Tag Archives: coast Guard Cutter Itasca

Fred Goerner-Leo Bellarts early 1960s letters: Revisiting roots of the real search for Amelia

During the course of his early Earhart investigations, Fred Goerner, author of the classic 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, wrote several letters to Leo Bellarts, the chief radioman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, who retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in 1946. Most of Goerner’s letter of Nov. 30,  1961, below, was initially published in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, as was Bellarts’ reply of Dec. 15, 1961.

Many of the Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned Search as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on Saipan. Goerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66. 

28 November 1961
1920 State St.
Everett, Washington

Mr. Fred Goerner,
% KCBS
San Francisco, Calif.

Dear Mr. Goerner,

I have just received a letter and an article from a San Diego paper relative to your attempt to establish identity of some bones and teeth you found on Saipan. Having a long time interest in the Earhart story I am curious just to know why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan.

Last year I believe that you attempted to identify an airplane generator as belonging to the Earhart plane. I’m sure that if a search was made around Saipan that many planes could be found and parts by the thousands cold be located, but none from the Earhart plane.

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio teal aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.

Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart. (Photo courtesy Dave Bellarts.)

My curiosity stems from the fact that I believe I was one of the very few people that heard the last message from the Earhart plane. I was the Chief Radioman on the USCG Itasca at Howland Island during her ill-fated trip. Having heard practically every transmission she made from about 0200 till her crash when she was very loud and clear, I can assure you that she crashed very near Howland Island. The only island near Howland that it would have been possible for her to land would have been Baker Island and she didn’t land there.

Considering the increase in her signal strength from her first to her last transmission there leaves no doubt in my mind that she now rests peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland. If you could have heard the last transmission, the frantic note and near hysteria in her voice you also would be convinced of her fate but not on Saipan.

I firmly believe that she died a hero in the public eye and that is the way I believe that she would like it to be.

Sincerely yours,

Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)

November 30, 1961

Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)
1920 State Street
Everett, Washington

Dear Mr. Bellarts:

Your letter of the 28th just arrived, and I was delighted to receive it. I believe you may be able to answer a number of questions that have arisen from a thorough scrutiny of the official logs of the ITASCA and the Navy carrier, LEXINGTON. (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)

But, first, to answer your question: Why does CBS believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan?

Two expeditions to Saipan and three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war. I might add that the Catholic Church authorities on Saipan and many of the Naval Officers at the Saipan facilities are also completely convinced. The Office of Naval Intelligence has admitted that their investigation of the testimony gathered from native Saipanese indicates that it cannot be discounted. Every attempt was made to puncture that testimony this last year, and in several cases it was impossible.

The main matter for conjecture is: How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan? Did they fly there in their Lockheed Electra, or were they taken to the Island by the Japanese after a landing in another area? 

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco.

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

We have submitted the available information concerning the flight to a number of aviation experts familiar with that area of the Pacific, and all have said that it was physically possible for the plane to have flown to Saipan, but it certainly is not probable. The chances have been rated at one in a thousand to one in one hundred thousand.

The aircraft wreckage brought up from Tanapag Harbor during the expedition of June 1960 was almost an afterthought. Two native divers believed they knew where the wreckage of a twin-engine plane was in the harbor. We brought some of it to the surface with little hope it represented the Electra. The fact that a generator was a Japanese copy of the Bendix 50 amp which was carried on the Earhart craft gave hope for a brief time that it might be the proper one.

You are quite right in your assumption that the ocean floor surrounding Saipan is littered with wreckage, wreckage of every conceivable size and shape.

During my most recent trip to Saipan in September of this year, we further investigated the wreckage the generator was taken from, and definitely proved that the plane was Japanese and not Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E. A partially disintegrated name-plate on a direction finder had still legible Japanese markings.

The testimony about Earhart and Noonan being on the island, however, stood firm. The Navy had put two ONI men on the case, and their estimation was that the testimony from several reputable Saipanese in particular was irrefutable.

How then did Earhart and Noonan get to Saipan if they did not fly the Lockheed there. Commander Paul Bridwell,  Commandant NavAd Saipan, came up with the answer. The pair had gone down in or near the Marshalls and had been brought to Saipan, then the military headquarters for the Mandates, by Japanese ship to Yap, and then a flight by Japanese Naval Seaplane. Bridwell said there was proof to this theory contained in the logs of four United States Logistic Vessels, THE GOLD STAR, THE BLACKHAWK, THE HENDERSON, and THE CHAUMOUNT, which had been plying the Pacific in 193%38 and ’39 supplying the Far East Fleet. “Certain coded messages sent from Japanese vessels and shore installations,” said Bridwell, “were intercepted by these ships.”

The Japanese code was not broken until just before the war, so I gather these messages may not have been decoded until just recently. That’s the only reason I can imagine why these messages have not been brought to light before. (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, Goerner lacked important information about U.S. code-breaking abilities in 1937.  See pages 263-264 of Truth at Last, Second Edition, for more on this complex issue.)

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

______________________________________________________________________________________

                                                                                               December 10, 1961

As you can see, there has been considerable delay in the completion of this letter. Dr. [Theodore] McCown’s findings regarding the remains has touched off a chain reaction that has kept me away from my office until today.

To say that McCown’s findings were a disappointment is an understatement; however, it in no way changes our basic hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan. As Dr. McCown put it,”It doesn’t mean you weren’t on the right track. You may have missed the actual grave site by six inches. That’s the way it is with archeology.”

(Editor’s note: Dr. Theodore McCown was the University of California anthropologist who examined bones excavated by Goerner from a Saipan gravesite in 1961. See pages 224-225 of Truth at Last for more.)

Along with this letter, I am sending you our most recent press release which details many of the things I have already discussed.

Now, if I may, I would like to ask you several questions. As you were present on the ITASCA the morning of July 2, 1937, perhaps you can clarify some points that seem most enigmatic to us.

Why do many people cling to the theory that the Earhart radio was incapable of transmitting more than 50 to 100 miles when the last check-in with Lae, New Guinea was 785 miles out at 5:20 in the afternoon?

Why was “30 minutes of gas remaining” changed to read “but are running low on gas”?

Why do many people say the Earhart radio receiver was not functioning when one of the messages received by the ITASCA states, “We are receiving your signals, but they are too weak for a minimum”?

Why wasn’t Earhart alerted to the fact that a special direction finder had been set up aboard the ITASCA?

Why was a Lt. [Daniel A.] Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Forces aboard the ITASCA the morning of the disappearance?

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, anchored off Howland Island on July2, 1937, for the explicit purpose of helping Amelia Earhart find Howland and land safely at the airstrip that had been constructed there.

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was stationed next to Howland Island on July 2, 1937, for the explicit purpose of helping Amelia Earhart find Howland and land safely at the airstrip that had been constructed there.

Why is there a complete absence of any mention of the Coast Guard Vessel ONTARIO in the log of the ITASCA? The ONTARIO was a weather ship stationed at the half-way point of the flight. Didn’t the ONTARIO ever read the Earhart plane during the flight? If the ONTARIO didn’t read Earhart, why not? The flight plan would have taken the Electra fight over the ONTARIO.

Why wasn’t the emergency 3105 direction finder set up on Howland Island able to cut in the Earhart plane if the plane was as close to the island as everyone supposed?

Was there anything else beside “strength of signal” that lead those aboard the ITASCA to believe Earhart was within 50 to 100 miles of the vessel?

What was the first reaction of those aboard the ITASCA to “We are 157-337, running north and south”? Did they think it a radio bearing or a sun line? Certainly no one could have believed it a position that an experienced navigator such as Noonan would send if he knew where he was.

Why did the LEXINGTON base its search on the July 2 group of messages rather than the July 5 group? The July 5 group paint an entirely different picture, especially 0515: “200 miles” and 0545: “100 miles.” If the plane made 100 miles in 30 minutes, it’s quite obvious Earhart and Noonan figured their air speed at 200 miles per hour, which is far different than the 111 miles per hour the LEXINGTON assumed. The Electra was capable of 200 miles an hour top speed, but Earhart, conserving gas, would have been at cruise speed of 155. They must have picked up a tail wind, and the ITASCA log indicated the wind had shifted from the southeast.

I know these are a lot of questions, but there is so much that is inexplicable. Would you be so kind as to clarify some of these points for us? We will be most grateful.

Thank you so much for your time and interest.

Sincerely,

Frederick A. Goerner
News Dept., KCBS Radio
San Francisco, California

In future posts, thanks to the generous contributions of Dave Bellarts, of Lakewood, Wash., son of Leo, we’ll continue this fascinating correspondence between history’s foremost Earhart investigator and arguably the most reliable eyewitness aboard Itasca when Amelia sent her final “official” message that fateful July morning.

A timeline of significant events in the disappearance and search for Amelia Earhart, Part I of two

This is a project long overdue, but better late than never. I don’t claim that this timeline is comprehensive or complete; indeed, some knowledgeable observers might disagree with certain of my decisions to exclude or include incidents or events in this timeline. If so, please let me know in the comments section or via direct email. 

The reason for this Earhart timeline is simple: I want to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand the Earhart saga in real terms by offering them a guide to the true history of Earhart research, not the fabricated crap that TIGHAR, Elgen Long and all the rest of the despicable establishment protectorate have shoved down our throats for so long, distorting the facts and misleading all but the well informed.

Without further delay, we begin this two-part timeline with Amelia Earhart’s last message to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca:

July 2, 1937, 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time: Amelia Earhart transmits her last official message: WE ARE ON THE LINE 157-337, WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE, WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE ON 6210 KCS. WAIT LISTENING ON 6210 KCS.” After about a minute’s pause, she adds, “WE ARE RUNNING ON LINE NORTH AND SOUTH.” The message was received on 3105 at signal strength 5. “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” former Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts tells author Elgen Long in 1973.

Amelia, with Bendix Corporation rep Cyril Remmlein, and the now-infamous direction finding loop that may or may not have failed her during the final flight. (photo courtesy Albert Bresnik, taken from "Earhart's Flight Into Yesterday.")

Amelia, with Bendix Corporation representative Cyril Remmlein, and the now-infamous direction finding loop that may or may not have failed her during the final flight. (photo courtesy Albert Bresnik, taken from Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday, by Laurance Safford, Robert Payne and Cam Warren.)

July 2-7, 1937: So-called “post-loss” radio signals, possibly originating from the Earhart Electra, begin about 6 p.m., July 2, Howland Island Time, and continue intermittently. The signals are heard by Navy, Coast Guard, Pan American Airlines, ships, amateurs and professional hams on the West Coast and as far away as Florida. These signals lead many to believe that Amelia survived on land (transmission unlikely from water) within the fuel range of her Electra. Nevertheless, the Coast Guard discounts the signals as “hoaxes” and none are ever accorded official approbation. We may never know if any were legitimate.

July 3, 1937: As reported by Vincent V. Loomis in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, sometime in the afternoon, native Marshallese eyewitnesses Mrs. Clement and Jororo watch Amelia Earhart crash-land her twin-engine Electra on the shallow reef a few hundred yards offshore Barre Island, located in the northwest part of Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands.

July 7, 1937: The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search for the lost fliers in the central Pacific. On July 7 the battleship USS Colorado arrives and searches the Phoenix Islands, 350 miles southeast of Howland. On July 9, three Vought O3U-3 Corsair float planes are launched from the battleship’s three catapult rails to make an aerial inspection of three locations: McKean Island, Gardner Island (now the infamous Nikumaroro), and Carondelet Reef. Nothing unusual is seen during the flyovers of these islands; neither Amelia Earhart nor her Electra was ever on Nikumaroro, contrary to the incessant propaganda efforts by our establishment media.

July 11, 1937: The carrier USS Lexington and three ships of Destroyer Squadron Two take charge. Lexington, with 63 aircraft, begins a week of air operations covering 150,000 square miles, finding nothing. In Lexington Group Commander J.S. Dowell’s “Report of Earhart Search,” filed July 20, 1937, Dowell writes that “the plane landed on water or an uncharted reef within 120 miles of the most probable landing point, 23 miles northwest of Howland Island.”

July 13, 1937: Several American newspapers publish an International News Service (INS) story with headlines similar to this one, found on Page 1 of the Bethlehem (Penn.) Globe- Times: “Tokio Hears Jap Fishing Boat Picked up Amelia.” The story cites “vague and unconfirmed” rumors that the fliers had “been rescued by a Japanese fishing boat without a radio,” is never followed up, and is squelched in Japan with a later retraction.

This story appeared at the top of page 1 in the July 13, 1937 edition of the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania)-Globe Times. “Vague and unconfirmed rumors that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan have been rescued by a Japanese fishing boat without a radio,” the report began, “and therefore unable to make any report, found no verification here today, but plunged Tokio [sic] into a fever of excitement.” The story was quickly squelched in Japan, and no follow-up was done. (Courtesy Woody Peard.)

This story appeared at the top of page 1 in the July 13, 1937 edition of the Bethlehem (Penn.) Globe- Times. “Vague and unconfirmed rumors that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan have been rescued by a Japanese fishing boat without a radio,” the report began, “and therefore unable to make any report, found no verification here today, but plunged Tokio [sic] into a fever of excitement.” The story was quickly squelched in Japan, and no follow-up was done. (Courtesy Woody Peard.)

July 13-14, 1937: The Japanese survey ship Koshu arrives at Jaluit on July 13 and departs on July 14 for the island of Mili Mili, where it picks up Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

Between July 15-18, 1937: Sixteen-year-old Japanese-born medical corpsman Bilimon Amaron is called aboard Koshu to treat an American man accompanied by a white female pilot for minor head and knee wounds. A twin-engine silver airplane with a broken wing is attached to the stern of the ship. Amaron later identifies photos of Earhart and Noonan as the fliers he treated.

July 19, 1937: Koshu departs Jaluit, probably for Saipan, with unknown possible stops in transit, on the same day the Japanese government officially ceased its search for Earhart. Earhart and Noonan are flown to Kwajalein, and later to Saipan.

July 19, 1937: The U.S. Navy-Coast Guard ocean search for Amelia Earhart ends. Besides more than 167,000 square miles covered by the planes launched from Lexington and Colorado, the Itasca, Swan, and surface vessels of DESRON 2—the destroyers Lamson, Drayton, and Cushing – as well as Lexington herself, searched nearly 95,000 square miles of ocean. The grand total for all ships, 262,281 square miles, is the equivalent of a 500-mile square. Not a trace of an oil slick or a particle of debris is found.

Summer 1937, Tanapag Harbor, Saipan: Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 11, witnesses a twin-engine silver airplane “belly land” in the waters off the closed Japanese military area of Tanapag. She later sees two American fliers, a man and a woman, and the woman is dressed as a man, with her hair cut short. Josephine later identifies the photos as those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

October 16, 1937: An article in the Australian newspaper Smith’s Weekly, “U.S.A. Does Australia a Secret Service,” suggests that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her Electra provided the U.S. military the opportunity to search the Marshall and Phoenix Islands for a suspected Japanese military buildup. Some later point to this as the genesis of the Earhart “spy mission” theory.

April 1943: RKO Motion Pictures releases the feature film, Flight For Freedom, starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray. The film is often blamed for inspiring the “conspiracy theory” that the fliers were taken to Saipan or landed there as part of a U.S. government plot. The facts, as attested to dozens of native and GI eyewitnesses, tell us that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were indeed on Saipan, where they met their tragic deaths.  But Flight for Freedom has no relationship to actual events, and it seems obvious that this film is produced for disinformation purposes.

January 1944: Marshalls Islands native Elieu Jibambam, a schoolteacher with a reputation for integrity, tells Navy personnel on Majuro that a Japanese trader named “Ajima” told him a remarkable story. A “white woman” flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap Atolls, was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and taken to Jaluit or Majuro, and later to Kwajalein or Saipan, Ajima told Elieu. Associated Press reporter Eugene Burns writes a story about Elieu’s revelations that appears in newspapers across America in March 1944.  Other GIs find artifacts and other information from natives suggesting an Earhart connection in the Marshalls. Thus the Marshall Islands landing scenario, more commonly known as the Marshall Islands landing theory, is born.

Elieu Jibambam, one of the earliest known Marshall Island witnesses, though not an eyewitness, told several Navy men on Majuro in 1944 about the story he had heard from Ajima, a Japanese trader, about the Marshalls landing of the white woman flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap." Elieu's account was presented in several books including Fred Goerner's Search. This photo is taken from Oliver Knaggs' 1981 book, Amelia Earhart: her final flight.

Elieu Jibambam, circa 1982, one of the earliest known Marshall Island witnesses, though not an eyewitness. In January 1944, Elieu told several Navy men on Majuro about the story he had heard from Ajima, a Japanese trader, about the Marshalls landing of the white woman flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap.” Elieu’s account was presented in several books including Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart. This photo is taken from Oliver Knaggs’ 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: her final flight.

July 6-9, 1944, Saipan: Sgt. Thomas E. Devine, of the 244th Army Postal Unit, views Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E on three occasions, the final time in flames, torched by American forces at the off-limits Aslito Field.  Several other U.S. military personnel also see the plane before and after its burning.

July 6-9, 1944, Saipan: Marine Pfc. Earskin J. Nabers, a 20-year-old code clerk in the H&S Communication Platoon of the 8th Marines (2nd Marine Division) on Saipan, receives and decodes three messages relating to the discovery, plans to fly and plans to destroy Amelia Earhart’s Electra at Aslito Field.  Nabers, as well as other U.S. military personnel, witnesses the burning of NR 16020 at Aslito Field.

 July 1944, Saipan: Marine Pfc. Robert E. Wallack, 18, a machine gunner with the independent 29th Marine Regiment, finds Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown safe in Garapan. Wallack describes the contents as “official-looking papers all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight.” Wallack turns over the briefcase to a “naval officer on the beach,” and never sees it again. Wallack is interviewed by Connie Chung on CBS’s Eye to Eye in 1994 and appears in the 2007 National Geographic production, Undercover History: Amelia Earhart.

Late July-early August, 1944, Saipan: Privates Billy Burks and Everett Henson Jr., under orders from Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold, excavate and remove skeletal remains of two individuals from a gravesite outside a native Chamorro cemetery south of Garapan that may have been the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. The disposition of the remains is unknown.

August 1945: Days before Sgt. Thomas E. Devine left Saipan to return to the states and his discharge from the Army, an Okinawan woman shows him the gravesite of a “white man and woman who had come from the sky” and were killed by the Japanese. Devine goes to his own grave believing this is the true Earhart-Noonan gravesite.

Amy Otis Earhart and Amelia in Los Angeles, January 1935. One can only imagine the pain of the loss Amy must have endured when her beloved daughter was lost two-and-a-half years later.

Amy Otis Earhart and Amelia in Los Angeles, January 1935. One can only imagine the pain of the loss Amy must have endured when her beloved daughter was lost two-and-a-half years later.

July 24, 1949: In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, says: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing at sea. She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall islands, under Japanese control.”

Early 1960: Daughter of the Sky: The Story of Amelia Earhart, by Paul Briand Jr., is published by Duell, Sloan and Pearce (New York). The final chapter presents the account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 11 years old in 1937, as told to Navy dentist Casimir R. Sheft on Saipan in the 1946, when Josephine was his dental assistant. Josephine’s account is the spark that ignites the modern search for Amelia Earhart.

June 15, 1960: KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner arrives at Saipan for the first of four visits to investigate Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s eyewitness account.  With the help of the islands three Catholic priests, he interviews about 200 native witnesses and identifies 13 who strongly corroborated the account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama.

July 1, 1960: Chronicling Goerner’s interviews, San Mateo (Calif.) Times reporter Linwood Day’s series of stories reaches a climax as the Times runs, in a 100-point headline, “Amelia Earhart Mystery is Solved.” Day’s story, “Famed Aviatrix Died on Saipan,” is ignored by all major newspapers in American, though a number of smaller newspapers did run it.

October 1960: ONI Special Agent Thomas M. Blake visits Devine at his West Haven, Connecticut home, a few months after Devine told the story of his 1945 gravesite experience to the New Haven Register. Devine cooperates with Blake, and gives the ONI all he can to help the agency locate the gravesite the Okinawan woman revealed to him.

This is the unidentified Okinawan woman who encountered Sgt. Thomas E. Devine on Saipan in August 1945, urgently informing him of the gravesite of a "white man and woman who had come from the sky."

This is the unidentified Okinawan woman who encountered Sgt. Thomas E. Devine on Saipan in August 1945, urgently informing him of the gravesite of a “white man and woman who came from the sky.” Devine returned to Saipan in 1963 and managed to find the site, but didn’t excavate it. He didn’t trust Fred Goerner, and believed he’d be able to return again someday by himself to dig. Devine was wrong, and we’ll never know if the site was the true burial place of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

December 8-22, 1960: The Office of Naval Intelligence conducts an investigation into Thomas Devine’s Saipan gravesite information. The original document, henceforth the ONI Report, is dated December 23, 1960; ONI Special Agent Joseph M. Patton was its official author.

January 1963: Devine is summoned to the ONI’s Hartford, Connecticut office to read the classified ONI Report’s disturbing verdict: “The information advanced by DEVINE . . . is inaccurate and cannot be supported by this investigation.” Devine describes the findings as “neither favorable nor fair . . . incredible and negative about my information,” and devotes a chapter in Eyewitness, “An Incredible Report,” to a comprehensive rebuttal of the ONI’s findings.

December 1963: Thomas E. Devine returns to Saipan with Fred Goerner and locates the gravesite shown to him by an unidentified Okinawan woman in August 1945. Unfortunately for Devine and history, he decides not reveal its location to Goerner because he didn’t trust him. For various reasons, not least of which was the overwhelming official resistance to his many letters requesting permission to dig, Devine never again sets foot on Saipan, an outcome he never dreamed might happen in 1963.

March 1965: According to Fred Goerner, a week before his meeting with Gen. Wallace M. Greene at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Va., Nimitz tells him in a phone conversation, “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.” The admiral’s revelation appeared to be monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman and became well known to most observers of the Earhart case.

Spring 1966: The Search for Amelia Earhart, by Fred Goerner, is published by Doubleday and Co. (New York), sells 400,000 copies and stays on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. Search, which chronicles Goerner’s four Saipan visits and other  investigative activities from 1960 to 1965, is the only bestseller ever published that presents aspects of the truth in the Earhart disappearance.

Sept. 16, 1966: Time magazine pans The Search for Amelia Earhart in a scathing, unbylined review it titles “Sinister Conspiracy?” Time calls Search a book that “barely hangs together,” and the review signals the government’s longstanding position relative to the Earhart case – one of absolute denial of the facts that reveal the fliers’ presence and deaths on Saipan. From that day until now, the truth in the Earhart disappearance remains a sacred cow in Washington, and by extension, the entire U.S. government-media establishment. The few books that present credible accounts of the Earhart disappearance are suppressed by the mainstream media, including Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.

To be continued in our next post.

Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Conclusion

In the final installment of Fred Goerner’s 1984 retrospective, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” the former San Francisco radio newsman presents an excellent summary of the status of the Earhart investigation at that point in time, tracing the important discoveries since his Saipan investigations began in 1960. 

In his essay, ostensibly written for Orbis Publishing Ltd., a British company, but never published in the United States, among the many compelling evidential threads Goerner explores are the roots of the Marshall Islands landing scenario; the origins of the theories that proliferated in the days following Amelia’s loss; his original interviews with the native witnesses in the Marshall Islands and Saipan; and for the first time, the stunning revelations by Marine Generals Alexander A. Vandegrift and Graves Erskine that placed Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the days following their tragic disappearance.

Conclusion of Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart”

There were rumors in 1937 that Earhart had somehow been working for the U.S. government at the time of her disappearance. There were rumors, too, that she had purposefully lost herself so the U.S. Navy could search the Japanese controlled islands, or that she and Fred Noonan had been forced to land on or near one of those Japanese islands and they were being held prisoner. The speculation was not taken seriously by the American public.

The Oakland Tribune newspaper in May 1938 began a series of articles about the Earhart disappearance by reporter Alfred Reck. Somehow Reck had managed access to the then highly classified Coast Guard files. In the first article, Reck alleged that Earhart and Noonan had been lost because of the failure of the U.S. Navy high-frequency direction finder on Howland Island, and that Richard B. Black, the U.S. Department of Interior representative who had brought the Navy HF/DF aboard Itasca, had supplied the wrong kind of batteries causing the equipment to fail at the moment it was needed the most.

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

Department of the Interior official Richard B. Black supervised construction of the airstrip on Howland Island for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop.  He’s been blamed for the failure of the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder on Howland, and he was in the radio room of the USCG  Cutter Itasca during Earhart’s last official radio transmission, indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Richard Black jumped all over the Oakland Tribune and reporter Reck, and the rest of the articles in the series were carefully censored.

Again in 1938, popular Smith’s Weekly newspaper, published in Sydney, Australia, printed a lengthy article alleging that the U.S. had used the Earhart disappearance as a pretext to overfly Japanese held islands and that Australia’s defense establishment had been made aware of the plan and its results. “So when Amelia Earhart went down and her faint distress signals located her plane around the Phoenix Islands, the search gave the needed excuse. Sentiment comes second to secret service.”

Isolationist Republican U.S. Senator from North Dakota Gerald P. Nye was incensed by the report. He had long suspected that President Roosevelt was trying to get the U.S. involved in a war with Japan, and he announced his intention of bringing the whole Earhart matter before the U.S. Senate.

Adm. William D. Leahy, chief of U.S. naval operations, and Cordell Hull, U.S. secretary of state both wrote to Senator Nye denying the charges. Nye accepted the denials but pledged to make every effort to determine the source of the article because “the primary motive may have been to stimulate ill feeling between Japan and the United States.”

The Japanese sinking of the American Navy gunboat USS Panay in the Yangtze River two months later effectively buried Nye’s concern. Ill feeling had become outright hostility.

U.S. Congressman William I. Sirovich one day dropped by to see his friend Claude A. Swanson, who was secretary of the U.S. Navy. Sirovich, curious about the seeming mystery surrounding the Earhart disappearance, asked Swanson for his feelings about the matter.

This is a powder keg,” replied Swanson. “Any public discussion of it will cause an explosion. I’m not the only one in this department who feels that she saw activities which she could not have described later and remained alive. To speculate about this publicly probably would sever our diplomatic relations with Japan and lead to something worse.”

The “something worse” came on the wings of Japanese carrier aircraft the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and Amelia Earhart was virtually forgotten.

Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson, President Franklin Roosevelt, and Ambassador Josephus Daniels aboard USS Indianapolis, May 31, 1934.

Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson (left), President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ambassador Josephus Daniels aboard the Portland-class cruiser USS Indianapolis, May 31, 1934. Did Swanson know more about Amelia Earhart’s fate than he ever revealed publicly?

In April of 1943, however, RKO Motion Pictures released a film titled Flight For Freedom (starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray) which followed the events of Amelia’s last flight almost perfectly to the point of the Lae, New Guinea takeoff. According to the script, the aviatrix, on a mission for the U.S. government, was to fly to a “Gull” Island in the Pacific and pretend to be lost while U.S. Navy planes, ostensibly searching for her, photographed the Japanese Mandates. At Lae, New Guinea, however, the script writer had the heroine learn the Japanese were aware of the ruse and would immediately pick her up at “Gull” Island. Thereupon Rosalind Russell courageously crashed her plane at sea so the U.S. Navy could conduct its intelligence operation anyway. Amelia Earhart’s name was never used in the film, but the plot left no doubt that she was intended as the central character.

This film undoubtedly had an impact on many American servicemen who were preparing for or already participating in combat in the Pacific theater. It might explain many strange — often bizarre — rumors during the island invasions. At one point a rumor that Amelia Earhart might actually be the infamous “Tokyo Rose” broadcasting from Japan caused U.S. Army Intelligence to send George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s now remarried husband, to a radio station in China where he could clearly hear the broadcaster’s voice. He vowed it was not Amelia. Post-war investigation proved him right.

There were other happenings that could not be explained as easily.  In 1944 on Majuro Atoll during the invasion of the Marshall Islands, Vice Adm. Edgar A. Cruise learned from a native interpreter named Michael Madison that an American man and woman flyers had been picked up and brought into the Marshalls in 1937.

At almost the same time, Eugene F. Bogan, serving as a senior military government officer at Majuro (Bogan is now one of America’s leading tax attorneys in Washington, D.C.) interviewed a Marshallese native named Elieu Jibambam, who told the same story.

Four other U.S. Marine corps and U.S. Navy Officers turned up similar information: An American man and woman, flyers according to the Japanese, had been brought into Jaluit in the Marshalls, then transported to Majuro and Kwajalein, also in the Marshalls, and finally, taken to Saipan in the Marianas Islands which was Japan’s military headquarters for the Pacific islands before and during World War II. They all filed reports which still remain classified somewhere in military archives.

The 1943 Hollywood film Flight for Freedom, starring Rosalind Russell as Tony Carter, who many are convinced was a thinly disguised Amelia Earhart,

The 1943 Hollywood film Flight for Freedom, starring Rosalind Russell as Tony Carter, a thinly disguised Amelia Earhart, has been blamed by some for inspiring the false “conspiracy theory” that the fliers were taken to Saipan or landed there as part of a U.S. government plot. The facts, as attested to dozens of native and GI witnesses, tell us that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were indeed on Saipan, where they met their tragic deaths, and had nothing to do with Flight for Freedom.

During the invasion of Saipan in June 1944, the possibility of Japanese capture of Earhart broadened with testimony of Saipanese natives that two Americans, a man and woman, identified by the Japanese as fliers had been brought to the island in 1937 and detained. The woman had died of dysentery and the man reportedly had been executed sometime after her death. They had, according to the testimony, been buried in unmarked graves outside the perimeter of a native cemetery.

(Editor’s comment: Note that in 1984, the 26 former American GIs who contacted Thomas E. Devine after publication of his book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, in 1987, and whose accounts were presented in our 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes, were completely unknown to Goerner. These former Marines included Robert E. Wallack and Earskin J. Nabers, two of the most important eyewitnesses in the Earhart saga.)

It would be 1964 before two former U.S. Marines, Everett Henson, Jr. of Sacramento, California, and Bill G. Burks of Dallas, would come forward to say they were part of a group of Marines who recovered the remains of Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan on Saipan in July of 1944. The remains had been found in an unmarked grave outside a small graveyard and placed in metal canisters for transport to the United States. To this writing, the U.S. Marine Corps will neither confirm or deny that such an event occurred.

Just after the end of World War II, early in 1946, the U.S. Navy reiterated that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were considered and had always been considered merely civilians on a pioneering flight. They were still to be considered “lost at sea.”

It would not be until 1960 that a real investigation began, and that investigation would be civilian. The Columbia Broadcasting System sponsored four expeditions to Saipan Island and two to Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands to try to find answers to the Earhart mystery.

Robert Wallack recounts his remarkable experience on Saipan in 1944 as he reviews a map of the island for an with at his dining room table in Woodbridge, Conn., in 1990 shortly before his appearance on Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. (Photo courtesy Michael O'Brien.)

Robert E. Wallack, who found Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown Japanese safe on Saipan in July 1944, recalls his remarkable experience as he reviews a map of the island at his home in Woodbridge, Conn.,  shortly before his 1990 appearance on Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. (Photo courtesy Michael O’Brien.)

The effort spanned the years 1960 to 1964, and your author was selected by CBS to conduct the inquiry. I was working as a correspondent-broadcaster at that time for KCBS in San Francisco.  Several hundred natives were questioned on Saipan with the help of the Monsignor and Fathers of the Catholic Church Mission. More than 30 individuals told stories that supported the theory that two American fliers, a man and woman, had lived and died on Saipan before the war.

At Majuro, we found the persons who had given information during World War II, and we found others as well. Dr. John Iman, Biliman Amran [sic, more commonly Bilimon Amaron], Tomaki Mayazo, all would tell stories of the man and woman American fliers. Amran had worked at the Japanese hospital, and he had been called to tend the Americans who had been brought in aboard a Japanese ship. It was the man who needed treatment. He had been cut on the head and on the knee. “He spoke something in English to me,” Amran says, “but at that time I only spoke Japanese.”

In 1962, the Earhart investigation brought me into contact with Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had commanded American naval forces in the Pacific during WWII.  Nimitz recalled that “someone” had told him that “something” in connection with Earhart had been found on one of the islands during World War II, but he had not been greatly impressed because of the pressures of ongoing battle.

(Editor’s note: Unaccountably, here Goerner failed to mention the statement he claimed Nimitz made to him on the phone in late March 1965: “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you that Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.”)

Later Admiral Nimitz became vitally interested in the Earhart questions, providing suggestions for further research and attempting to help with access to classified information. Before his death in 1966, Nimitz advised, “Never give up. You are on to something that will stagger your imagination.”

Classis portrait of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy's last five-star admiral and a important figure in the Earhart saga. Nimitz's words to Fred Goerner in March 1965 became legendary among Earhart researchers as well as the American public in the mid-1960s. Sadly. Nimitz and Goerner's contributions to the truth in the Earhart search are all but forgotten.

Classic portrait of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy’s last five-star admiral and an important figure in the Earhart saga. Nimitz’s words to Fred Goerner in March 1965 became legendary among Earhart researchers as well as the American public. Sadly, Nimitz and Goerner’s contributions to the truth in the Earhart search are all but forgotten in today’s social media culture of historical ignorance.

The same year, 1966, I wrote The Search for Amelia Earhart, which was published by Doubleday in the U.S. and Bodley Head Press, Ltd. in England. It detailed the six years of CBS research and basically asked why the U.S. government still, nearly thirty years after the event, had not released the classified files in the case.

By good fortune the tome remained on the best sellers’ lists for many weeks, and a gratifying number of readers were motivated to write to their U.S. senators or congressmen, asking that truth for Earhart and Noonan finally be established.  At the time, there was little response. It was not until the Freedom Of Information Act became law in 1968 that quite a number of files began to appear, and each year since more pertinent material has been found and declassified.

This would seem to be the right time to say that this author is a standard patriot. I am grateful for the freedoms I enjoy in America. I would not willingly choose to live anywhere else, and I far more often compliment my country than criticize it. Perhaps I may then be forgiven if I say that responsible search for truth could sometimes be eased by those charged with keeping secrets.

From 1968 to present day, well over 20,000 pages of records concerning the Earhart flight from seven different departments of the U.S. government and military have been released, and we are convinced there is a great deal more still to be revealed.

The idea for Earhart’s around-the-world flight had begun with an entity known as the Purdue Research Foundation at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. She had served the University for brief periods as a lecturer and counselor to women students.

The Foundation had been formed by David E. Ross of Lafayette, Ind., and J.K. Lilly of Indianapolis for the purpose of seeking “new knowledge in the field of aviation, with particular reference to National Defense”, and it (the Foundation) maintained close communication with the then U.S. War Department and U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. naval aviation.

Ross, an enormously wealthy engineer and inventor, and Lilly, one of the founders and directors of Eli Lilly Company, provided the funds for the purchase of Amelia’s Lockheed Electra with the understanding that the plane would be used “for the purpose of improving radio direction finding equipment.”

In 1937, America was still deeply in the grip of the great depression, and details of the transaction that involved what was then a considerable sum of money were not disclosed to anyone save the principals.

Wright Field, circa 1934, three years before Amelia Earhart flew her Electra there

Wright Field, circa 1934, three years before Amelia Earhart flew her Lockheed Electra there to have Fred Hooven’s “radio compass,” which he also called an “automatic direction finder,” installed.

Amelia flew the plane to Wright Field in Ohio to have the latest 500 kilocycles low-frequency direction finder, invented by Frederick Hooven for the Army Air Corps, installed in the Electra. Later, the U.S. Navy and representatives of the Bendix Company would ask Amelia to jettison Hooven’s creation and use the Navy high-frequency DF.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally interested himself in the flight, directing the War, Navy, Army and State Departments to cooperate. Enthusiasm was not unanimous. One high-ranking Navy officer wrote in longhand on the margin of the directive, “Why are we doing this? There isn’t that much to gain, and it’ll excite the Japs.”

What did excite the Japanese was construction of the airfield on Howland Island. Earhart first planned to fly the Pacific from east to west, being refueled in flight over Midway Island by a specially equipped U.S. Navy plane. Such techniques were in their infancy; therefore, the risk factor was very high.

Then Earhart and U.S. military needs coincided. Amelia needed a safer method for crossing the Pacific and the US Navy and US Army Air Corps needed a civilian reason to build an airfield on an island near the equator. America had agreed with Japan at the Washington Naval Treaty conference in 1923 that military construction on most Pacific islands controlled by each nation would be prohibited. The U.S. had long believed that Japan was violating that treaty in the Mandated Islands, but could not prove it. The U.S. had countered on Midway and Wake Islands through cooperation with Pan American airways, and now Earhart would become the civilian reason or cover for Howland. To further disguise the Howland venture, President Roosevelt diverted funds from the civilian Works Progress Administration, an obfuscation tactic he had used several times before.

From the records released to this writing, Earhart does not seem to have been conducting an overt spy mission during the world flight. At one time we had thought that possible. There is evidence and testimony that Earhart and Noonan were gathering “white intelligence.” As civilians they were going to be visiting and flying in and out of places seldom if ever visited by the U.S. military, and observations of these areas could be valuable. Of particular interest would be weather and radio conditions, length of runways, fuel supplies and repair facilities. All valuable information in the event of conflict. After the end of World War I, the records indicate that many American civilians performed like services in many parts of the world. Not clandestine and not at all unusual.

There is nothing in released records to date that would document Japanese capture of Earhart and Noonan, other than gathered testimony of Marshallese and Saipanese native witnesses. Nor is there anything which would substantiate the recovery of the human remains of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in 1944 by the US Marines.

There is evidence that President Roosevelt and U.S. Naval Intelligence suspected that Amelia and Fred might have fallen into the hands of the Japanese. The ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) arranged with one Kilsoo Haan (an American working with the Korean Underground against the Japanese) in December of 1937 to sneak several of his agents into the Japanese mandated islands “to determine whether Miss Earhart and Captain Noonan are alive or dead.” The results of that intelligence mission still have not been found.

(Editor’s note: In a 1993 letter to J. Gordon Vaeth, Goerner wrote that the Kilsoo Haan mission “fell through because the ONI did not have sufficient funds available for the operation.” See p. 178 of Truth at Last for more.)

Kilsoo K. Haan, circa 1941. Dateline "Washington, May 27. SAYS JAPS WILL ATTACK U.S. Kilsoo K. Haan (above), Washington representative of the Korean National Front Federation and Sino-Korean Peoples' League. testified yesterday that Japan would attack the U.S. this summer/

Kilsoo Haan, circa May 1941. According to Fred Goerner, Haan  worked with the Office of Naval Intelligence in December 1937 to “sneak several of his agents into the Japanese mandated islands to determine whether Miss Earhart and Captain Noonan are alive or dead.” The project failed, allegedly for lack of funding, Goerner later wrote. 

(Editor’s note: Here Goerner, who continued to reject Thomas E. Devine’s contributions to the Earhart saga, failed to mention the 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence Report of its investigation of Devine’s claim that he was shown the gravesite of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan by an unidentified Okinawan woman in August 1945. This report was declassified in 1967, has never been mentioned by any known media organizations, and is the closest thing we have to a smoking-gun document in the Earhart search. For more on the ONI Report, see pages 95-100 in Truth at Last.)

Early in 1938, President Roosevelt arranged with his close friend and trusted intelligence agent William Vincent Astor to penetrate Japan’s Marshall Islands aboard Astor’s huge personal yacht Nourmahal.  Accompanied by FDR’s cousin Kermit Roosevelt, Astor took his ship into the Marshalls in April, 1938, a daring and highly dangerous exploit that infuriated the Japanese. Astor and Kermit Roosevelt were not able to land on any of the islands, but they got close enough to find fuel supplies and air strips on Eniwetok and Wotje Islands and to predict to President Roosevelt that Japan was in the process of developing military bases and facilities in the Mandates. From what has been released to date, they did not find out anything about Earhart and Noonan.

The Japanese protested vehemently to the U.S. State Department, and one Japanese press report indicated that the U.S. Navy had sent “warships” into the Marshalls and was forming a task force for an attack. Astor had caused a storm with Japan, but his mission was unknown in America. He was but one of dozens of civilians that Roosevelt had used and would use as personal secret agents.

In the last several years, two Americans have come forward with information that indicates the Earhart saga is far from ended.  Thomas McKeon, vice president of Intertel, based in Washington, D.C., one of the world’s largest private intelligence networks, staffed by former ONI, FBI and CIA agents, has testified that the 441st U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Unit discovered the complete truth regarding Japanese capture of Earhart of Noonan when it occupied the Japanese Kempeitai (Military Secret Police) headquarters in September of 1945. McKeon says he read the files when he served as an officer with the 441st in Tokyo, and that at one point he talked with a former Japanese officer who had served as an interpreter when Earhart and Noonan had been questioned.

Carroll Harris of Sacramento, California, recently retired from his post as dispatcher for the California State Highway Patrol, a top law enforcement agency in California. From 1942 to 1945, he was one of the U.S. Navy personnel responsible for the Security Room in Washington, D.C., of the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Ernest King. In the top-secret vault was an extensive file on Amelia Earhart dealing with pre-WW II U.S. Navy involvement and information picked up during the invasion of various Japanese held islands during World War II.

Harris recalls that the records were carefully boxed and sent to the U.S. Naval Supply Depot at Crane, Ind., toward the end of the war in 1945. Crane was and apparently still is the repository of top-secret material, including records of U.S. Naval code-breaking operations before and during the war.

To this writing, the records referred to by McKeon and Harris have not been found, but an effort to locate them continues.   A search for truth is underway in Japan today as well. Fukiko Aoki, one of the brightest young writers and investigative journalists in Japan, has for more than a year been seeking answers in Japanese archives and from former Imperial Japanese Naval Officers.

Gen. Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps during the Battle of Saipan in 1944, told two prominent CBS radio people in 1966, "It was established that Earhart was on Saipan." Yet Graves' revealing statement wasn't mentioned in the Smithsonian article, and a similar statement to Fred Goerner by the great Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the number one man in the Pacific Fleet for most of the war, was deprecated because Goerner was the "only source" for the admiral's revelation.

In November 1966, Gen. Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps during the Battle of Saipan in 1944, told two professional associates of Fred Goerner, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan.”

What do I believe now after 23 years of research, including 12 trips to Saipan and four to Majuro Atoll in the Marshalls?  Earhart and Noonan were cooperating with their government at the time of their disappearance, and there is strong testimony that an American man and woman, identified as fliers, were picked by Japanese military units somewhere and taken first to the Marshalls and then to Saipan. Just where the Electra landed is very much a matter of conjecture. If the Japanese know, they have said nothing.

(Editor’s note: Once again Goerner, by neglecting to reference Thomas E. Devine’s account to him in 1963 during their Saipan visit, which he included in Search, revealed his contempt for Devine and his claim that he saw the Electra on Saipan on three occasions in July 1944, the final time in flames. Devine said that before he left Saipan in August 1945, the remains of Amelia’s plane had been bulldozed into a huge hole underneath Aslito Airport, which is now Saipan International Airport, and there it remains to this day, along with untold tons of other war refuse, including Japanese planes destroyed during the Saipan invasion.)

If Earhart and Noonan were off course considerably to the north of Howland Island, they may have landed at Mili or one of the other islands in the southern Marshalls. Many believe that theory. If Amelia and Fred were blown south of their course because they did not receive the weather forecast predicting significant winds from the northeast, the Phoenix Islands surely would have been their alternate choice. Until the mystery reefs that lie between Howland and the Phoenix Islands are thoroughly searched and the lagoons of several of the islands are plumbed, the possibility the aircraft can be found remains.

Gen. Graves B. Erskine, USMC (Ret.) one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ most distinguished officers told CBS in a 1966 private interview, “We did learn that Earhart was on Saipan and that she died there.”

Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC (Ret.), who commanded the US Marine Corps during the later stages of WW II the Pacific wrote to me on August 10, 1971, “It was substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan. The information was given to me directly by General Thomas Watson, who commanded the 2nd U.S. Marine Corps Division during the assault on Saipan in 1944.”

Saipan has many mysteries. Much more questioning of the Saipanese people has produced stories of an American woman spy from “Los Angeles” who was executed in 1937. Was that woman Amelia Earhart? Or was it another woman sent by American intelligence to ascertain Japanese activities in the mandated islands — a woman whose mission and fate have never been revealed by anyone?

I believe the full truth will be made public in the not distant future.  (End of “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”)

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, "Search" sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled "Sinister Conspiracy,” set the original tone for what has become several generations of media aversion to the truth about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, Search sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled “Sinister Conspiracy,” set the tone for what has become several generations of media aversion to the truth about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

After writing “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” Goerner lived 10 more years before losing his battle to cancer in September 1994, dying at 69, but he would never again write so lucidly and boldly about the Earhart disappearance.  In June 1977, Goerner appeared briefly in a muddled episode of the TV series In Search of . . . , narrated by Leonard Nimoy, and his final small screen appearance came in the popular Unsolved Mysteries program, with Robert Stack, where he shared time with Thomas E. Devine, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan and Robert E. Wallack in a 1990 presentation. It would also be the last time Devine would have a national platform to share his Saipan experiences, though the Saipan veteran lived until 2003.

Fred Goerner remains the greatest of all Earhart researchers, despite his failings, which I’ve not been remiss in chronicling on this blog and in Truth at LastThe Search for Amelia Earhart was, by far, the most important Earhart disappearance book, but the fame and acclaim his 1966 bestseller brought was fleeting. Goerner and his message became anathema soon after Time magazine’s damning review of Search; henceforth, the mere mention of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence was seldom heard in American media. To this day, anyone who dares say those words is, with few exceptions, banished to the land of fringe conspiracy theorists, where the truth, no matter how compelling, is deemed worthy only of ridicule and rejection. In fact, it’s worse now than ever.

Someday the Earhart truth will be universally recognized and acknowledged, but nothing in our current or past government’s actions should lead anyone to believe that disclosure is likely to occur in our lifetimes. The few who still care continue to work toward that eventuality, whenever it might come, and we never forget Fred Goerner and the other intrepid souls who blazed this lonely trail, lighting the way and making it just a little easier to tread.

Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Part I: Was 1984 Orbis retrospective published anywhere?

Nobody realized it then, but from the moment Time magazine ripped Fred Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was thenceforth treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. corporate media.  

By 1984 things were even worse, and speaking of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence was reserved for paranoid conspiracy theorists, fringe nuts, like this writer, who were shunned by polite society.  The establishment had long circled its wagons around this sacred cow, and still has no intention of admitting a truth that would destroy the grand, well-crafted legacy of Democrat icon Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Until recently I believed that Fred Goerner’s fine 1984 retrospective, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” had appeared in a British publication called Orbis magazine, and stated so in Truth at Last.  But now I find there was no Orbis magazine in 1984. Orbis Publishing Ltd. was a United Kingdom-based publisher of books and partworks (a new term for me). The company was founded in 1970 and changed its name to De Agostini UK Ltd. in 1999.  

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

It was apparently for Orbis that Goerner penned this piece, but I can’t determine where it actually appeared in Britain — or if it appeared at all I’ve searched online in vain for any British or American magazine, newspaper or periodical and found nothing that remotely resembles this relatively unknown 9,300-word summary of the most important evidence supporting the Marshalls-Saipan truth at the time.  I found it in the Goerner Collection files at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, several years ago, and for true Fred Goerner fans and Earhart aficionados, this is a special treat, unavailable to the public anywhere until now.

Following is the first of three parts, virtually unedited from the original, of “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” by Fred Goerner for ORBIS Publishing, England.  

“IN SEARCH OF AMELIA EARHART”
by Fred Goerner

Amelia Earhart carefully taxied her Lockheed Electra 10-E twin-engine airliner to the takeoff stand at the Lae, New Guinea 3,000 feet runway. Behind the cockpit in the main cabin was Captain Frederick Noonan. He had secured all loose items and cinched tight the safety belts attached to his navigator’s chair.

It was July 2, 1937. Amelia and Fred had often acknowledged that this would be the most difficult and dangerous part of their well-publicized around-the-world flight.

Their course would take them over an expanse of Pacific Ocean never flown before: 2,556 miles, mostly over open water, bound for tiny Howland Island, a three-quarter by one-half-mile fleck of land just north of the equator where the U.S. Navy, Army Air Corps and Interior Departments had recently scratched out a rudimentary airfield.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard had each provided a plane guard vessel. The Navy’s USS Ontario (AT-13) would be stationed in the open sea at the flight’s midpoint and the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca would anchor near Howland Island. Each would try to assist with communications and both could serve as rescue ships should Earhart and Noonan have to attempt an emergency landing on the ocean.

Perhaps the most dangerous and difficult aspect of the endeavor would be the takeoff. the plane was grossly overloaded with 1050 gallons of 86 octane fuel together with 50 gallons of 100 octane gas to provide extra power to the twin 550 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines for initial lift.

Amelia had practiced such takeoffs at the Lockheed field in Burbank, California, but this was the first time during the world flight she would have to test what she had learned. She remembered all too clearly the nearly disastrous crash they had experienced on the attempted takeoff from Honolulu three months earlier. Carrying only 900 gallons of fuel, the Electra had begun to swerve on the takeoff run. The plane lurched to the left, then the nose began to come right. Amelia had overcorrected by pulling back on the left engine throttle, and “The Flying Laboratory” as she called her plane, careened into a vicious ground-loop, collapsing the landing gear. The Electra had come to a stop in a shower of sparks. Good fortune still followed her and those who flew with her.

Despite the gasoline sprayed along the runway, there was no fire and no one had been injured; however, Captain Harry Manning, one of the two navigators, decided he had risked his life enough in the interests of Amelia Earhart and returned to his sea command, leaving only Fred Noonan to help Amelia find her way around the world.

Guinea Airways employee Alan Board is credited with this photo of the Electra just before leaving the ground on its takeoff from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. This is the last known photo of the Earhart Electra.

Guinea Airways employee Alan Board is credited with this photo of the Electra just before leaving the ground on its takeoff from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. This is the last known photo of the Earhart Electra, NR 16020.

It was exactly 10 a.m. New Guinea time as the Electra spun into takeoff position. The bright controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard props whirled by the powerful Wasp engines chewed great holes in the air as Amelia checked the rpm’s and magnetos, sending a hurricane blasting back against the vibrating 55-foot wingspan. Satisfied with the performance of both engines, Amelia throttled back. The Guinea Airways mechanics had done a thorough job in making “The Flying Laboratory” as airworthy as possible. A brief test flight with light fuel load the day before had established the quality of their work.

Amelia stared down the runway for a moment. Had they figured everything? She thought so. The air temperature and humidity matched the wind direction and velocity to provide the necessary lift given the weight of the aircraft and the length of runway. She and Fred had unloaded every ounce of personal baggage that could be spared. Even a few pounds could be crucial.

She once again checked the power and fuel mixture settings that had been given her by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed Aircraft. “You must use every foot of the runway you can,” he had said.  “Hold it down to the last second. With that load, you must have the airspeed or its all over!”

After the Honolulu crackup, Johnson had repeatedly tutored Amelia in heavy-load takeoffs at the Burbank field, using an Electra similar to hers. At one point the look-alike Electra had wandered off the runway and into a ditch. The weight in that aircraft, however, had been iron bars, not gasoline.

With a smooth, positive motion, Amelia pushed both throttles forward to full open, slipped the brakes, and the Electra began to lumber forward. The roar of the engines claimed the attention of a small band of spectators at the Guinea Airways’ hangars. The group included J.A. Collopy, District Superintendent of Civil Aviation for the Territory Of New Guinea; Harry Balfour, senior radio operator at the Lae Aerodrome; and technicians and pilots of Guinea Airways.

 Collopy would later write in his official report to the Civil aviation Board:

“The takeoff was hair-raising as after taking every yard of the 1,000 yard runway from the northwest end of the aerodrome towards the sea, the aircraft had not left the ground 50 yards from the end of the runway. When it did leave it sank away but was by this time over the sea. It continued to sink to about five or six feet above the water and had not climbed to more than 100 feet before it disappeared from sight. It was obvious the aircraft was well handled and pilots of Guinea airways were loud in their praise of the takeoff with such an overload.”

Collopy detailed the amount of gas aboard the Electra, the repairs accomplished at Lae and concluded the report with his own feeling that the weak link in the flight was the lack of expert knowledge of radio on the part of Earhart and Noonan. He deplored the fact that their Morse code sending was very slow and that they both preferred to use voice telephone. “Mr. Noonan told me that he was not a bit anxious about the flight to Howland Island and was quite confident that he would have little difficulty in locating it. I do think that had an expert radio operator been included in the crew the conclusion might have been different.”

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart.

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart.

A few minutes after the Electra disappeared from the sight of Lae, radio operator Harry Balfour received a long awaited weather forecast for the Earhart flight from the U.S. Navy Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor. The message had been routed through American Samoa and Suva, Fiji. As Amelia and Fred would be flying dead reckoning most of the day and night, it was vitally important that they know the wind directions so navigational corrections could be made for drift.

At 10:22 a.m., 11:22 a.m. and 12:22 p.m., Balfour transmitted the information by radiophone on Earhart’s daytime frequency, 6210 kilocycles: 

“PARTLY CLOUDY SKIES WITH DANGEROUS RAIN SQUALLS ABOUT 300 MILES EAST OF LAE. SCATTERED HEAVY SHOWERS REST OF ROUTE. WINDS EAST SOUTHEAST ABOUT 25 KNOTS TO ONTARIO. THEN EAST TO NORTHEAST ABOUT 20 KNOTS TO HOWLAND.”

Balfour heard no acknowledgment from Earhart, but assumed she had gotten the message and had simply been too busy to reply. At approximately 3 p.m. Lae time, Amelia’s voice came through Balfour’s receiver, clear and unhurried. The plane was flying at 10,000 feet, but she was going to reduce altitude because of thick banks of cumulus clouds ahead.

Then at 5:20 p.m., she broke through again on 6210 kilocycles to announce they were currently at 7,000 feet and making 150 knots speed. The position reported was latitude 4 degrees 33 minutes South, longitude 159 degrees 06 minutes East, a point about 785 miles out from Lae and almost directly on course. The true ground speed was only about 111 knots, indicating the Electra was indeed bucking the headwinds mentioned in the U.S. Navy weather forecast. Earhart closed the broadcast by stating her next report would be on 3105 kilocycles, her nighttime frequency.

Balfour radioed back that her signal was coming through strong and she should continue to use 6210. Amelia again did not acknowledge, and Balfour heard nothing more.

To 34-year-old U.S. Navy Lt. Horace Blakeslee, the assignment as commanding officer and navigator of USS Ontario (AT-13) was both fascination and frustration. Ontario, a single screw seagoing tug launched in 1912, was the U.S. Navy’s only remaining coal-burning vessel, and serving as a plane guard ship for the Earhart flight stretched her capabilities to the maximum, In fact, Ontario was no longer considered fit for patrol duty and had been delegated the official yacht of the U.S. Navy Governor of American Samoa.

To make the more than 1,200-mile voyage to the mid-point of the projected Earhart flight, remain on plane guard station for as much as two weeks and then return to the U.S. Navy Station at Tutuila, Samoa, Blakeslee fully loaded Ontario’s coal bunkers and piled a reserve supply on her decks.

By the time Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, Blakeslee and his crew had already been steaming up and down a small portion of Earhart’s announced flight path for 10 days. Consumption of coal and water was reaching a critical point.

Blakeslee had no illusions that two-way communication between Earhart and Ontario could be established. The Electra had no low-frequency broadcast capability and the Ontario no high-frequency equipment. The Ontario was to broadcast the letter ‘N’ on 400 kilocycles with the ship’s call letters repeated at the end of each minute. With a low-frequency receiver, Earhart presumably could estimate her distance from Ontario by strength of signal. Her direction finder, restricted to high frequency signals, would be of no use to home on Ontario. 

With Earhart’s 5:20 p.m. reported position, the Electra was due over Ontario at approximately 10 p.m. Ontario time. Blakeslee recalls (and is substantiated by Ontario‘s official log) that at 10 p.m. the weather consisted of scattered cumulus clouds moving from the east-northeast and occasional showers. One of the watch officers believed he heard the sound of an approaching aircraft  a few minutes after 10 p.m. and the Ontario searchlight swept the sky.

USS Ontario (AT-13),

The seagoing tug USS Ontario (AT-13) was assigned to a plane guard position at the projected mid-point of the Earhart flight. The watch officer said he heard the sound of an approaching aircraft a few minutes after 10 p.m., an aircraft that must have been the Electra, on course for Howland Island at that point.

By 1 a.m. the overcast had become complete and heavy rain squalls were buffeting Ontario. Blakeslee radioed for and received permission to return to base. The old ship barely made it, “scraping the bottoms of the coal bunkers.”

At the same time as the men of Ontario believed the Earhart plane to be passing overhead, the radio operator of the Nauru Island station to the north copied Amelia saying, “A ship in sight ahead.”

The 250-foot Coast Guard Cutter USS Itasca steamed slowly by Howland Island, barely keeping way. The radio room was fully manned, and a satellite station ashore on Howland housing a new and highly secret high-frequency radio direction finder was ready for action as well.

The Itasca ‘s Captain, [Cmdr.] Warner Thompson, was not a happy man, however. He and the Coast Guard had the responsibility for assisting the Earhart plane to a safe landing at Howland, but he was now convinced that Itasca was being denied important information where the night was concerned. Try as he would Thompson could not find out exactly what frequencies Earhart was going to use or even the range of her direction finding equipment.

Thompson was also not pleased with a number of persons he felt were looking over his shoulder aboard ship. There was Richard Blackburn Black, the Department of Interior representative who had arranged with the Navy and Army for construction of the Howland airfield and who was billed as Earhart’s personal representative. It was Black who had brought the hush-hush high-frequency direction finder aboard Itasca, and who had wanted to bring along a U.S. Navy radio expert to operate the apparatus. Thompson had flatly refused to use a Navy man on a Coast Guard ship, but under pressure had finally permitted a Navy radioman second class named Frank Cipriani to be trained in Hawaii in the use of the equipment.

Also aboard were several U.S. army and U.S. Army Air Corps representatives along with the reporters from Associated Press and United Press. They all had their own interests and needs, none of which, Thompson felt, aided in the task of guiding the Earhart plane to a safe landfall.

The Itasca radio room was crowded by midnight. The wire service correspondents jockeyed for position with the Army men. Coast Guard radiomen William Galten and Thomas O’Hare along with Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts hovered over the transmitters and receivers.

It was a long wait. Earhart’s voice did not break through the static on 3105 kilocycles until 0245, and then all that could be clearly understood was “CLOUDY WEATHER . . . CLOUDY” an hour later at 0345, her voice was heard again saying “ITASCA FROM EARHART. ITASCA BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR — REPEAT-BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR. . . . OVERCAST”.

The Itasca operators transmitted on 3105 asking Earhart to send on 500 kilocycles so the ship’s low frequency direction finder could get a fix on her. Obviously no one on Itasca knew that Earhart did not have the equipment to broadcast on 500 kilocycles.

Another long wait, and then at 0453 Amelia’s voice was recognized again but the signals were unreadable. The first real sense of worry began to permeate the radio room.  At 0512, Earhart’s voice again. This time much clearer: “WANT BEARINGS ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR. WILL WHISTLE IN MICROPHONE.”

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven's Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia's failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven’s Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia’s failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan.  We’ll have more on Hooven, his Radio Compass and other related topics in a future post.

The only high-frequency direction finder available that could take a bearing on 3105 kilocycles was the Navy set ashore on Howland, and there the Coast Guard operator Cipriani was in a sweat. Earhart wasn’t staying on the air long enough for him to get a fix. The whistling into the mike helped, but it was too short as well. Another important factor was also disturbing Cipriani. The wet-cell batteries that powered the direction finder were beginning to run down. He could only pray that they would last long enough to give Earhart a proper heading.

Amelia broke in again three minutes later at 0515, this time only saying “ABOUT 200 MILES OUT.” Again she whistled briefly into her microphone. Another half-hour dragged by, and then again Earhart’s voice, this time with a note of pleading. “PLEASE TAKE A BEARING ON US AND REPORT IN HALF-HOUR. I WILL MAKE NOISE IN MICROPHONE. ABOUT 100 MILES OUT.” Still more whistling. On Howland, Cipriani made a note on his log: “Her carrier is completely modulated. I cannot get a bearing.”

Nothing further from Earhart until 0730. Her voice was becoming heavy with concern. “WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE YOU BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW. HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO. WE ARE FLYING AT 1,000 FEET.”

The atmosphere in the Itasca radio room was heavy with alarm. The operators redoubled their efforts, still pleading with Amelia to transmit on 500 kilocycles.

 At 0757, still on 3105 kilocycles, Amelia’s voice filled the radio room at the clearest level yet. “WE ARE CIRCLING BUT CANNOT SEE ISLAND. CANNOT HEAR YOU. GO AHEAD ON 7500 KILOCYCLES ON LONG COUNT EITHER NOW OR ON SCHEDULE TIME OF HALF-HOUR”

The Itasca operators looked at each other in amazement. Now Earhart was trying to use her own direction finder, but none of them had any idea it ranged to 7500 kilocycles. Quickly the Itasca transmitter began to pour forth a stream of letter “A’s” on the suggested frequency.

Almost immediately, at 0803, Amelia replied, “WE RECEIVED YOUR SIGNALS BUT UNABLE TO GET MINIMUM. PLEASE TAKE BEARING ON US AND ANSWER ON 3105 KILOCYCLES.” This time she made long dashes by depressing the microphone button, but still the Howland direction finder could not get a bearing. Cipriani shook his head in desperation. The batteries were almost completely discharged.

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy's high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O'Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and "rated" to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937. Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up. Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs). Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

Forty miserable minutes dragged by in the Itasca radio room. Frustration etched every face. as one of the operators would later say, “It was like not being able to reach a friend who was falling over a cliff.”

At 0843, an Earhart voice that some would later call frantic blurted, “WE ARE ON THE LINE OF POSITION 157 DASH 337. WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE ON 6210 KILOCYCLES. WE ARE NOW RUNNING NORTH AND SOUTH.”

Amelia was switching to her daytime frequency. Itasca‘s operators immediately monitored 6210 kilocycles but were greeted with nothing but static.  An hour wore by. Still nothing. Some of the men went on deck and gazed up at the morning sky, hoping a miracle would bring Earhart and Noonan into sight. The horizon was empty save a weather front of cumulus clouds many miles to the northwest.

Warner Thompson, Itasca‘s captain, waited until 10:30 a.m., then radioed Honolulu that the Earhart plane was probably down at sea and he was going to begin a search operation.

Search, indeed. But where? What did “157-337” mean? It probably was a sun line that Noonan had been able to shoot just before Earhart’s last radio transmission. But a sun line was no good without a reference point. The plane could be anywhere along 2,000 miles of that sun line. On a compass reciprocal “157-337” could represent a southeast to northwest line through

Howland Island itself. Thompson reasoned that the weather front to the northwest might have prevented Earhart and Noonan from seeing Howland, so he would search that area first.

The disappearance took every headline in America along with most of the rest of the world. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband who was waiting in Oakland, Calif., was stunned, but he believed in his wife’s resourcefulness and he believed in her luck.

Noonan’s wife, Mary Bea (Martinelli), told the press she was confident her Fred and Amelia would be rescued. She had married Fred Noonan just three weeks before the around-the-world flight began.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had made the arrangements for U.S. Government cooperation with the flight, immediately ordered the American battleship USS Colorado which was on a summer reserve training cruise near the Hawaiian Islands to proceed at top speed to the Howland Island area to assist with the search. Colorado carried three catapult observation planes that could cover wide areas of ocean.

Amelia’s had been literally a flight into yesterday. Because of the International Date Line, she and Fred Noonan had taken off from Lae, New Guinea, at 10 a.m. July 2, and the had vanished sometime after 8:43 a.m., July 2, Howland Island time.

On the evening of July 3, 1937, President Roosevelt, after consultation with the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. William D. Leahy, ordered the Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington and three U.S. Navy destroyers to proceed from the west coast of the United States to the vicinity of Howland Island to augment the search. (End of Part I of Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”)

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

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

THE HOWLAND ISLAND RADIO DIRECTION FINDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POST-FLIGHT SIGNALS

NAURU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREDERICK J. NOONAN

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

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

(b) Adjustment , operation and care of apparatus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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