Tag Archives: Cam Warren

Cam Warren on “The Last Days of Amelia Earhart”

We return to the work of Cam Warren, an original member of the Amelia Earhart Society, who, according to one online search is 99 years old and resides in Fountain Hills, Ariz., and has been a member of the Americal Society of Media Photographers since 1966.  Otherwise I haven’t heard from him in many years.  This piece is far from your garden-variety rehash of old Earhart background, and provides many interesting and previously unpublished details on Lae, New Guinea and Guinea Airways, its personnel, airfield and history, and appeared in the January 1997 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society NewslettersI’ve added most of the photos.  This is the first of two parts. 

“The Last Days of Amelia Earhart”
by Cam Warren

The story of Amelia Earhart is a fascinating one from start to finish, and the mystery surrounding her disappearance continues to challenge serious researchers to this moment in time.  Countless theories have been advanced, ranging from the wildest speculation to the more reasoned scenario, all based on little or no hard evidence.  Paul Rafford, for example, has contributed several possible explanations for Amelia’s erratic radio communications and technical support for even some of the more extremegovernment spyideas.

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the ill-fated Flight Into Yesterday (as Capt. [Laurence] Safford described it), few people remain that have any firsthand knowledge of the event.  Those who knew Amelia or Fred, worked on the Electra, or contributed in some way have left us and physical evidence is sparse indeed.  Documentary evidence does exist, of course, thanks largely to the Freedom of Information Act, and like archeologists on a dig, we sort and sift through it on the slim chance a sliver of evidence heretofore overlooked will suddenly assume greater significance.

This was the official flight plan, 2,556 statute miles from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island. The 337-157 line of position, or sun line, passed through the Phoenix Islands, near Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, and the popular theory, though completely false, is in part attributable to this phenomena.  From Laurance Safford’s Flight Into Yesterday, The Facts Without the Fiction (2003).

Saipan and the Marshalls have been pretty thoroughly investigated* and the ever-hopeful TIGHAR crew from Delaware are convinced the answer lies on Nikumaroro (nee Gardner Island).  As for other possible landing sites in the vicinity of Howland, I’ve personally discounted the uncharted reeftheory through a personal visit to the Winslow area and a study of marine geophysical data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Baker and McKean islands have been thoroughly combed over.

* Editor’s [Bill Prymak] Note: Joe Gervais and Prymak were the very first researchers to visit Jaluit Atoll, former Japanese Administrative Headquarters.  See post here of Oct. 8, 2019, Prymak’s “Jaluit Report” recalls ’91 Jaluit visit, interviews of hitherto unknown Earhart witnesses.”

My attention turned back to Lae, New Guinea.  Amelia’s penultimate days were spent there, as she and Fred Noonan rested up and The Electra was serviced by the ground crew for Guinea Airways.  What was Lae like in those days?  Who witnessed the final take-off?  Was Noonan suffering a severe hangover?  Was Amelia battling dysentery or, as it has been suggested by at least one writer, was she pregnant?

The island of New Guinea (second largest in the world, after Greenland) lies directly north of the continent of Australia, and is centered about 5 [degrees] south of the equator.  It was an Australian territory from 1905 until 1973.  The climate is monsoonal and thick forests prevail.  Moresby is the capital of what is now known as Papua New Guinea, and is located on the south coast.  Lae is 200 miles to the north on the eastern side of the island, facing the Huon Gulf and next to the Markham River.  The town was founded in 1927 to serve air transport into the Bulolo gold fields in the mountainous interior.  Large deposits of gold-bearing gravel had been discovered some years previous, but no roads existed and native bearers were used over the 70-mile-long trail to the diggings, which were located at an altitude close to 7,000 feet above sea level.

An Australian by the name of Cecil Levien, realizing what a bonanza existed in the treacherous terrain, and was well aware of the threat of the local cannibal tribes, decided an airlift was the answer.  In 1926 he raised enough money to purchase a British built DeHaviland DH37, capable of carrying a 600-pound payload, the equivalent of a dozen natives with backpacks.  So in 1927, Guinea Airways was born, became an immediate success and the entire mining operation thrived.  Levien sought additional financing to expand his holdings.  His search brought him to Vancouver, British Columbia and a resident mining engineer, Charles A. Banks. They formed a company called Placer Development, Ltd. (later known as Placer Management and now Placer Dome).

Gold Dust and Ashes is a book by Ion Idriess set in Bulolo in the New Guinea goldfields.  It covers the history of gold exploration in the region, including occupation by the Germans, transfer to Australian governorship, the efforts of Cecil Levien to pioneer gold mining, and the role of New Guinea Airways in the industry.

Banks brought in two other engineers as directors of the new company; Frank W. Griffin and Frank R. Short.  Griffin was a well-known dredge designer, Short a placer engineer.  They examined the Bululo field and came up with even rosier estimates as to the yield than Levien had done.  Investors were impressed, even in the Depression era of the ’30s.

As for aircraft, Junkers had just designed the G31; a new plane that could carry 7,000 pounds.  With capital assured, Banks went to Germany and ordered two planes, but specified more powerful engines, namely, Pratt & Whitney Hornets, and the new aircraft joined the Guinea Airways fleet.

Banks returned to the U.S. Pacific Coast and with Griffin and Short began laying plans for a vast and complex dredging operation.  Key to the plan was that the dredges were to be disassembled for transportation to the New Guinea jungles.  The organization proceeded quickly and by March 23, 1932 the first dredge went to work.  Before long, eight were in operation.  As author Russell Bennett reported in Quest for Ore (1986), A total of 30,000 tons of freight was flown into Bulolo, with not the loss of a pound.  It was the first example of large-scale aerial freighting, and set a pattern that has been followed in an almost infinite number of campaigns — including military in World War II — since then.

In this photo taken from Last Flight, Amelia is shown shortly after her arrival at Lae, New Guinea on June 30, 1937,

At the new town of Lae, a 1,000-yard-long dirt runway had been carved out of the tangled scrub brush jungle, ending just short of a 25-foot drop-off into the gulf.  An unpaved road followed around the edge of the bluff. Hangars and workshops were located about 250 yards northwest of that point.  By 1937, a small-but-thriving village existed, which included a small hotel (the “Cecil,” named after Levien, who had recently died).  About 1,000 Caucasians, mostly Europeans or Australians, lived in Lae, with many hundreds of natives quartered in town or in the many stilt-supported, thatched-roof huts built over the water.  Amelia was impressed by the “peroxide-bleached hair” favored by the indigenous population.

Some of the Airways personnel are mentioned in various accounts; Eric H. Chater (not “Chaters” as some have it) was the resident manager and a pilot.  He has been characterized as not caring much for radios in airplanes and only authorizing installation in one of the company’s aircraft (possibly their lone Electra 10-E, which was used primarily for executive transport).  Sid Marshall was an Aircraftsman and Aero Engineerand was the man who took the amateur movies of AE’s near-disastrous take-off.  See TIGHAR’s The Last Takeoff for a clip of Marshall’s brief film, and more information about its provenance.  George Gurr (not to be confused with Joseph Gurr back in the states) was in charge of the GA hangar and was a radio “ham.”  Herman Hotz was the “wrench who did the actual work on AE’s Electra, according to at least one account. 

(End of Part I.)


AES’s Cam Warren on “Noonan & Earhart”

Cameron A. “Cam” Warren, former longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, may be still with us and in his upper 90s in Fountain Hills, Ariz., but my information on his current status remains nil.  Warren was among the best known of the few “crashed-and-sankers” in the AES, along with former ONI agent Ron Bright and Gary LaPook, who are both alive and well, to my knowledge.

Warren’s “Noonan and Earhart” appeared in the October 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  It’s a good general summary of the nuts and bolts of the Earhart story, something you don’t see often, and good to use occasionally as a reference.  Opinions expressed in this piece are those of the Cam Warren and do not necessarily reflect those of the editor or anyone else.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

“Noonan & Earhart”
by Cam Warren

What exactly was the relationship between Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan?  Originally Amelia was going to fly around the earth solo, at least if her husband, George Putnam, had his way.  And his way was to revive a fading star, turn her into the World’s Most Famous Woman, and live comfortably ever after on book royalties, endorsements and the other fruits of international fame.

Accounts and interpretations vary, and curiously enough the true relationship of the Putnams has been well glossed over by most biographers.  There is little doubt of Amelia’s accomplishments both in aviation and in the field of what we now know as the feminist movement.  We have been told of the love that presumably existed between George and Amelia, but the latter herself showed some doubt as to how well the marriage would work out.  And there is more than a little suspicion that George was very much the Svengali, manipulating Amelia to his own purposes.  Perhaps, but she had her own ambitions too, and probably didn’t require a great deal of persuading to set forth on the next big adventure — a solo flight around the world.

This photo appeared in the October 1999 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters with the tagline, “Amelia at Wheeler Field, Hawaii 1935.”  Courtesy of Col. Rollin Reineck.

When Putnam & Company got into the serious planning for the ambitious undertaking, it didn’t take long for them to realize that the long over-water portions would require some help in the form of a skilled navigator.  (Apparently a co-pilot wasn’t considered — this was to be an Earhart showcase.)  So Amelia would have the services of Harry Manning, an accomplished sea captain, skilled in navigation and radio operation.  He would accompany Amelia as far as Australia, shepherding her over the vast Pacific.  Since Howland Island, the first stop after Hawaii, was such a small target, it was further decided to obtain the services of ex-Pan American Airways navigator Fred Noonan, an acknowledged expert on trans-Pacific flying.

Noonan’s credentials included Pan Am survey flights, and the first commercial seaplane operations in the Pacific.  There have been hints he was relieved of his Pan Am position as the result of a drinking problem, although precise confirmation of this has not surfaced.  Suffice to say, he was available and, despite having just been married, was willing to accept the risks of the flight.  It has been said he planned to open a school for aviation navigators after his stint with Amelia; undoubtedly, he felt the attendant publicity would be useful. 

But to avoid any upstaging of Amelia, Noonan’s contribution would be relatively small — he would accompany her to Honolulu, and then to Howland, where he would disembark and catch a ride back to Hawaii on a Coast Guard cutter.  But plans had to be revised when Earhart cracked up her Electra on takeoff from Hawaii’s Luke Field.  Manning, saying his leave of absence from the cruise line for which he normally worked was about to expire, bowed out when Amelia spoke of a “retry.”  Privately Manning expressed great relief at surviving the accident and did not wish to press his luck further.

Amelia Earhart with Harry Manning (center) and Fred Noonan, in Hawaii just before the Luke Field crash that sent Manning back to England and left Noonan as the sole navigator for the world flight.

Noonan agreed to stay on, even after Putnam explained his role would be expanded to the full circumnavigation — this time starting eastward.  One suspects it was made clear that Amelia would be the star; Noonan’s role was to be minor — he would be merely a hired hand.  A proud and capable man, Fred was still a good soldier, and knew all about performing a subordinate role on a team.  AE would be the boss — no doubt about it — and Fred would carry out her orders without question.  Mindful of his less than strong bargaining position, he accepted the terms.

A word about teams, especially the two-party type.  Successful ones depend heavily on inter-personal relationships; the pair must fit together like Yin and Yang.  Abilities must be respected, but an occasional misstep must be accepted without rancor, in the full knowledge that the mistake was not an intentional one.  Most commonly, the experienced know that A’s error will most assuredly be matched, sooner or later, by B’s.  Any tendency to flare up by one of the parties is extremely serious, and quickly becomes theburr under the saddle.  A famous recent example being a young couple, very much in love, who undertook to row to Australia together.  They eventually made it, but never spoke to each other again.

It’s highly likely that friction developed within the Electra, and a safe bet that of the two, Fred was the more restrained.  Obviously, the success of the mission largely depended on a comfortable rapport between them. Quite likely, under the stress and strain of the long hops, patience wore thin, and the chances are good that when operational questions arose, Amelia did it her way.  Perhaps this could be excused; she was very proud of her flying ability and justifiably so, but “seat of the pants” judgments are risky.  Noonan would go by the book, but would no doubt accept her decision if need be.

Earhart was impressed by Fred’s navigational wizardry, although her self-confidence apparently led her astray as they approached Dakar, on the African west coast.  She overrode Fred’s advice and turned left to St. Louis, a couple of hundred miles to the north.  This has been explained as intentional by some researchers, but Amelia sounded contrite about her move in Last Flight, the book put together from her in-flight notes by ghost-writer Janet Mabie, and hastily published by Putnam.  The book seems to indicate Fred rode up front, at least during the early days, but moved back into the navigator’s “office” as time went on and the atmosphere grew chilly.

If my analysis of the situation is correct, several puzzling facts in the story of the Electra’s disappearance are explained. Firstly, why was Noonan never heard on the radio?  Certainly, common sense would dictate his sitting up in the co-pilot’s seat as they looked for Howland Island.  A second pair of eyes would help Earhart’s visual search, and Fred could easily man the radio.  But such does not appear to have been the case; Fred had his charts and his navigation gear and a convenient table back aft, and most likely Amelia thought he should remain back there calculating their position.

Researcher Joe Gervais interviewed Jim Collopy at his home in Melbourne, Australia in 1962.  Collopy, the former regional aviation administrator at Lae, told of joining Noonan for a drink before dinner the evening following the Electra’s arrival in New Guinea.  He described a confidence Fred privately shared about his employer. After describing Amelia in a less-than-complimentary, fashion, Noonan added she can fly and I can navigate and let’s leave it at that!”  Incidentally, although he may have been sorely tempted under the circumstances, Fred did not do any heavy drinking the night before takeoff, as some reports have stated.

Fred certainly knew the value of radio communications; Amelia treated the facilities in a cavalier fashion.  This can partly be traced to previous flights, when eavesdropping listeners were plotting the Electra’s progress to the annoyance of Putnam and the newspapers to which he had promised exclusive coverage.  “Keep your messages as brief as possible” he likely warned her, “and don’t give away anything over the radio.”  How else to explain her on-the-air reticence; the terse broadcasts only on a set schedule?

Another look at the original flight plan that targeted Howland Island, the “line of position” of 157-337 Amelia reported in her final message, and the close proximity of Baker Island, just southeast of Howland, as well as the Phoenix Group, farther to the southeast. which includes Canton Island, as well as Nikumaroro, formerly known as Gardner Island, of popular renown.

As they approached Howland, Earhart was heard to say, We must be on you, but cannot see you, referring to the waiting Coast Guard cutter Itasca.  Then we are circling but cannot hear you — go ahead on 7500 [kc] [an unsuccessful attempt to get a direction finder fix].  This offers us a clue as to her mind-set.  “Circling” was what an old barnstormer would do, while looking for a landing place, or trying to spot a ship.  A highly unlikely maneuver for Noonan to suggest — search patterns are invariably flown in a precise rectangular pattern that can be plotted.  Circling, on the other hand, is an imprecise maneuver.

When Howland did not appear, and a search was not bearing any fruit, Noonan would certainly suggest a heading for the nearest land, and land of sufficient size to be easily spotted.  His choice most likely would have been to the southeast, toward Baker and the Phoenix Islands.  Had they headed in that direction, they would have emerged from the cloud bank they undoubtedly were in.  Then they might have spotted the Itasca, which was making black smoke, or at least Fred could have worked out a position based on the now-visible sun.

Earhart allegedly told friends that if she couldn’t find Howland, she would reverse course and “head back to the Gilberts.”  Again, most likely a choice not enthusiastically supported by Fred.  Many researchers feel they were much further north than believed, and somehow reached the Marshall Islands instead.  No one knows just how close to Howland they really were — there is conflicting evidence — but the nearest land to the west or northwest was a long distance away, and even with her gasoline reserve, probably unreachable.

Cam Warren, circa 2003.

The Coast Guard, the Navy, and most experts are sure the Electra splashed down hard and went to the bottom.  A few optimists postulate Earhart made a successful water landing, and the plane floated for a time.  If so, perhaps the crew WAS rescued by a Japanese ship, although none has ever been positively placed in the vicinity.  No matter, the ending may well have been a success story, despite the ill-luck with the weather and the malfunctioning, or the mishandling, of the radio and direction finder, if only the crew had been able to work together more smoothly.

No hard evidence supports this scenario, so we cannot claim to have solved the mystery.”  However, it certainly is credible, and a thoughtful analysis of the personalities involved offers considerable substantiation.  Even Putnam’s post-loss behavior tells us something, for he lost no time in having his wife declared legally dead within months, and quickly took a new bride.  Hardly the behavior of a devoted husband, grieving over his true love.  Of Amelia and Fred, my deepest sympathies go to the latter; to a talented and capable man thrust into a life-threatening situation, saddled with an ambitious and overconfident pilot.  Fred undoubtedly never faltered in his assignment, and most likely died with a slide-rule in his hand.

For more on Cam Warren’s work, please see my Feb. 1, 2019 post, Fred Hooven: ‘Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart. ” 

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