, as later measured, but which the workers already knew.
There is also a gravel E/W runway about 2,400 feet at the south end of the N/S runway for the prevailing daily east winds. We now have a match waiting for some gasoline. Lae’s runway was hard dirt. Howland’s is crushed coral recently plowed and graded, and looser than hard dirt. Lea’s temperature was less than 85 degrees. Howland’s is often 100 degrees or more.
Lae’s had a safety net of a 25-foot drop to the Gulf beyond the cliff at the end of the runway. Howland at sea level has mere inches for descent after takeoff from sand’s edge to the water. Unlike Lae, at Howland, there is no safety net.
Going through the mind of any pilot facing this would be: Under these conditions, with these differences, can a takeoff with a load of fuel be made successfully at Howland? It was successful at Lae apparently because of the “safety net” of clear space underneath beyond the cliff. Amelia, like any pilot, might wonder.
Nor has she forgotten the ground loop at Honolulu under much better conditions. If a wheel of the Electra were to hit a soft spot, and veer slightly as it did in Honolulu, will she follow her habit of trying to maintain directional control with the throttles rather than the rudders? Honolulu all over again, just waiting.
If, when the plane breaks ground at Howland, but settles 20 feet as at Lae, there will be a ditching in the water with gear down, not a pretty thought. If density altitude were to work against her due to hotter temperature, what then? If even one of those 10,000 gooney birds were to get in the way of a prop on takeoff, hello water. The “WHAT IF’S” are endless.
Nearing Howland, Amelia may be thinking that the chances of taking off are not so good. Turn back to the Gilberts? There are many smooth sandy beaches there for a safe landing, but once on the soft sand, how will the Electra get airborne again?
Then there’s the option of the Marshalls. The inner debate continues, and a major decision is looming. What to do? How long is the runway? How safe is it?
With an East wind of 15 to 20 mph, this is obviously a crosswind which is not acceptable for a heavy plane on such a runway. Even the men on the ground who prepared it had recorded, in essence, in their log — impossible to take off on N/S runway with that crosswind. And the E/W runway is too short; at 2,250 feet between markers, plus the narrow 300-foot addition, plus the flagged off 200 feet, a total of 2,750 feet is available for takeoff.
Before we awaken Amelia from her intense concentration, let’s slip in another bit of “obvious” factual history which has often been overlooked. It concerns FDR himself and the government, especially Naval records generated by the former secretary of the Navy.
First, we have the official Navy-Coast Guard reports of their searches for the Earhart Electra that lasted from July 2 to July 19, and were filed beginning July 20. (see TAL pages 53-57). We also have information on file as “Report of Amelia Earhart as Prisoner in Marshall Islands,” dated Jan. 7, 1939. (Reference: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38, Entry 81, General Correspondence, 1929-1942, File A4-3/Earhart, Box No. 70). (See above image of the top of page 1 of this report.) This unclassified document has long been available to Earhart researchers through a simple request.
This, and additional information shows that as early as 1.5 years after the disappearance, Jan. 7, 1939, it was reported under then-classified documents that “Earhart was a prisoner in the Marshall Islands.” Since the U.S. had already broken the Japanese Code, it is more than mere speculation that FDR and Co. knew that Amelia and Fred were in Japanese hands.
(Editor’s note: Here Calvin is referring to the strange, little-known “Bottle Message” found near Bordeaux, France on Oct. 30, 1938 by a 37-year-old French woman. The message’s unidentified writer stated, in part: “I have been a prisoner at Jaluit (Marshalls) by the Japanese; in the prison there, I have seen Amelia Earhart (aviatrix) and in another cell her mechanic [sic], a man, as well as several other European prisoners; held on charges of alleged spying on large fortifications erected on the atoll.” I have not yet written about this message on the Truth at Last Blog for several reasons, but others have attempted to verify its provenance, without success. See * below for more on this.)
The classified proof in Navy files was declassified in 1967 and has been available to the public since then. Anyone can read it. Possessing a personal copy, one can show that the government knew the whereabouts of Amelia and Fred at least as early as 1939 or before. (Later, we’ll raise the issue of knowledge through having broken the Japanese code.)
That being the case, something so totally “obvious” to government authorities in 1939, and then obvious to the public through researchers in 1967, has lain hidden under a pile of dust while speculators and get-rich charlatans have invented stories about dying at sea or crashing on an uninhabited island leaving a size 9 piece of shoe as proof that a size 6 lady named Earhart had worn it. Such is a crime against the history of humanity.
While the obvious lies at our feet, we applaud phony pictures of a ship at Jaluit in 1937 under a Smithsonian caption of “Earhart and Noonan,” but which was proven to be false. And we support establishment money being spent to divert the public’s attention to a fake story on a Phoenix Island while we allow the government to keep promoting those distractions. This is the typical disinformation-distraction ploy. Although the establishment can distract from the truth, it cannot change it.
Something is obviously wrong with this picture. The public is more tolerant than they are observant. We cry “mystery” while holding the file of facts in our hands.
Time: 2013z / 8:43 a.m.:
Amelia awakens from her decision-dilemma. To the Itasca: “We’re on a line 157-337 degrees . . . Will repeat this message.” To Fred Noonan she may have said: “I’ve thought about the Howland runway compared to what we faced at Lae. It’s too dangerous. The Gilberts are out. Not going to sacrifice this plane. We’re going to the Marshalls. Give me a heading, and there’s no time to discuss it. If we land here, I probably won’t be able to get airborne again. Heading, please.” (End of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY,” Part IV.)
Next up will be the Conclusion of Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.” Your comments are welcome.
* (Editor’s note continued: Far more revealing among the Navy documents declassified in 1967 is the notorious 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Report (below), ostensibly undertaken to investigate Thomas E. Devine’s 1960 statements to ONI Special Agent Thomas M. Blake in October 1960. Devine, at home in West Haven, Conn., having seen the reports of Fred Goerner’s first Saipan visit, decided to tell the ONI about his 1945 experience on Saipan with the unidentified Okinawan woman who showed him the gravesite of a “white man and woman who had come from the sky,“ before the war. Devine believed this site was the common grave of Earhart and Noonan.
The ONI found nothing to support Devine’s gravesite claims, which wasn’t surprising, but its unstated goal was to discredit all information that placed Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. In this it actually failed miserably, though no one in the media has ever even alluded to the document’s existence, and it remains completely unknown to the general public despite its declassification. The story of the ONI Report in itself is another amazing travesty in the saga of the Earhart disappearance, in that it virtually establishes the Marshalls landing and Saipan presence of the fliers while attempting to debunk both ideas. For an extended discussion of this obscure but vastly important document, see pages 95-100 in Truth at Last.
Today we move along to Part III of Capt. Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY,” his studied analysis of Amelia Earhart’s final flight. We left Part II with Calvin’s description of the communication failures between the Navy tug USS Ontario and the ill-fated fliers.
“What neither of them knew at that time was the agonizing fact that the Electra was not equipped for low-frequency broadcast,” Calvin wrote, “and the Ontario was not equipped for high-frequency. . . . After changing frequencies to one that the Ontario could not receive, it is safe to assume that Amelia made several voice calls. Morse code, of course, was already out of the picture.”
We’re honored that Calvin has so embraced the truth in the Earhart disappearance that he’s spent countless hours working to explain the apparently inexplicable — how and why Amelia Earhart reached and landed at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937. Here’s Part III, with even more to follow.
Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY, Part III
By Capt. Calvin Pitts
Although Amelia was obviously trying to make contact with the Ontario by radio, Lt. Blakeslee did not know that. By the same token, Amelia had to wonder why he would not answer.
This failure to communicate, however, worked into Amelia’s new plan. Since she had no way of letting the Ontario know they were en route, being without Morse code and having frequencies which were not compatible, now that he had been plying those waters for 10 days along her flight path, she knew it was useless to try to find and to overfly the unknown position of the Ontario in the thick darkness of a Pacific night.
Therefore, it now made even more sense to continue on to Nauru whose people had been alerted by Balfour that the Electra was probably coming. Although that had begun as a suggestion, no one yet knew that it had now become a decision. She needed to let the Ontario know — but how?
She had lost contact with Balfour, couldn’t make contact with the Ontario, and the Itasca had not yet entered the picture. Nauru, it was later learned, had a similar problem as the Ontario, and Tarawa had not broadcast anything. Amelia was good at making last-minute decisions. “Let’s press on to Nauru,” she might have said. “It’s a small diversion, and a great gain in getting a solid land-fix. I’ll explain later.”
The local chief of Nauru Island, or someone in authority, already had a long string of powerful spot lights set up for local mining purposes. He would turn them on with such brightness, 5,000 candlepower, that they could be seen for more than 34 miles at sea level, even more at altitude.
Finding a well-lit island was a sure thing. Finding a small ship in the dark ocean, which had no ETA for them, was doubtful. Further, as was later learned from the Ontario logs, the winds from the E-NE were blowing cumulus clouds into their area, which, by 1:00 a.m., were overcast with rain squalls. It is possible that earlier, a darkening sky to the east would have been further assurance that deviating slightly over Nauru was the right decision.
As the Electra approached the dark island now lit with bright lights, Nauru radio received a message at 10:36 p.m. from Amelia that said, “We see a ship (lights) ahead.”
Others have interpreted this as evidence that Amelia was still on course for the Ontario, and was saying that she had seen its lights. The conflict here is that Amelia flew close enough to Nauru for ground observers to state they had heard and seen the plane. How could Amelia see Nauru at the same time she saw the Ontario more than 100 miles away?
Amelia may have wondered if Noonan and Balfour were wrong about Nauru. But they weren’t. According to the log from a different ship coming from New Zealand south of them, they were en route to Nauru for mining business.Those shipmates of the MV Myrtlebank, a 5,150 ton freighter owned by a large shipping conglomerate, under the British flag, recorded their position as southwest of Nauru at about 10:30 pm on that date. The story of the Mrytlebank fits in well to resolve this confusion. It was undoubtedly this New Zealand ship, not the Ontario, that Amelia had seen.
MV Myrtlebank, a freighter owned by Bank Line Ltd., was chartered to a British Phosphate Commission at Nauru. As recorded later, around 10:30 p.m., third mate Syd Dowdeswell was “surprised to hear the sound of an aircraft approaching and lasting about a minute. He reported the incident to the captain who received it ‘with some skepticism’ because aircraft were virtually unknown in that part of the Pacific at that time. Neither Dowdeswell nor the captain knew about Earhart’s flight.”
Source: State Department telegram from Sydney, Australia dated July 3, 1937: “Amalgamated Wireless state information received that report from ‘Nauru’ was sent to Bolinas Radio ‘at . . . 6.54 PM Sydney time today on (6210 kHz), fairly strong signals, speech not intelligible, no hum of plane in background but voice similar that emitted from plane in flight last night between 4.30 and 9.30 P.M.’ Message from plane when at least 60 miles south of Nauru received 8.30 p.m., Sydney time, July 2 saying ‘A ship in sight ahead.’ Since identified as steamer Myrtle Bank (sic) which arrived Nauru daybreak today.”
“Unless Mr. T.H. Cude produced the actual radio log for that night, the contemporary written record (the State Dept. telegram) trumps his 20-plus-year-old recollection.”
This was most likely the ship about which Amelia Earhart said: “See ship (lights) ahead.” Most researchers state that she had spotted the USS Ontario, which had been ordered by the Navy to be stationed halfway between Lae and Howland for weather information via radio. No radio contact was ever made between Amelia’s Lockheed Electra 10E and the Ontario.
While it is possible that Amelia flew only close enough to Nauru to see the bright mining lights, it is more likely that a navigator like Noonan would want a firm land fix on time and exact location.
For this reason, in a re-creation of the flight path on Google Earth, which we have done, we posit the belief, in view of the silence from the Ontario, that having a known fix prior to heading out into the dark waters, overcast skies and rain squalls of the last half of the 2,556-mile (now 2,650-mile) trip to small Howland, it was the better part of wisdom to overfly Nauru.
Weather and radio issues were the motive behind Harry Balfour’s suggestion to use Nauru as an intermediate point rather than a small ship in a dark ocean. Thus, the Myrtlebank unwittingly became part of the history of a great world event.
Now, with the land mass of Nauru under them, Fred could begin the next eight hours from a known position. Balfour’s suggestion and Fred and Amelia’s decision was not a bad call, with apologies to the crew of the Ontario. Unfortunately, it was not until after the fact that the Ontario was notified of this. They headed back to Samoa with barely enough coal to make it home. Lt. Blakeslee said they were “scraping the bottom” for coal by the time they returned.
The details of the eight-hour flight from Nauru are contained in the Itasca log. In my own case, the Amelia story was interesting, but not compelling. However, it was not until I began to study in minute detail the Itasca logs of those last hours of the Electra’s flight, hour by hour, and visualizing it by means of Google Earth, that the interest turned to a passion.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? DO WE HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO KNOW? IS THERE REALLY NO ANSWER TO WHAT HAS BEEN CONCEALED AS A “MYSTERY”?
In the reliving of what was once a mystery, things began to make sense, piece by piece. It was like being a detective who knew there were hidden pieces, but what were they, and where did they fit? For me, as the puzzle began to come together, the interest grew. There is really more to this story, much more, than appeared during the first reading.
The radio room positions and pages being logged contained valuable information. Reading the details created a picture in the imagination at one level, but with more and more evidence piling up, a different level began to emerge.
Can this story really be true? Credulity was giving way to the reality of evidence.
If you will follow the highlights of the Itasca logs, you may find yourself captivated, as I was. One thing that is not spoken at first, but becomes a message loud and clear, is the not-so-hidden narrative in those repeated, unanswered Morse code transmissions.
The radiomen thought they were helping Amelia and Fred, but with each unanswered Code message, they were really just talking to themselves. As they get more desperate, you keep wondering: Surely the Electra crew can at least “hear” the clicks and clacks, the dits and dahs, even if they don’t fully understand them.
Why don’t they at least acknowledge they hear even though understanding appears to be absent? Why the silence, the long silence into the dark night, the silence which leaves the Itasca crew bewildered, even “screaming,” as they later said, “into the mike?”
The position of the Electra, an “area,” not a fix, is our primary destination now because Howland was never seen. This makes Howland secondary for this exercise, mostly because that was not the position from which Amelia made her final and fatal decision.
There were at least two extremely dangerous elements involving Howland, and one strategic matter. Dangerous: 10,000 nesting and flying birds waiting to greet Mama big bird, and the extremely limited landing area of a 30 city-block by 10-block sand mass.
We delay our discussion about “strategic” since it deals with the government hijacking of a civilian plane, something controversial but which is worth waiting for. Stand by.
For now, we join Amelia and Fred for some details of their flight to “Area 13.” The purpose here is to locate, as best we can, that area from which Amelia made her final navigation decision.
That area encompasses a portion of ocean 200 miles by 200 miles. South to north, it begins about 100 miles north of Howland to at least 300 miles north. East to west, it begins with a NW line of 337 degrees and continues west parallel to that line for at least 200 miles.
There is a mountain of calculation behind that conclusion, but those details are for another venue. For now, for those interested in re-creating that historic flight, especially if you have Google Earth, follow the Itasca log in order to see Google Truth.
We designate this 200 by 200 miles as “Area 13” for the simple reason that their last known transmission not within sight of land which can be confirmed was at 2013z (GMT) (the famous 8:43 am call). Following this was nothing but silence for those on the ground.
After their long night of calling, waiting and consuming coffee, for the crew of Itasca and Howland Island, 8:43 a.m. was a special time. But 2013 GMT (8:43 a.m.) was also the 20-hour mark for the fliers, after their own, even more stressful all-nighter. Sadly, the two in the Electra, at 13 past 20 hours, were entirely on their own at 2013 — and here that sinister number “13” appears again.
The following routing and times are a compilation from several sources —
(1) Itasca Logs from the log-positions on the ship, a copy of which can be provided;
(2) Notes from Harry Balfour, local weather and radioman on site at Lae;
(3) Notes from L.G. Bellarts, Chief Radio operator, USS Itasca;
(4) The Search for Amelia Earhart, by Fred Goerner;
(5) Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last, by Mike Campbell;
(6) David Billings, Australian flight engineer (numbers questionable), Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project;
(7) Thomas E. Devine, Vincent V. Loomis, and various other writings.
The intended course for the Electra was a direct line from Lae to Howland covering 2,556 statute miles. The actual track, however, was changed due to weather, in the first instance, and due to a change of decision in the second instance. Such contact never took place. Neither the Electra nor the Ontario saw nor heard from the other, for reasons which could have been avoided if each had known the frequencies and limitations of the other. This basic lack of communication plagued almost every radio and key which tried to communicate with the Electra.
If one has access to Google Earth, it is interesting to pin and to follow this flight by the hour. The average speeds and winds were derived from multiple sources, including weather forecasts and reports.
To generalize, the average ground speed going east was probably not above 150 mph, with a reported headwind of some 20 mph, which began at about 135-140 mph when the plane was heavy and struggling to climb.
In the beginning, with input from Lockheed engineers, Amelia made a slow (about 30 feet per minute) climb to 7,000 feet (contrary to the plan laid out by Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson), then to 10,000 feet (which should have been step-climbing to 4,000 to 7,000 to 10,000 feet toward the Solomons mountain), then descending to 8,000 feet depending upon winds, then to 10,000 feet reported, with various changes en route.
The remaining contingency fuel at 8:43 a.m. Howland time, to get the Electra back to the Gilbert Islands, as planned out carefully with the help of Gene Vidal (experienced aviator) and Kelly Johnson (experienced Lockheed engineer), has often been, in our opinion, mischaracterized and miscalculated. By all reasonable calculations, the Electra had about 20 hours of fuel PLUS at least four-plus hours of contingency fuel.
Then why did Amelia say she was almost out of fuel when making one of her last calls at 1912z (7:42 am)?Obviously, she was not because she made another call an hour later about the “157-337 (sun) line” at 2013z. Put yourself in that cockpit, totally fatigued after 20 hours of battling wind and weather and loss of sleep, compounded by 30 previous difficult days. It is easy to see four hours of fuel, after such exhaustion, being described as “running low.”
With the desperation of wanting to be on the ground, it would be quite normal to say “gas is running low” just to get someone’s attention. If one is a pilot, and has ever been “at wit’s end” in a tense situation, they have no problem not being a “literalist” with this statement. The subsequent facts, of course, substantiate this.
Wherever the Electra ended up, and we have a volume of evidence for that in a future posting, IT WAS NOT IN THE OCEAN NEAR HOWLAND. That was a government finding as accurate and as competent as the government’s success was against the Wright Brothers’ attempt to make the first fight.
For this leg of the Electra’s flight to its destination, our starting data point was Lae, New Guinea, and our terminal data point is not the elusive bird-infested Howland Island, but rather the area where they were often said to be “lost,” a place we have designated as Area 13. (A more detailed flight, by the hour with data from the Itasca logs, is available. Enjoy the trip.
Summary of track from Lae to Area 13 then to Mili Atoll (times are approximate):
(1) LAE to CHOISEUL, Solomon Islands – Total Miles: 670 / Total Time: 05:15 hours
(2) CHOISEUL to NUKUMANU Islands – Total Miles: 933 / Total Time: 07:18 hours
(3) NUKUMANU to NAURU Island – Total Miles: 1,515 / Total Time: 11:30 hours
(4) NAURU to 1745z (6:15 a.m. Howland) – Total Miles: 2,440 / Total Time: 17:45 hours
(5) 1745z to 1912z (7:12 a.m. Howland) – Total Miles: 2,635 / Total Time: 19:12 hours
(6) 1912z to 2013z (8:43 a.m. Howland) – Total Miles: 2.750 / Total Time: 20:13 hours
LAE to AREA 13: Total Miles : 2,750 (Including approaches) Time: About 20:13 hours
Fuel Remaining: About 4.5 to 5 hours
Distance from 2013z to Mili Atoll Marshall Islands = About 750 miles
Ground speed = 160 (true air speed) plus 15 mph (tailwind) = 175 mph
Time en route = About 4.3 hours
ETA at Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands = Noon to 12:30; Fuel remaining: 13 drops
The heading to the Gilberts would not have taken them to the Marshall Islands, with a heading difference of about 30 degrees. The decision to give up on Howland, and utilize the remaining contingency fuel was “intentional,” not merely intentional to turn back, but to turn toward the Marshalls where there was a strong radio beam, a runway, fuel — and Japanese soldiers who may or may not be impressed with the most famous female aviator in the world. Amelia and her exploits were known to be popular in Japan at that time. Although their mind was on war with China, maybe this charming pilot could tame them.
Unfortunately, we know THE END of the Amelia story, and it was not pretty. When she crossed into enemy territory, she apparently lost her charm with the war lords, and eventually her life. (End of Part III.)
Next up: Part IV of “Amelia Earhart: Disappearing Footprints in the Sky.” As always, your comments are welcome.
Today we return to Capt. Calvin Pitts and his comprehensive analysis of Amelia Earhart’s last flight. We concluded Part I with clue No. 7: Position, which included Calvin’s observation that “At 8:43 a.m. (2013z), with the last transmission (was it?) from Amelia as shown on the Itasca log, it had been 20-plus hours since their takeoff from Lae at 10 a.m. local Lae time (0000z).”
Among his many achievements over a lifetime of aviation excellence, Calvin Pitts has become the first significant establishment figure to publicly embrace the truth in the Earhart disappearance, and we’re honored that he brought his considerable experience and talents to this blog and shared it with us. Without further delay, here’s Part II of Calvin’s analysis.
Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY
By Capt. Calvin Pitts, Part II
8. Contingency Plan: HERE IS WHERE we zero in on the WHY of this so-called mystery, which is actually only a mass of confusion. The next couple of clues have to do with Amelia’s relationship with a top government bureaucrat, Eugene L. “Gene” Vidal (father of Gore Vidal), and the flight made to the area where she was forced to make a fatal decision. We call it “Area 13,” and when we get there, you’ll see why.
The answers to the following questions hold additional clues:
(1) Why was the failure in Honolulu of flight No. 1 so critical to the final outcome?
(2) After the Hawaii crack-up, did a military issue change the entire course of the flight?
(3) What caused the decision to reverse the direction of Flight No. 2 from west-toward-Howland to east-toward-Area 13? There is more here, it seems, than meets the eye.
4) From Area 13, why was the Contingency Plan ignored after being so carefully prepared in favor of an intentional heading toward another destination?
Gene Vidal was a standout individual in America in the 1930s. He was a respected graduate of West Point, a star athlete in various sports, the quarterback of their football team, and he was recognized as an outstanding aviator. He was a star in the heady world of Washington, the head of a new, growing department, the Bureau of Air Commerce (BAC). He was a friend of the president and he innovated new programs for aviation’s growth. He was also handsome and his picture was featured on TIME magazine. On top of those 12 outstanding attributes, Gene Vidal was deeply respected by the most famous woman in America. That’s No. 13, and that’s good luck, isn’t it?
Amelia also had great respect for George Putnam and his accomplishments. He supported her in everything she did. He was her fan as well as her husband. They were good partners in things they did together. They complimented the needs of each other, even though, at first, she reluctantly married him.
Amelia had captured the heart of America, or at least its attention. What lady wouldn’t be proud of that in those times? As friends, Amelia and Gene worked together in aviation pursuits. As mates, Amelia and George worked together in achieving her dreams.
George Putnam was a promoter and publisher, his company having published “WE,” by Charles Lindbergh. When Amelia needed personal help, including with her career, she turned to him.
Gene Vidal was a bureaucrat, aviator and director of the Bureau of Air Commerce, Washington, D.C., with political influence. When Amelia needed guidance and help in aviation matters, she went to Gene. All three of them were friends.
In preparation for Amelia’s world adventure, she and Gene spent much time with charts spread out on the floor, meticulously planning every detail of the world flight. One of those critical details was a “Contingency Plan.” Just. In. Case! “What happens, Amelia, IF you can’t find Howland?” (The words of their conversations are supplied by the author. The content of their work is supplied by the actors.)
As a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), later Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) top government bureaucrat in the BAC, under Daniel Roper’s Department of Commerce (DOC), Eugene Vidal was extremely knowledgeable — West Point graduate, sports superstar, one of the best pilots in the country, TIME magazine feature personality — and a handy government man to have around.
Not only was Vidal West Point’s star, he was also the government’s star and a luminary, at least in his own mind. But he did not get along with major figures with whom he worked, and got crossed with his office partner, J. Carroll Cone, as well as his immediate boss, Daniel Roper, DOC secretary. And most significant of all, he got crossed with his ultimate boss, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the heart and soul of the government. That, of course, takes talent, or at least a massive sense of self-importance.
But Vidal knew aviation. And he knew that a dear friend needed guidance in so great a challenge as a successful flight around the world, especially on that long leg across the open waters of the Pacific. What should Amelia do if she was unable to locate that postage-stamp-bird-infested–land-mass called Howland?
HOWLAND? What was it about this piece of land that was so strategic?
That decision, however, of locating a dot in the sea would never have been necessary if flight plan No. 1 had not failed. But it did, and the circumstances which followed determined the details which led to a sad tragedy. That needs to be explored.
However, because flight No. 2 is the flight which is known best, and is discussed most, we’ll follow it to “Area 13,” at which point we’ll pause and ask: What happened? What went wrong? Why did a flight conceived in innocence get hijacked and become so complicated as to become a flight into hell.
In the beginning, we could take things at face value. But afterward, the face was not what it seemed. More often than not, it was a false face. The government face, hidden for so long, left a long shadow, and was far uglier than the public was led to believe.
The leg of Flight No. 2 that was the most dangerous and most challenging was the one from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island. It was full of challenges, decisions, changes and surprises — a surprise that held a double-surprise.
The leg into and out of Australia was the site of a major radio problem with an easy solution. A fuse for the direction- finder receiver had blown, and needed to be fixed at Lae. It was a small thing, but it had major significance. If it blew again, the Electra would have the same problem going into Howland — namely, a DF steer that was essential would no longer be available
However, the Electra’s crew was already unable to receive Morse code messages from the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at Howland, and the Navy’s USS Ontario tug which had been placed halfway between Lae and Howland.
One source says that both Amelia and Noonan were able to understand code, which is only partly true if the speed in sending means that the one receiving hears sounds but cannot interpret them.
Fred Noonan had a second-class radio license, and he had been communicating slowly in code en route from Darwin to Lae, according to Alan Vagg, the radio operator at Bulolo, 40 miles southwest of Lae. But Amelia did not really know Morse code, although she had been advised earlier by a close friend to spend time learning it.
This raises two difficult questions: (1) Why did they remove the Morse code key at the beginning of the flight, making it difficult if not impossible for Noonan to communicate by code, unless he had his own personal key? What was the purpose in removing it? (2) Why were the Ontario at sea and the Itasca at Howland totally uninformed that the multitude of Morse code messages they sent would go unanswered, because Fred could only understand code if it were keyed very slowly, and Amelia’s knowledge consisted of only a few letters? This was a critical issue.
“Upon enquiry Earhart and Noonan advised that they entirely depended on radio telephone reception as neither of them were able to read Morse at normal speed but could recognize an individual letter sent several times,” wrote Eric Chater, general manager of Guinea Airways Limited in a July 25, 1937 report. “This point was again mentioned by both of them later when two different sets at Lae were used for listening in for time signals.”
“Two different sets of keys?” How many knew that? Two? For what purpose?
Compounding this radio issue was a profound misunderstanding between Amelia and the Itasca regarding the important intricacies of frequency incompatibility and DF usage. That was a radio disconnection, to be sure.
Another issue that surfaced at Lae were telephone calls and telegraph messages between Amelia and both Gene and George. A telegram she sent from Lae, which delayed the departure by one day, contained the following message:
“Radio misunderstanding and Personnel Unfitness (stop) Probably will hold one day (stop) Have asked Black for Forecast for tomorrow (stop) You check meteorologist on job as FN (Noonan) must have star sights.”
When asked about the meaning of “personnel unfitness,” Gore Vidal, son of Gene Vidal said: “Well, just the night before the final flight, she reported in and they had a code phrase, ‘personnel problems,’ which meant Noonan was back drinking. And my father said, ‘Just stop it right now and come home,’ and G.P. agreed and said, ‘Come back, abort the flight, forget it, come home.’ And then she said, ‘Oh, no,’ and she said, ‘I think it’ll be all right,’ something like that. So you may put that down to invincible optimism or it may have been huge pessimism.”
When the Electra left on the morning of July 2 at 10:00 am local time, they were ill-equipped for the radio challenges ahead. On flight No. 1, Amelia had Harry Manning, a seagoing captain on vacation for purposes of helping that flight that ended in Honolulu. He was well-versed in radio usage and intricacies, but he bailed after the crack-up at Luke Field.
The greatest area of confusion for the observer is the neglect in getting the radio frequencies and usage clear in one’s understanding, as well as clearly communicating to other personnel such as those on the Itasca, the Ontario, Lae radio, Nauru radio, Tarawa radio in the Gilbert Islands, and Hawaii radio. Why were all these facilities not properly notified? What was the big secret? Why were they not in the communication loop?
The second area of confusion was the casual and strange way in which the radio calls and position reports were made, and the technique of using the radio properly for getting bearings.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the track of flight No. 2 as it relates to the Pacific crossing, noting the changes made due to weather and necessity. Two diversions to the initial plan added more than 100 miles to the flight, but it kept the fliers out of serious thunderstorms and it gave them a positive land fix at Nauru.
Lae is our point of origin. Howland is our destination. Unfortunately, Howland doesn‟t remain our destination, for reasons that need to be explored.
But even at Lae, things did not go as planned. With a heavy fuel-load, the Electra had no place to go but into the water of Huon Gulf if the takeoff had to be aborted. As it was, the Electra used up 97 percent of the dirt strip they called a runway, lifting a few inches before beginning to settle beyond the cliff.
As they rolled down the 3,000 feet of rough dirt at more than 35 percent over gross weight, they watched the performance of Lockheed’s modern design of what became a classic airplane. It has two great Pratt & Whitney Wasp 550 horsepower/600 horsepower (at takeoff) engines, but the wheels are still not leaving the ground as they neared the end of the 3,000 feet available. The fuel-heavy plane with 1,100-1,150 gallons flies into the air off the cliff above the Huon Gulf, and begins to settle, settle, settle until it was just a few feet above the water.
An incoming plane later describes what he sees. By the time the Electra stops its descent and settles into a slight climb of 30 feet per minute, the Electra is leaving behind a spray of water from the prop-wash of the spinning lifeline.
Amelia set up a rate of climb of 30 feet per minute, predetermined from the manual with input from Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s later designer of the 9D Orion, the model 18 Lodestar, the PV-1 Ventura, the PV-2 Neptune, the PV-2V Harpoon (which I’ve flown to airshows), the P-38 Lightning, the TWA Constellation, the P-80 Shooting Star (my first Jet to witness at age 12), the F-104 Starfighter, the C-130 Hercules, the U-2, the SR-71 (which I’ve visited at Beale AFB), and the Electra 10 (which I’ve also flown), 40 in all.
Such a cruise climb was the most efficient. By 0115z (GMT) (11:15 a.m.), an hour later, Amelia let local radio operator Harry Balfour know she was still “climbing to 7,000 feet,” not the plan Kelly Johnson of Lockheed had laid out for her.
Due to severe thunderstorms resting above the original planned course, Noonan, with help from Balfour, decided to fly due east to the Solomon Islands. At Choiseul’s Mount Maetambe, weather permitting, they would turn northeast toward Nukumanu Atoll, sitting very near their original course. So not even the first leg was going as planned.
For the first seven hours, Harry Balfour was Amelia’s lifeline. He was the last to have two-way radio contact with the Electra. He also helped Amelia and Fred make a decision to go slightly north, a little out of their way, to use Nauru as a land-fix before the long eight-hour night flight to Howland from a known position.
Balfour and the mechanics had served the Electra crew well. But after Nukumanu at 0718z (5:18 p.m. Lae time), when Amelia changed frequencies from day (6210 kilocycles) to night (3105 kc), he never heard from her again. Balfour requested that she stay on a frequency where she was being heard, but he received no reply.
One can assume that with darkness coming on within an hour or so (it was now about 5:30 p.m.), she was changing the frequency early in order to establish contact with the USS Ontario, commanded by Navy Lt. Blakeslee. If they were diverting slightly north in order to get a land-fix over or near Nauru, she certainly wanted to inform him of that.
The Navy had sent this tug, now being used for minor assignments in Samoa, to serve as a floating radio and weather station for the Electra at a midpoint of that leg.
Unfortunately, what neither of them knew at that time was the agonizing fact that the Electra was not equipped for low-frequency broadcast, and the Ontario was not equipped for high-frequency.
The Ontario had stated that it would broadcast on 400 kc. The Electra was not equipped for this low frequency. Why didn’t they know about this incompatibility? Who was in charge of communication arrangements? They didn’t know for the same reason, perhaps, that the Itasca personnel were not aware of other frequency anomalies and DF limitations. Who went to sleep on those details?
Commander Thomson of the Itasca was not the only one who later blamed George Putnam for overlooking such details. But where was Vidal, or Noonan, or even Amelia? Somebody dropped the ball, and it fell with a fatal blow — unless there was already a bigger event in play.
After changing frequencies to one that the Ontario could not receive, it is safe to assume that Amelia made several voice calls. Morse code, of course, was already out of the picture.
(End of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY,” Part II )
We’ll conclude Calvin Pitts’ fascinating analysis in our next post. Once again, the opinions presented in this piece are Calvin’s, and are not necessarily shared by the editor. As always, your comments are welcome.