Tag Archives: Earhart Electra 10E

E.H. Dimity’s “Grounds for Earhart Search,” Part II

Today we conclude the two-part analysis of E.H. “Elmer” Dimity, of “Round The World Flight” cover fame, who had an opinion on just about everything related to Amelia’s last flight, including the enigmatic post-flight messages,as you will soon see.  Thanks again to the late, great researcher Bill Prymak for preserving this historical treasure from the ever-receding days of 1939.

“Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart” (Part II of Two)
by E.H. Dimity, August 1939

At 3:15 in the morning after her takeoff Miss Earhart broadcast “cloudy weather,” and again, an hour later, she told the Itasca that it was “overcast,” and asked the cutter to signal her on the hour and half hour.

More than an hour later, at 4:42 a.m., the Earhart plane indicated for the first time that it might be off course, and made its first futile plea for aid in learning its position.  The plane asked, Want bearings on 3105 KC on the hour.  Will whistle into the microphone.

Half an hour passed, and Miss Earhart again said, Please take a bearing on us and report in half will make noise into the microphone.  About 100 miles out. Miss Earhart apparently thought she was 100 miles from Howland Island.

The Itasca could not give her any bearing, because its direction finder could not work on her wavelength.

An hour later, at 7:42 a.m., Miss Earhart said, We must be on you but cannot see you. Gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”

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

This was a little more than 15 hours after the takeoff.  The ship carried 1,150 gallons of gas, enough for about 17 hours in the air under normal conditions. * Perhaps the plane had encountered heavier weather earlier, or in just bucking the headwinds had used more gas than anticipated.  At any rate, Miss Earhart must have flown about 1,300 miles from the point of her first known position, when she first said her gas was running low.

* AES calculates 24-25 hours.

This distance, with perfect navigation, should have taken her to Howland Island, and that without doubt is the reason she said, “We must be on you.”  If the plane had hit its mark, why could she not see the island or the Itasca, with a clear sky and unlimited visibility?  Even a smoke screen laid down by the cutter to help guide her evidently escaped her view. It is impossible that she was where she thought she was . . . near Howland.

Although Miss Earhart reported at 11:13 a.m. that she had fuel left for another half hour in the air, the contact was poor and no land fall position was heard.

Fifteen minutes later she said, We are circling, but cannot see island. Cannot hear you, and asked for aid in getting her bearings. This plea she repeated five minutes later.

It will be recalled that at 11:12 Miss Earhart said she had only a half-hour’s fuel left, but an hour later, at 12:13 she called the Itasca to report, “We are in line of position 157 dash 337.  Will repeat this message on 6210 KC. We are running north and south.”

Unfortunately, the position she gave had no meaning for those on the cutter or elsewhere, because it failed to give the all-important reference point for computing her bearing. What the figures meant, and why they were incomplete, can only be guessed.

An important point that should be noted is that the plane direction finder evidently was not working as well as it should for she could not cut in on the agreed frequencies.  Another fact that is perhaps of significance is that when Miss Earhart reported half-hour fuel — the Itasca estimated that she should have about four hours fuel supply.  It is probable that she barely had gas enough to reach Howland, although she thought she was there at 11:20 a.m. when she circled trying to pick up land.

The 12:13 message was the last heard from the plane in the air.  It was next heard shortly before 11 p.m. of the same day, in Los Angeles, long after the plane must have been down.

The reader will note that nearly 11 hours elapsed between the time the plane, still in the air, was last heard by the Itasca, and its signals were again heard in Los Angeles. There are factors involved which probably explain this lapse.

First is the fact that radio short waves go up, at an angle, until they reach what is called the heavyside layer of ionized air, in the stratosphere, then bounce back to earth, many miles from the point where they originated.  There may be a dead spot in between, where the signals may not be heard.  This is called “skip distance,” in radio circles, and it accounts for the fact that a close-in receiver may not hear signals which are received clearly a thousand miles or more away.

Nellie Donohoe, Oakland Postmaster, with Amelia Earhart and E. H. Dimity with the special postal envelopes stamped for Earhart’s world flight, ca. March 1937. (George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.)

Broadcasting from land, the Earhart plane might not have been received by the Itasca, in the vicinity, while the messages were picked up thousands of miles away.  This effect ofskip distancedid occur, as will be shown later, and the Itasca had to rely on distant receivers to get any messages from the plane when it was down.

Another factor is that it is useless in Los Angeles to try to tune in during the daytime on signals west or southwest of the Hawaiian Islands.  Signals from this part of the world can only be heard at certain times.

When they learned that the Earhart plane was overdue, Lockheed Aircraft telephoned Walter McMenamy, her radio contact man who had picked up her signals before when others could not get them. and asked that he listen.  That night, McMenamy and Karl Pierson, radio manufacturer and nationally known radio wave expert, began a vigil which lasted nearly a week, and which was rewarded by reception of signals which McMenamy positively identified as being from Earhart’s plane.

Shortly before 11 p.m. on July 5, McMenamy and Pierson picked up a weak signal on Miss Earhart’s frequency, 6210 kc, but it was not strong enough to be understood.  On another set in the room. tuned to 3105 kc, the listeners shortly thereafter heard two distinctly different signals, one from the Itasca and the other from the plane.  Evidently the Itasca could not hear the plane, but two different stations definitely were transmitting on that wave length at that time.

Two hours later, at 1 a.m., McMenamy and Pierson heard the code signals “SOS-SOS-SOS KHAQQ” (the Earhart plane’s call letters), on one of her frequencies, and McMenamy positively states that he could identify the signals as from the plane, although they were poorly sent.

Radio short-wave listeners learn to detect from the sound of a transmitter the approximate location of its source.  This characteristic sound is called the carrier.  The swell and fade of the carrier is as familiar as a voice to the operator.

Being well acquainted with the characteristic noise of Miss Earhart’s transmitter, which he helped install McMenamy can state with authority that the signals heard on her wavelength came from her plane.

The first SOS was repeated over and over again for five minutes, followed by steady transmission which was unreadable because of fading bursts of static, and poor sending.  Three radio operators were present when these signals were heard, and they were able to distinguish the following cryptic numbers: 173 . . . 1 . . . 8,which were of no assistance to the searchers.

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was anchored off Howland Island on July 2, 1937 to help Amelia Earhart find the island and land safely at the airstrip that had been prepared there for her Lockheed Electra 10E.

Again at 6 a.m. on July 3, 17 hours after her disappearance, a steady carrier was picked up on one of Miss Earhart’s wavelengths, and was heard intermittently for 20 minutes, but the signals were too weak to be understood.  Within ten minutes another carrier was heard, much stronger and with a woman’s voice which McMenamy did identify as that of Miss Earhart, saying, “KHAQQ CALLING SOS.”  During the three minutes in which this continued, McMenamy heard the words “SOUTHWEST HOWLAND,” and the operators reported also hearing the definite sound of an airplane motor running, through the speech.  It is possible that the right motor of the plane was turning in order that the batteries would not run down completely.

These calls were sufficiently loud to be heard on the loudspeaker, and by coincidence at this time Mr. Pete Pringle,  managing news editor of station KNX, called McMenamy by telephone to check on reports.  Mr. Pringle heard, over the telephone, the woman’s voice through the loudspeaker, and when he went on the air over his station half an hour later he told his audience that he could confirm the reports that Miss Earhart’s voice was heard requesting help.  He had heard it himself.

At 8:43 a.m. the carrier heard on her other frequency, 3105 kc, became strong enough to distinguish a man’s voice and the letters KHAQQ, only once.

The same morning, that of July 3, the British ship HMS Achilles reported the following message: At 11:33 a.m. we heard an unknown station make a report as follows: Please give us a few dashes if you get us. This was heard on 3105 kc (Miss Earhart’s frequency).  The station then repeated ‘KHAQQ’ twice, then disappeared.  Nothing more was heard from it.”  This was the Earhart frequency and her call letters  . . .  heard by a British ship in the Pacific many hours after she undoubtedly was down somewhere.

Nothing further was heard until the following day, July 4, two days after the plane disappeared.  Then station KGMB in Honolulu heard the message she was to send three long dashes if on land, and four long dashes if on water.  It was not known to the station that she could not broadcast from water.

In the response to the broadcast, long dashes and a strong carrier on the Earhart 3105 frequency was reported.  At about this same time, the government monitor,which is Uncle Sam’s listening post for air communication in San Francisco, reported heating a strong carrier on the other Earhart frequency, and this was heard on three receivers with directional beam antennas which indicated a position west of the Pacific Coast.

HMS Achilles was a Leander-class light cruiser which served with the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Second World War, the second of five in the class. Originally constructed by the Royal Navy, she was loaned to New Zealand in 1936 before formally joining the new Royal New Zealand Navy in 1941.

The monitorstation reported shortly before midnight hearing the cutter Itasca calling the Earhart plane, asking the plane to answer.  Shortly after, a carrier was heard on the Earhart frequency, and this was repeated at approximately 15 to 20 minutes each hour until 8:05 the following morning.

During this time, and at 4:30 a.m. July 5, McMenamy, Pierson, and other operators they had called in, picked up the Earhart signals once more, the first they had received in two days.  They reported first hearing the Itasca ask the Earhart plane to send four long dashes and then give a bearing. Almost immediately and on the plane frequency, the operators heard three long dashes.  Fifteen minutes later the Itasca repeated its request, and again the answer came back with THREE long dashes, ending with a decided sputtering or tippling.

It will be recalled that the Honolulu station KGMB had asked the plane to send THREE long dashes if on land, FOUR if on water.  It appears possible that Earhart and Noonan sent THREE dashes in answer to the Itasca call to prove they were on land, perhaps in desperation after nearly three days without sighting any searchers.

The sputtering or tippling, heard at the end of the Earhart message is interpreted by McMenamy as meaning that the batteries of the plane were nearly exhausted.  When, five minutes later, the Itasca again asked the plane to give four dashes, no answer was heard.

At 5:17 this same morning, July 5, the San Franciscomonitorstation heard the cutter calling KHAQQ, the Earhart call sign, requesting the dashes and shortly afterward a carrier and a man’s voice was heard on the Earhart frequency.  The voice was indistinguishable but for one word: ONE. This word was distinguished at the end of a transmission two minutes in length.  The Press Wireless also reported hearing signals, which could not be identified, on the Earhart frequency at 5:15 a.m.

Howland Island, likewise, reported hearing KHAQQ that morning, at 10:45 a.m., the portion of the message that was heard indicating a bearing of 281, with no reference point and therefore of no help.

Pan American Airways also, on this morning, reported hearing the plane signal, with a radio bearing at 144 degrees Wake Island.

The next reported radio reception was by Louis Messier, a cooperating operator in Los Angeles, the following morning, July 6, at 3:30 a.m. — a weak, unidentified code signal, sent very slowly on the Earhart plane frequency, and ending with a pronounced “ripple.”  This message was logged as follows: 17  mo . . u . . 4 . . southwest . . 1 . . 53 . . rel . . 13 . . ja . . so . . not . . nx . . equen . . 170 . . sou . . sec . . will . . son . . most . . new . . sou . .

While no one understands this jargon, it is important because it might have been Miss Earhart trying to give her position, even though it was quite probable she did not know where she was.

The next morning, July 6, McMenamy and Pierson heard their last sounds from the Earhart frequency, a rippling carrier at 1:13 a.m.  This same effect was reported heard from 8:17 to 10:37 a.m. the same day, by amateur stations in Honolulu.

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

These details of the radio reports are given because they prove beyond a doubt that the Earhart plane broadcast during four or five days after it was down.  The signals were heard in various parts of the western hemisphere by several stations. When saying that one operator might have imagined the signals, it could be possible, but it is too much to believe that all did, including government and ship operators.

The layman might ask if it is not possible that the signals were a cruel hoax by some criminally insane operator.  This possibility is ruled out definitely by the fact that there was no other transmitter in that part of the world which could have sent the signals.

Conclusive proof then exists that the Earhart plane landed safely, or at least that its occupants and its radio apparatus were unharmed, somewhere on land in the South Pacific.  If on an island, where and why were they not found?

It has been pointed out before that there are hundreds of islands in the area where the plane might have come down.  The two principal groups near Howland Island are the Gilbert and Phoenix groups.  The cutters Itasca and Swan spent not quite two days searching the Gilbert group, they reported.  But the group contains 16 islands, shown on the map, and perhaps others, strewn along a distance of more than 400 miles.  How could cutters, traveling at about 12 knots an hour, adequately search all the islands of this group, 800 miles up and down their length, in two days?  They could steam about the length of the islands and back, in that time, without stopping

An unproductive search by air was also made, under circumstances which rendered a complete investigation impossible, of the Phoenix group, 500 miles south and east of Howland, and about 300 miles long by 180 miles wide and containing 10 charted islands in its 65,000 square miles.

The Ellice Islands, about 600 miles southwest of Howland, were not searched at all nor were hundreds of other islands in the vicinity, and back over the course to Lae.  It was also reported that inhabitants were interviewed, on the two or three islands of the Gilbert group where humans live, and they reported no knowledge of the plane.  This, again, is no proof.  Who has seen or heard an airplane for more than 20 or 30 miles?  Many islands in the group are hundreds of miles from the nearest humans.

This story and the below map appeared in the now defunct Chicago Daily Tribune on July 3, 1937.

There are two schools of thought about the disappearance of the Earhart plane.  Each cannot be right.  One is that the plane was lost at sea.  The other is represented by this memorandum.  As to the first, is it not perfectly natural that even those closest and among the most dear to the missing flyers, with the evidence of the Navy search of the sea close to Howland Island, would prefer to think that the flight had come to an end — to avoid the life-long torture of a question in their minds? The facts as related have been to intrude such a question.  No comfort, then, could come from the facts, and the mind would seek to shut them out, in favor of the peace that comes from resignation.

In an effort to reconstruct what might have happened, let us review the possibilities.  We know that the Earhart plane was lost. The navigation had gone wrong.  It is likely, even, that it was hundreds of miles from the sea area near Howland which the Navy searched, and from the Gilbert group.

With little gas left and after circling the area beneath them. what would experienced fliers do?  No doubt they had passed many islands on the course behind them. Any pilot, under the circumstances, probably would have gone back to one of them and landed, relying on their radio and on searching parties for rescue.

THAT RESCUE NEVER CAME BECAUSE NO ADEQUATE SEARCH HAS EVER BEEN MADE.

Compiled from notes and copied in August 1939.
Recopied from original February 2, 1948.  (End of “Grounds for Earhart Search.”)

The study of the alleged Earhart post-loss messages is one fraught with endless speculation and individual interpretation, even by the real radio experts who have written and pronounced publicly on the topic.  I have no expertise in this area, and so have no problem presenting others work as clearly and objectively as I can.  The statements and opinions are those of E.H. Dimity,  are presented for your consideration, education and entertainment, and are not necessarily shared by the editor.  

For much more on the alleged Earhart post-loss messages, please see: Earhart’s “post-loss messages”: Real or fantasy?”; Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages“; Did Nina Paxton hear Amelia’s calls for help? “Absolutely,” says longtime researcher Les Kinney “; and Amelia Earhart’s alleged “Land in sight” message remains a curiosity, if not a mystery.”

Editor’s Note: June 29 UPDATE: Calvin Pitts has kindly informed me that he’s found several factual errors in Mr. Dimity’s treatise, errors in time and fact that got by Bill Prymak initially in 1997 and that I failed to pick up in my editing before presenting this piece to you.  I suggested to Calvin that he write a brief post, nothing too extensive or exhausting, to set the record straight.  Thanks for your patience as we seek to make straight what Mr. Dimity has oddly bent.

 

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

We begin 2019 with a closer look at one of the more controversial characters in the history of the Earhart saga.  Art Kennedy was an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, and first met Amelia in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race.  Later, he directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the March 20, 1937 accident at Luke Field, Hawaii, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death.

Much speculation surrounded the cause of the Electra’s so-called ground loop, and Amelia herself said thatpossibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course.”  Army aviation expertsexpressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst, but Harry Manning, who was in the co-pilot’s seat that day, said Amelia “lost it on takeoff. 

 “The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected, Fred Goerner wrote in a 1992 letter to Ron Reuther.   He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all.  It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel.  He added it was a miracle there was no fire.

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

In his 1992 autobiography co-written by JoAnn Ridley, High Times — Keeping ‘Em Flying, Kennedy offered a far more sinister explanation for the crash.  After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane.  When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote.

Kennedy, who passed away in September 1998 at 85, said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident. Damn! I forgot about the gear,  Kennedy claimed she said.  Art, you and I are good friends. You didn’t see a thing.  We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural. Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?”  Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.

Most recently we heard from Kennedy when his account was featured in Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?” on Nov. 2, 2018.  The following interview, titled “A Visit With Art Kennedy in Portugal,” by Bill Prymak, appeared in the February 1993  Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.  Prymak described Kennedy, who then lived in Cellerrico De Beria, Portugal, as a “walking encyclopedia on every aspect of airplanes in the Golden Years of Aviation and at the age of 81 [in 1993] his mind is incredibly sharp. . . . It is with a feeling of deep veneration that we sit and break bread with a man who knew Amelia Earhart so intimately, a man who worked with her, laughed and joked with her, took her home at nights when she didn’t have the car, dined with her.  There is virtually no one alive today who knew her as well as Arthur Kennedy.

As an added feature in this interview, still relevant after 25 years, Kennedy lent his considerable expertise to the early TIGHAR claims that made so much international noise in its early days, and sadly, continues to do so, though only those without critical thinking ability pay any attention these days.  We begin:

AES:  Art, you spent quite a bit of time with Amelia, both professionally and personally.  What was she like?

KENNEDY:  Bill, this gal was a true lady . . . lots of class, but no snob, friendly with all the shop guys, very inquisitive about the work being done on her airplane.  Always looking over the shoulder, but never interfering with the mechanics.  She and I developed a special relationship as I was the only one, once she got to know my work, who she would allow to work on her engines.  Polly (Art’s high-school sweetheart and wife of 45 years, who died in 1978), Amelia and I would go out for supper many times when we were working late.  On one occasion she lamented how she was tiring of all the notoriety, sick of all the false fancy friends, fed up with George’s constant pressures, and simply yearned once more to be a simple American gal who could enjoy her privacy like the rest of us could.  Polly and Amelia got along great, went shopping together, had girl-to-girl private times, and really developed a close friendship.

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

AES:  If they went shopping together, did they ever shop for shoes, and if so, do you recall if Amelia’s shoe size ever came up?

KENNEDY:  If you’re alluding to Mr. Gillespie and his size 9 theory, with all the hoopla I’ve recently read about this great discovery, let me put it to rest once and for all.  Polly wore a size 7 and COULD NOT fit into Amelia’s shoes . . . not by a longshot.  That TIGHAR theory is pure baloney.  (ED. NOTE: Art was more inelegant in his choice of words, and we simply had to clean it up.)  Where did they find this guy?

AES:  What about Paul Mantz?

KENNEDY:  Paul was one of the finest pilots I had ever met, but everybody used to call him the HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR BOY, and I did quite a bit of work for him before I moved over to PAC, and it was Paul who first introduced me to AE.  He gave her countless hours of dual (instruction) in the Electra and Paul was pretty satisfied that she could tackle the world flight.  He could never figure out the groundloop [sic] at Hawaii . . . that puzzled him to his dying day.  But Paul in his business dealings was a bulldozer, and quite a wheeler and dealer.

AES:  Did you ever meet her husband George?

KENNEDY:  No, but I saw him several times looking for AE in the shop, and, on one occasion, when she saw him beckoning with this finger, AE pleadingly caught my eye, and her facial expression seemed to say: Gad, why did he have to show up at this time, when I was really enjoying these guys around me and my airplane!  Polly and I never went out with the Putnams as a foursome.  George was too big to socialize with a ramp rat.  Amelia was different that way.

AES:  You indicate in your book that Amelia told you that she was told, immediately before takeoff at Hawaii bound for Howland Island, to somehow abort the flight.  This is potent stuff, Art, and not many are buying this.  Can you expand on this?

KENNEDY:  I never did ask her who ordered her to abort at Hawaii and it really was none of my business, and she probably would not have told me even if I did ask her, but indeed she did state that she was ordered to abort.  I can think of only two reasons for this; something was not ready downstream, or, somebody figured she needed bigger generators as the existing generator blew fuses or burned out on the way to Hawaii.

AES:  But Art, if somebody wanted to abort an airplane, I could think of a dozen safer ways to do it — run the wing into a telephone pole, hit a pickup truck, slide into a ditch, fake a brake failure and run into a brick wall . . .

KENNEDY:  Yea, I know, but she was probably planning on a very slow, deliberate ground loop at very slow speed, where she figured there’d be no risk with all that has on board.  But in a situation like that, if you start the takeoff roll and hesitate for just a fraction of a second, bam . . . you’re already past thesafe zoneand you find yourself doing things that are absolutely crazy!  One spark in the wrong place and they all would have been fried.

AES:  Was she really a good pilot?

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

KENNEDY:  Bill, I flew with a bunch of the old timers, even got a pilot’s license myself.  A lot of the final checkouts, such as rigging and engine performance, had to be done in flight . . . and yes, Earhart was a good solid, pilotI flew with her many times, even once watched her bring in the Electra down to the runway with a 25 mph crosswind straight as a die.  When the Bendix rep who was halfway down the runway during the ill-fated Hawaii takeoff told me that her tailwheel was already high when the groundloop began, I could not believe it!  Even a dumb student pilot does not groundloop on takeoff at 50 mph.   Something very fishy here.

AES:  You’re still convinced she was on a spy mission?

KENNEDY:  Absolutely!  I’m 81 years old and have no need for storytelling or ego trips at my age.  I have only one trip left, and that’s to meet my Maker.  I can’t tell you everything she told me about the mission because other people were involved who might still be alive, but I will tell you thisShe mentioned the mission taking her over Truk, the big engines received brand new from Pratt & Whitney in May 1937, were modified by me personally to accommodate the bigger generators, and even though her regular engines were being overhauled, these two new super engines were charged to NR 16020 — her airplane!  Many strange things and many strange people were involved in her last flight.

AES:  How do you address the claim by TIGHAR [The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has never recovered a single historic aircraft, to my knowledge] that the piece of aluminum they found came from the belly  of NR 16020?

KENNEDY:  This simply cannot be!  When the damaged aircraft came back from Hawaii, Amelia Earhart and I personally and meticulously went over the entire fuselage.  We had to raise the fuselage high enough to get a low-boy tractor underneath for transport to the Lockheed factory on the other side of the field.  In lifting the fuselage, Amelia and I got a good look at the belly, and there was absolutely no damage, not even dirt, from the groundloop accident.  There was however, cable sling damage from hoisting the airplane onto the boat from Hawaii, and in unloading same stateside.  Cable sling damage was observed at Station 239, where two stringers were buckled in, and it was here that Lockheed removed and replaced stringers and full skin sections, NOT patches, as TIGHAR claims.

AES:  But Gillespie claims that Lockheed people like Ed Werner and Harvey Christen are wrong when they state that the rivet and stringer spacing could not vary from the original specification, as found on TIGHAR’s piece of aluminum.

KENNEDY:  I don’t remember Ed, but if Harvey Christen says after studying the TIGHAR piece that it could not have come from the Electra, well you can bet the farm, the wife, and your bottom dollar that it did NOT come from an Electra.  Let me tell you something about Harvey . . . there was a guy, who in the early days of Lockheed, started as a wrench rat and who, through his some forty years with the firm, rose to be Vice-President of Quality Control Engineering.  He was revered, respected, and loved by everybody, and nobody knew his job better than Harvey.  There is no greater authority on this argument than this man.  For Gillespie to say that Lockheed “could have changed” original design integrity is ludicrous, stupid and pretty damn arrogant of him.  He must have a lot of money riding on this piece of aluminum.

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

AES:  But TIGHAR claims that the piece has an ink-stained stencil reading 24S-T3, in red ink, and that because it was hand-stampedat the factory, it had to be pre-World War II.

KENNEDY:  All aircraft companies bought their aluminum from ALCOA starting in 1932.  24S-Condition 3 was used on all aircraft prior to World War II.  24S-T3 was produced right through the beginning of WWII and was used on tens of thousands of American aircraft, including the PBY, DC-4, P-38, P-51, P-47, and the 247D.  Lockheed and other airplane manufacturers were stacked to the rafters with 24S-T3 on the onset of WWII, and as far as identifying the date of manufacture of a piece of stamped aluminum, hell, I saw the stamps put on in blue, red, green, black . . . they used every color under the sun, and sometimes they stamped with the grain, sometimes against the grain, diagonally, every which way.  Nobody today, shown a piece of 24S-T3, can pinpoint the date of manufacture just by the color of the ALCLAD stamp or by the shape of the letters.

AES:  You have seen a sketch of the TIGHAR artifact.  Comments?

KENNEDY:  Absolutely no way would Lockheed permit a change of rivet spacing on the replacement of a skin panel . . . it would never pass inspection.  Nobody in their right mind . . . in any repair situation, would ever change the pattern of the rivet holes and make different holes thru stringers, circumferentials [sic], keels, and other attaching structures and put more holes in these structures and thusly compromise the structural integrity of the original design.  This TIGHAR piece of aluminum might have come from the nose gear door of a Catalina Flying Boat because they got easily damaged and were always in constant repair.  You might also check the bottom of the floats as they have a rivet pattern similar to what you showed me.  Lockheed did skin replacements, not patches.

AES:  TIGHAR claims that they have evidence that Amelia and Fred removed a fuel cell from the cabin and with an engine cover jury-rigged a water-catchment device on Gardner Island, using only a screwdriver.  Your comments?

KENNEDY:  Bill and Joe, you guys can’t be serious that somebody would try to bamboozle the American public into thinking that AE and Fred would even attempt such an impossible job on a deserted island.  First, you’d have to remove the radio blocking your way to the fuel tank to be removed.  Then you have to tear apart the floor boards of the entire rear of the airplane . . . then you need special wrenches to get at the nuts tying down the tank; then you need BIGGER 1.5-inch wrenches to release the B-nuts  tying the vent lines to the other tanks.  And when this is all said and done what have you got?  I’ll tell you what you’ve got!  Ever try drinking water out of an aluminum can that’s been full of aviation gas for two months?  It’ll kill ya, and Fred certainly knew better.  Didn’t I read someplace that somebody suggested that if they really were down on a deserted island they simply would have deployed their life raft for water-catching purposes? 

AES: Yeah, we suggested that in a previous AES Newsletter.

KENNEDY:  And another point . . . the engine covers were never taken on the final flight.  I remember walking into Firman Grey’s office at Lockheed several weeks after she went down and seeing engine covers in the corner stenciled NR 16020.   Firman said Amelia thought they were too bulky and heavy to be trucking around the world.

AES:  But AE’s book Last Flight states that they used engine and prop covers at Timor.

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, 1991.

KENNEDY:  That’s baloney.   Putnam wrote that book and filled in all that fancy prose.  Amelia was too busy and dog tired at every stop to write notes for George.  GP got a few scraps of information from phone calls to AE and from the press, but there was no press or telephone at Timor, so George filled in some empty space with his own creations.

AES:  Art, you’ve been a superb host, and a fabulous source of “firsthand” information on the greatest Lady of Aviation.  In closing, what do you feel really happened?

KENNEDY:  I am convinced she went down in the Marshall Islands, as so many researchers besides you two guys have theorized.  Something BIG has always bugged me: I kept immaculate fuel low records from the tests cells on her engines, and so help me, from her last message to Itasca at 20 hours and 14 minutes into the flight, she had AT LEAST five hours of fuel left.  Think about it: if you’re really lost, then when your fuel runs out, you’re about to die, and you know it.  Talking to somebody there on the radio is your only lifeline, and it costs you nothing to talk and yell for help, as the average pilot would have done in this situation.  The silence with an operational radio and five hours of fuel left really bugs me.  That was not the Amelia I knew.  She had somewhere else to go to.  It was planned.  (End of Kennedy interview.)

In High Times, Kennedy wrote that Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the Luke Field takeoff and did it the only way she knew how.”  According to Kennedy, she saida lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world.  She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’” Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue.  Who knows for sure?

Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who agreed with Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claim about the Luke Field accident.  On the other hand, Prymak wrote that Joe Gervais (who accompanied Prymak to Portugal) and I were left with some lasting impressions of Art Kennedy, not the least being his total love and admiration for Amelia, his uncanny knowledge of the Lockheed Electra, and his unquestioned honesty and resolve not to embellish when we quizzed him on matters that happened 55 years ago that since became fuzzy.  We appreciated that kind of candor.”  So what are we to think?

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

It’s hard to buy Kennedy’s claim about the ground loop, as it’s difficult to imagine that Amelia would purposely endanger Harry Manning and Fred Noonan, who were both aboard.  It’s more likely that she honestly blew the takeoff at Luke Field, but what of Kennedy’s assertion about Amelia’s “mission taking her over Truk,” and that the Electra received “big engines” in May 1937 that he personally “modified” for the flight’s extra miles?  We have no credible evidence that supports the idea that a new pair of “big engines” was put on NR 16020, but could it have happened?

The total distance from Lae to Truk to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 statute miles when flying direct from Lae, well within the Electra’s normal range of 4,000 miles, even without modified enginesCan we so easily dismiss these separate and altogether plausible — at least in this observer’s opinion — claims from Kennedy?  Most probably the fliers reached Mili in a different way, but a definitive answer continues to elude us.

Earhart’s “Disappearing Footprints,” Part IV

Today we rejoin Calvin Pitts for Part IV of his fascinating and instructive analysis of the final flight of Amelia Earhart.

As Part III ended, Amelia had made her decision to turn northwest, not to the Gilberts but to the Marshall Islands, “and Japanese soldiers who may or may not be impressed with the most famous female aviator in the world,” Calvin wrote.  “When she crossed into enemy territory, she apparently lost her charm with the war lords, and eventually her life.”  We continue with Part IV of Calvin’s analysis.

Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY, Part IV
By Capt. Calvin Pitts

When we arrived at Area 13, unbeknownst to the casual observer, the entire narrative changed.  Something different, something major happened.

The Itasca crew didn’t know.  In their confusion, according to their log, they kept calling and trying to make contact for two hours.  The radioman calling from Nauru didn’t know.  Balfour from Lae didn’t know.  Tarawa radio didn’t know. Husband George didn’t know.  Hawaii radio didn’t know.  But somebody from somewhere must have known.  Who was it?

First, before we ask questions, we need to look at THE END in order to establish the ending of the so-called “disappearance.”  It has been a mystery to those on the outside, but not to those who studied and embraced the evidence.  Nor was it a mystery to Franklin D. Roosevelt– especially the president..

This, knowing THE END, and only this will enable us to make sense of what was happening during those early moments in Area 13: 2030z, 2100z, 2200z, 2300z, 2400z, or the local morning hours of 9 a.m., 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, noon and thereafter. 

THE END produces, first, three stone pillars: Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Gen. Graves Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.  What do such preeminent World War II men of honor have to do with this story, and what do they know that is so critical for what we will learn in the process?  Three quotes will answer for us:

General Alexander A. Vandegrift, 18th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, confirmed Amelia Earhart’s death on Saipan in an August 1971 letter to Fred Goerner. Vandegrift wrote that he learned from Marine General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and died in 1966, that “Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo.)

Gen. Vandergrift: “Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.”  (TAL, p.257) Gen. Erskine: “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.” (TAL p.260

Marine General Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps at the Battle of Saipan.  In late 1966, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS radio newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”

Admiral Nimitz to Fred Goerner: Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese [and taken to Saipan].” (TAL p. 132).  “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination.” (Nimitz to Fred Goerner through Navy Cmdr. John Pillsbury) (TAL p. 178).

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, circa 1942, the last of the Navy’s 5-star admirals. In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. “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,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.  The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart matter. “After five years of effort, the former commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.

Those were Men who had honor, who would not lie;
Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries
without winking!

They were tall men, sun-crowned, who lived above the fog in public duty, and
in private thinking;

For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds, their large professions
and their little deeds, mingled  in 
selfish strife,
LO! Freedom wept, Wrong ruled the land, and waiting Justice slept.
GOD, give us more Men like these where the times demand
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands;
Men whom the lust for office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will; Men who have honor … who will not lie.

— Josiah Gilbert Holland  (modified)

They did not lie.  These were three men, three impeccable sources, three individual answers, none of which were given in the presence of the other, at different times, with the same conclusion: Amelia had been on Saipan.

Earhart and Noonan were not in the Phoenix Islands; they did not die at sea.  Noonan, the best navigator in the world, who had flown the Pacific often with Pan Am, was not lost. Earhart, prepared to execute the contingency plan so carefully worked out with Gene Vidal, did not turn back to the Gilbert Islands.  Earhart and Noonan were taken to Saipan.

“You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves,” Gen. Graves Earskin said. And professional, competent people have been doing just that for 80 years.

What’s the staggering news here?  One part is this: We know THE END of the story.  Following the silence after Area 13, we have about a five-hour window or less of flying and survival time.  Something unusual happened back in the states while the Electra was being repaired, the truth of which was being played out during those final hours after Amelia’s last official transmission at 2013z.

We know essentially the area in which they were last known to be alive in the Electra.  Later, after the war, and the incredible leadership of three of our top warriors, we know where the doomed pair ended up.  Therefore, if we want to unlock this so-called mystery, we need know not only where they were, but why and how they got there.

Here’s the point of establishing THE END.  We have three pillar posts of evidence that cannot be doubted.  They are anchors to which the end of this story is tied.  But there are those who say this was only a temporary end, that a China scenario followed.  Since there are so few researchers who accept this, we will leave that conclusion for another time. For now, we tie the end of the chain of this story to the Saipan anchor.

From Saipan, we can backtrack 1,700 miles to the Marshall Islands, thanks to several incredible and determined writers and investigators, among them Fred Goerner, Vincent Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Bill Prymak and others.

The eyewitnesses they found and interviewed are convincing.  The Electra was seen on Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands.  The crew and the plane were taken to the Japanese military headquarters on Jaluit Atoll.  From there, all the evidence we have tells us they were taken by plane to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan by the Japanese.  They were on Saipan, as the three flag officers told Goerner.

To that, we can add that Bill Prymak was one who could see the obvious when others missed it.  Later, we want to visit the content of OVERLOOKING the OBVIOUS.  Prymak observed the following: An eyewitness in the Marshalls described a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.

Yet, over 1,700 miles away on Saipan, in 1937 when travel between the two cultures was limited to small boats, Saipan natives described, during the same time-period, a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.

Copy of the key section of the original log page from Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts of the Itasca showing the entry of the now-famous 2013z / 8:43 a.m. call, “We are on the line 157-337, will repeat message . . .”

Does something not strike us as unusual? From two different cultures, with 1,700 miles of water between them, in only a very short time, native eyewitnesses in the Marshalls and in Saipan are telling the same story.  How was that possible, unless they were both telling the truth?

Did they make up an identical tale without knowing what the other was saying?  Two cultures, many miles apart, in a short time, were describing the same people to interviewers.  Was this a coincidence?  Obviously, not likely.

Where does this evidence leave us?  With the Generals, we have three cornerstones, three reliable pillars, impeccable witnesses, impressive leaders, unassailable warriors separately telling the same truth.  They spoke what they knew, although they did not want to embarrass the government they served, hence were restrained with their words.

What little they said was enough to establish the truthEarhart had been on Saipan.

That buries the sink and drown” [crashed and sank] theory.  It also buries the Nikumaroro castawayshypothesis, the fake media’s favorite mother load of deception, embraced by the establishment’s Smithsonian, National Geographic and media outlets everywhere.  Without them, the truth would have gained traction much earlier, but it’s the establishment world in which we are forced to live, which makes finding truth in the swamp infinitely more difficult.

Added to those three stellar voices who had no skin in the game were two separate cultures miles apart but saying the same thing — the American lady with short hair and the white man with a white head-bandage had been in the Marshalls and on Saipan at about the same time.

A cornerstone and a foundation, eyewitnesses giving interviewers the same story, which is the evidence upon which this truth is built.  Even scripture says: Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  We didn’t see it, but those who saw the evidence — Vandergrift, Erskine, Nimitz, Marshallese eyewitnesses, Saipanese eyewitnesses — gave us the truth to believe, accept and investigate even further.

I.  With a tedious analysis of the records, times, speeds, radio calls and Itasca logs, we tracked the lady and the man to “Area 13” at 2013z.  This is Data Point No. 1.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR 16020, over Java, Dutch East Indies, June 1937.

II.  Data Point No. 2.  Switch to the other side, 1,000 and 2,000 miles away.  Three cultures converge, the Marshalls, Saipan and the Americans, where the eyewitnesses and the greatest military leaders provide the END for the same story.

III.  The Gap.  We are then left with a four- to five-hour gap that we must bring together if we wish to change supposition into knowledge, or mystery into history.

The factual and documented information on both sides of the Gap tells us WHAT. But we still wrestle with the WHY behind the WHAT.  How do we answer the obvious things which have so often been overlooked?

How? By refusing to overlook them any longer.

During the four- to five-hour gap while we search, an amazing thing happens: an awakening.  Consider two data points of that evidence:

(1) The Electra is flying an imaginary “157-337 degree (sun) line,” now merely a heading, at 2013z / 8:43 a.m. looking (?) for the Itasca.  At about four hours remaining, they hitBingo fuel.  It’s time to go into action with the contingency plan: “If and when you come to your contingency fuel, turn back to the Gilbert Islands toward friendly people.  Land on a good beach, and they’ll find you.  Tarawa has a radio.  We’ll find a way to get to you.”

Were those their words?  No, but it was their plan that Vidal had designed.  Even Noonan’s sister had said: “Remember to turn back if you can’t find Howland.”

A 160 mph true air speed, plus a 15 or more mph tailwind for four hours would get them to the Gilberts.  But with what heading? “Heading, Fred. What heading?”

From a 2013z position of about 150 to 200 miles northwest of Howland, they needed a heading of about 260 degrees or less to hit the midpoint of the 500-mile north-south string of the Gilbert Islands.

Amelia Earhart at the controls of her Lockheed 10E Electra before taking off from New Guinea, on July 2, 1937.  She disappeared the next day. (National Archives)

However, based upon the END of the story, where they actually ended up, they needed a heading of some 290 degrees or more.  That would get them to where the evidence said they were, the Marshall Islands, with a free trip to Saipan, courtesy of the Japanese.

Focus on the evidence.  Heading 260 degrees or less to Gilbert’s midpoint.  Heading 290 degrees or more to get to Mili Atoll where they actually landed on a coral beach — 290 degrees versus 260 degrees?

From a position at 2013z, to the Marshalls with a 260 degree heading?  That didn’t happen. To the Marshalls with a 290 degree heading?  THAT DID HAPPEN, and was no accident.  Once this truth clearly dawned — the heading was not accidental — a missing, critical ingredient was added.

What’s the significance of this ingredient?  Epiphany.  That heading and that destination were intentional.  INTENT.  In that moment after consideration, we knew then what we didn’t know at 2013z, namely, they intended to go somewhere on purpose.  A heading to the Gilberts would not — repeat, NOT — have taken them to the Marshalls.

With intent aforethought:  For eyeball proof, open Google Earth and try it.  They would need a hurricane-force crosswind to blow them from the Gilberts to the Marshalls with a Gilbert heading.  Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for the skeptic, they had a tailwind from the east.

We now have intent, the first moment of realization. They not only went to the Marshalls, they intended to.  Something was driving them.

(2) Ironically, shortly after that epiphany, we read a comment by researcher Bill Prymak.  It went something like this: Why was AE so casual and so scarce with her radio calls?  If it had been me in such an emergency, desperately trying to make contact and find Howland, I would not have waited :30, :45, 1 hour, 2:30 hours between calls.  I would have been all over that radio:

Itasca, this is AE. Please answer.  How do I home in on your frequency?  I’ll hold the switch down for a full minute.  No more occasional calls. Help me out . . . now.  Are you there?  I’ll stay on 3105 while you broadcast now on 3105, then 6210, then 7500, then 500.  I’ll also listen to Morse code.  Fred will understand your message, or key A.A.A. repeatedly , then key N.N.N.  That will let me know you’re hearing me. Forget protocol.  Talk to me.  This is getting desperate.”

Not even one MAY-DAY CALL.  Why so casual?  No declaration of an emergency.  Why so incredibly stingy with words?  At 2:45 am?  OK.  But at 8:00 a.m.?  May-Day,  MAY-DAY!

2:45 a.m. – “??” unreadable (1 hour difference)

3:45 a.m. – “will listen” (2:30 hour difference)

6:15 am. – wants bearing – “about 200 miles out” (:30 difference)

6:45 a.m. – “take bearing – about 100 miles out” (almost 1 hour difference)

7:42 a.m. – “on you, can’t see you” (:16 difference)

7:58 a.m. – “circling (?), can’t hear you” (:02 difference)

8:00 a.m. – “received signals, take bearing” (:43 difference)

8:43 a.m. – “on line 157-337, will repeat” — S.I.L.E.N.C.E.

Amelia at the controls of her Lockheed Model 10E Electra, circa 1936.  (Photo by Rudy Arnold.)

Not one call, not one, indicated an emergency.  Perhaps the tone of her voice was tense, or even indicated panic, as Bellarts later stated, but not one hint of an emergency.  Much too casual.  Words cost nothing.  What does the silence tell us?

If she doesn’t find Howland, it’s back to the Gilberts and the abandoning of the Electra on a beach.  Amelia knows that.  Consistently, she made very brief calls which lasted mere seconds, then she was silent for long periods.  What is that telling us?  That it is not normal behavior in an emergency.  It is much too casual for a person facing fuel exhaustion and death.  It is not rational.

Strangely, it may be telling us that she has no intention of landing here.  If not, why?  Don’t know yet, but how did Bill see that?  Because if she wanted to land, there would have been desperation.  She was cool and casual because she had another place in mind.

Amelia’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, said afterward: Amelia had no intention of landing at Howland. It was a distraction.” (Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987);  “Amelia Earhart: What Really Happened to Her?” (D.A. Chadwick’s Blog).

Paul Rafford Jr., in his book, Amelia Earhart’s Radiotells us: “Bill Galten also told me that although Earhart might have been able to land on Howland, he didn’t see how she could take off.  His reason was the same as that offered by Itasca’s Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts, who told Fred Goerner that he felt that if she could land, she could not have been able to take off again.” So here are two of the original radio crew on Itasca agreeing about the serious dangers Howland posed to the Earhart Electra and its crew.  We then did some investigation of our own.

These are only two of the many items which come under the category of OVERLOOKING THE OBVIOUS.  The latest is THE HOWLAND RUNWAY scenario.  When exploring the details and a comparison with the Lae takeoff, was the Howland runway even safe from which to take off in an Electra with a heavy load of fuel?  Based upon details which we have been able to uncover, the answer may be obvious.  She’ll know once she begins the takeoff, but then it will too late. 

Let’s do some reasoning here.  When Amelia took off at Lae, she had 3,000 feet of dirt runway.  At the end, there was a 25-foot cliff dropping off to the Huon Gulf.  The Electra’s takeoff run for about 2,900 feet broke ground, sank slightly, then more or less leveled, then at the end where the cliff dropped off, it descended about 20 feet toward the water where the props were creating an observed spray from the ocean.

That reality is in Amelia’s mind.  She sees a picture.  It is now behind her, but an even bigger challenge awaits her at Howland.  How long is that coral-gravel runway?  The flat part of the Island is 1.5 miles long by one-half-mile wide.  If the longer N/S runway is just half that, since it is on the east side, rather than in the elongated middle, then we have about 4,000 feet, as later measured, but which the workers already knew.

There is also a gravel E/W runway about 2,400 feet at the south end of the N/S runway for the prevailing daily east winds.  We now have a match waiting for some gasoline.  Lae’s runway was hard dirt.  Howland’s is crushed coral recently plowed and graded, and looser than hard dirt.  Lea’s temperature was less than 85 degrees.  Howland’s is often 100 degrees or more.

Lae’s had a safety net of a 25-foot drop to the Gulf beyond the cliff at the end of the runway.  Howland at sea level has mere inches for descent after takeoff from sand’s edge to the water.  Unlike Lae, at Howland, there is no safety net.

Going through the mind of any pilot facing this would be: Under these conditions, with these differences, can a takeoff with a load of fuel be made successfully at Howland?  It was successful at Lae apparently because of the “safety net” of clear space underneath beyond the cliff.  Amelia, like any pilot, might wonder.

From the log of the runway workers on Howland: A message from Cooper to Earhart and Putnam, June 25, 1937:  “All three distances given in this message indicated shorter distances for the runways than in the previous summary.  Clearly, something has changed in the assessment of the field.  The purpose of the ‘markers’ is apparently to aid Earhart in landing the plane on the best portions of the three runways.  It seems to me that the E/W runway was judged to have 2250′ available for landing but 2750′ for takeoff. ‘Good approaches . . . now marked.”  Runway distances between markers as follows: (?? How long ??) ‘N/S 4200’ * NE/SW 2600’ * E/W 2250’.”

Nor has she forgotten the ground loop at Honolulu under much better conditions.  If a wheel of the Electra were to hit a soft spot, and veer slightly as it did in Honolulu, will she follow her habit of trying to maintain directional control with the throttles rather than the rudders?  Honolulu all over again, just waiting.

If, when the plane breaks ground at Howland, but settles 20 feet as at Lae, there will be a ditching in the water with gear down, not a pretty thought.  If density altitude were to work against her due to hotter temperature, what then?  If even one of those 10,000 gooney birds were to get in the way of a prop on takeoff, hello water. The “WHAT IF’S” are endless.

Nearing Howland, Amelia may be thinking that the chances of taking off are not so good. Turn back to the Gilberts?  There are many smooth sandy beaches there for a safe landing, but once on the soft sand, how will the Electra get airborne again?

Then there’s the option of the Marshalls.  The inner debate continues, and a major decision is looming.  What to do?  How long is the runway?  How safe is it?

With an East wind of 15 to 20 mph, this is obviously a crosswind which is not acceptable for a heavy plane on such a runway.  Even the men on the ground who prepared it had recorded, in essence, in their log — impossible to take off on N/S runway with that crosswind.  And the E/W runway is too short; at 2,250 feet between markers, plus the narrow 300-foot addition, plus the flagged off 200 feet, a total of 2,750 feet is available for takeoff.

Before we awaken Amelia from her intense concentration, let’s slip in another bit of obvious factual history which has often been overlooked.  It concerns FDR himself and the government, especially Naval records generated by the former secretary of the Navy.

First, we have the official Navy-Coast Guard reports of their searches for the Earhart Electra that lasted from July 2 to July 19, and were filed beginning July 20. (see TAL pages 53-57).  We also have information on file as Report of Amelia Earhart as Prisoner in Marshall Islands,” dated Jan. 7, 1939.  (Reference: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38, Entry 81, General Correspondence, 1929-1942, File A4-3/Earhart, Box No. 70).  (See above image of the top of page 1 of this report.)  This unclassified document has long been available to Earhart researchers through a simple request. 

This, and additional information shows that as early as 1.5 years after the disappearance,  Jan. 7, 1939, it was reported under then-classified documents that “Earhart was a prisoner in the Marshall Islands.”  Since the U.S. had already broken the Japanese Code, it is more than mere speculation that FDR and Co. knew that Amelia and Fred were in Japanese hands.

(Editor’s note: Here Calvin is referring to the strange, little-known “Bottle Message” found near Bordeaux, France on Oct. 30, 1938 by a 37-year-old French woman.  The message’s unidentified writer stated, in part: I have been a prisoner at Jaluit (Marshalls) by the Japanese; in the prison there, I have seen Amelia Earhart (aviatrix) and in another cell her mechanic [sic], a man, as well as several other European prisoners; held on charges of alleged spying on large fortifications erected on the atoll.  I have not yet written about this message on the Truth at Last Blog for several reasons, but others have attempted to verify its provenance, without success.  See * below for more on this.)

The classified proof in Navy files was declassified in 1967 and has been available to the public since then.  Anyone can read it.  Possessing a personal copy, one can show that the government knew the whereabouts of Amelia and Fred at least as early as 1939 or before. (Later, we’ll raise the issue of knowledge through having broken the Japanese code.)

That being the case, something so totallyobvious to government authorities in 1939, and then obvious to the public through researchers in 1967, has lain hidden under a pile of dust while speculators and get-rich charlatans have invented stories about dying at sea or crashing on an uninhabited island leaving a size 9 piece of shoe as proof that a size 6 lady named Earhart had worn it.  Such is a crime against the history of humanity.

While the obvious lies at our feet, we applaud phony pictures of a ship at Jaluit in 1937 under a Smithsonian caption of “Earhart and Noonan,” but which was proven to be false.  And we support establishment money being spent to divert the public’s attention to a fake story on a Phoenix Island while we allow the government to keep promoting those distractions.  This is the typical disinformation-distraction ploy.  Although the establishment can distract from the truth, it cannot change it.

Something is obviously wrong with this picture.  The public is more tolerant than they are observant.  We cry “mystery” while holding the file of facts in our hands.

Time: 2013z / 8:43 a.m.:
Amelia awakens from her decision-dilemma.  To the Itasca: We’re on a line 157-337 degrees . . . Will repeat this message.”  To Fred Noonan she may have said: “I’ve thought about the Howland runway compared to what we faced at Lae.  It’s too dangerous.  The Gilberts are out.  Not going to sacrifice this plane.  We’re going to the Marshalls.  Give me a heading, and there’s no time to discuss it.  If we land here, I probably won’t be able to get airborne again.  Heading, please.”  (End of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY,” Part IV.)

Next up will be the Conclusion of Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.”  Your comments are welcome. 

* (Editor’s note continued: Far more revealing among the Navy documents declassified in 1967 is the notorious 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Report (below), ostensibly undertaken to investigate Thomas E. Devine’s 1960 statements to ONI Special Agent Thomas M. Blake in October 1960.  Devine, at home in West Haven, Conn., having seen the reports of Fred Goerner’s first Saipan visit, decided to tell the ONI about his 1945 experience on Saipan with the unidentified Okinawan woman who showed him the gravesite of a “white man and woman who had come from the sky, before the war.  Devine believed this site was the common grave of Earhart and Noonan.

The ONI found nothing to support Devine’s gravesite claims, which wasn’t surprising, but its unstated goal was to discredit all information that placed Earhart and Noonan on Saipan.  In this it actually failed miserably, though no one in the media has ever even alluded to the document’s existence, and it remains completely unknown to the general public despite its declassification.  The story of the ONI Report in itself is another amazing travesty in the saga of the Earhart disappearance, in that it virtually establishes the Marshalls landing and Saipan presence of the fliers while attempting to debunk both ideas.  For an extended discussion of this obscure but vastly important document, see pages 95-100 in Truth at Last.

Goerner’s December 1961 letter to Leo Bellarts: “Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan”

Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner and retired Coast Guard Lt. Leo Bellarts, who as the chief radioman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, was on hand to hear Amelia Earhart’s last official messages on the morning of July 2, 1937, concluding with her last transmission at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time.  For Bellarts’ Nov. 28, 1961 letter to Goerner, posted Feb. 6, 2017, as well as the author’s reply, please click hereBellarts Dec. 15, 1961 response to Goerner, posted April 24, 2017, can be seen here.

Many of 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 The Search for Amelia Earhart 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 SaipanGoerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66.  (Boldface mine throughout.)

KCBS
CBS Radio – A Division of Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
SHERATON – PALACE, SAN FRANCISCO 5, CALIFORNIA – YUKON 2-7000
                                                                                                               December 20, 1961

Mr. Leo G. Bellarts
1920 State Street
Everett, Washington

Dear Mr. Bellarts,

Thank you very much for your letter with enclosures of the 15th.  It was received with a good deal of interest by all of us who have been working on the Earhart story.

I’m sorry if I took on the proportions of a “quizmaster” to you.  I think it must be the reportorial instinct. I learned long ago that if you don’t ask the questions, you very seldom get the answers.

First, let me answer several of your questions.  As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between CBS and Mrs. Studer; in fact, I have never met her, and I found the article you mentioned slightly on the irritating side.  That article was the first time I was even aware of her existence.

Yet another look at Fred Goerner during his mid-1960s heydays at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Merla Zellerbach.)

Yet another look at Fred Goerner during his mid-1960s heyday at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Merla Zellerbach.)

As to George Palmer Putnam, I never had the opportunity to meet him.  He died in January, 1950.

The only members of Amelia’s family I know personally are her mother and sister who live in West Medford, Massachusetts.  The mother [Amy Otis Earhart] is now in her nineties, and her sister [Muriel Earhart Morrissey] teaches high school in West Medford.

I was glad to receive the information that Galten was a bona fide member of the Itasca’s crew; however, it leaves me even more at a loss to explain his remarks to the press to the effect that the Earhart [plane] was incapable was transmitting radio signals more than 50 to 75 miles, and that the seas were eight feet with fifteen feet between crests the day of the disappearance.  The Itasca Log indicates as you have that the sea was calm and smooth.

You might be interested in Galten’s address: 50 Solano Street, Brisbane, California.  

Galten has also stated that he actually copies the message, “30 minutes of gas remaining”; yet, your record of the messages and the July 5 transcript sent by the Itasca to ComFranDiv, San Francisco, indicates “but running low on gas.”

As you probably well know, there is a vast difference between 30 minutes of gas remaining and gas running low.  Every pilot who has flown the Pacific Area will tell you if you are unsure of your position, are having difficulty in contacting your homing station and are down to four or five hours of gas — the gas indeed is “running low.”

We know as a positive fact that the Lockheed had sufficient gas for twenty-four to twenty-six hours aloft.  The take-off time from Lae, New Guinea, was 10:30 a.m. at Lae, 12:30 p.m. at Howland.  It was possible for the plane to have stayed aloft until 2:30 p.m. Howland time the following day.  The July 2 transmission from the Itasca to San Francisco estimates 1200 maximum time [i.e. noon local time] aloft.

Why then the supposition that Earhart “went in” right after her last message at 0843?

It just isn’t true that Earhart and Noonan began their flight from Lae to Howland with just enough fuel to reach Howland and no more.  They were fully aware of the navigational hazards of the flight. The planning for that 2,556-mile flight is contained in Amelia’s notes which were shipped back to the United States from Lae.  She planned her ETA at Howland just after daybreak.  Daylight was absolutely necessary to locate that tiny speck.  She had figured her fuel consumption to give her at least six additional hours to make a landfall if Noonan’s navigational abilities did not bring the plane dead center to Howland.

The Lockheed Electra 10E, an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retract-able landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner, and powered by twin Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600-horsepower engines. The plane was 38 feet, seven inches long with a wingspan of fifty-five feet and a height of about ten feet. The Electra had an empty weight of 7,100 pounds, with a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage.

The Lockheed Electra 10E, an all-metal (aluminum), twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retract-able landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner, and powered by twin Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600-horsepower engines. The plane was 38 feet, seven inches long with a wingspan of 55 feet and a height of about ten feet. The Electra had an empty weight of 7,100 pounds, with a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage.

Is the supposition based on the fact that her voice sounded frantic when she radioed the last message, “We are 157-337, running north and south.  Wait listening on 6210”?  If she were “going in” at that time, why would she ask the ITASCA to wait on 6210? (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)

Your comment that she simply forgot to include the reference point in the final message seems to be negated by the fact the she included “running north and south.”  If Noonan had been able to give her a reference point, there would have been no reason for running north and south courses.  They would have known their exact position and in which direction to fly.

The variance in the two groups of messages sent to San Francisco by the ITASCA is not the result of “faulty press reports.” I’m going to have my copies of the Coast Guard Log photostated and sent along to you.  The amazing discrepancies are clear and incontestable.

Your quotes from TIME magazine are “faulty press reports.”  TIME is wrong that no position reports were received after Earhart’s departure from Lae. The Coast Guard Log indicated a check-in 785 miles out from Lae with a full position report.  TIME was also mistaken in the number of messages received by the ITASCA from the plane.  It varies from your own list.

Yes, I was aware that the COLORADO refueled the ITASCA.  This is indicated in the Navy’s official report of the search.  The Navy report indicates that the COLORADO, on a naval training cruise in the Honolulu vicinity with a group of reservists and University Presidents [sic] in observance when it was ordered to assist in the search and refuel [of] the ITASCA and the SWAN.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to another list of questions.  There is so much that appears to be unanswered in this entire vacation.  I think you are as interested in this as I am, or I wouldn’t bother you.

Was the signal strength of Earhart A3 S5 on all the messages from the 0615 “About two hundred miles out” to the final 0843 message? In your list A3 S5 is not listed for 0615,0645, 0742 and 0800.

Many radio operators have told us that in the South Pacific, particularly near the equator, a voice signal will come in from any distance so strongly that the person appears to be in the next room, then, a few minutes later, it cannot be raised at all even when the transmission station is only a few miles away.  Was this your experience while in the South Pacific?

Amelia’s official flight route from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island totaled 2,556 statute miles and had never been attempted before.  (Map courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

Did the ITASCA make any contact with Lae, New Guinea to set up radio frequencies before her final take-off?

Did the ITASCA contact Lae to determine the actual time of the take-off?

Was the ITASCA aware of the gas capacity and range of the plane?

If the ITASCA arranged frequencies with Earhart at Lae, or at least firmed them up, why didn’t the ITASCA know that Noonan could not use cw [sic, i.e., Morse Code] on 500 kcs because of a lack of a trailing antenna?

The “Organization of Radio Personnel” Photostat indicates that in the event of a casualty the ITASCA was to block out any other station attempting to communicate information.  What other station was near the ITASCA that might transmit information contrary to fact?  When the plane was lost, did the ITASCA block out any other transmission of information?

Do you know of the whereabouts of [RM2 Frank] Ciprianti [sic, Cipriani is correct], [RM3 Thomas] O’Hare, [RM3 Gilbert E.] Thompson, Lt. Cmdr. F.T. Kenner, Lt. (j.g.) W.I. Stanston or Ensign R.L. Mellen?

This is aside from the Earhart matter, but is certainly of interest.  What was the eventual fate of the ITASCA, ONTARIO, and SWAN?

In closing, Mr. Bellarts, let me say that we sincerely appreciate the opportunity the [sic] with you.  Let me assure you that we will keep your confidence, and will in no way quote you without your permission.

I, personally, have been working on this investigation for nearly two years.  It has nothing to do with any stamp that might be issued with her image, or some nebulous entry into a hall of fame.  This is a news story, and we intend to pursue every possible lead until a satisfactory conclusion is reached.  I [sic] happy to say we have the blessings of both Amelia’s mother and sister.  They have suspected for many years that the disappearance was not as cut and dried as portions of our military have indicated, but no one, including that military, has ever put together a concerted effort to tie together the loose ends.

I believe with all my heart that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan.  I saw the testimony gathered by the Monsignor and the Fathers.  I know the witnesses were telling the truth.  There was no reason for them to lie, and such a story could never have been invented by simple natives without the appearance of serious discrepancies.

However, I believe with you that Earhart and Noonan never flew their plane to Saipan.  They must have been brought to the island by the Japanese.

The search for Earhart has been a joke for years.  I think that’s because the military has dogmatically maintained that the pair went down close to Howland; yet, that contention appears to be based solely on the belief that the strength of signals before the last received transmission indicated the ship was probably within two hundred miles of the ITASCA.  Where did they fly on the four to five hours of gas we know remained?

A view of Howland Island that Amelia Earhart never enjoyed. The island, a property of the United States, remains uninhabited, but is quite poplar among various wildlife that nests and forages there.

A view of Howland Island that Amelia Earhart never enjoyed. The island, a property of the United States, remains uninhabited, but is popular among various wildlife that nest and forage there, especially goony birds and terns.  Note the outline of the original airstrip that was cleared in anticipation of Amelia’s landing.

Mr. Bellarts, if you know anything that has not been made public that will shed more light on this enigma, please give us the information. If not to CBS, to Amelia’s sister:

Mrs. Albert Morrissey
1 Vernon Street
West Medford. Mass.

No one, certainly not CBS, has the idea of castigating individuals, the Coast Guard, the Navy or the Air Force or even Japan for something that happened so long ago.  The important thing is to settle this matter once and for all, and bring a modicum of peace to the individuals involved.

Earhart and Noonan fought their battle against the elements.  If they later lost their lives to the aggrandizing philosophy of a nation bent on the conquest of the Pacific, the great victory is still theirs.  Their story should be told, and they should receive their nation’s gratitude and a decent burial.

Would you ask less for your own?

Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I’ll be looking forward to your next communication.

Sincerely,

Fred Goerner
CBS News
KCBS RADIO
San Francisco 5,
California (End of Goerner letter.)

I have more of the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, two of the most interesting people in the entire Earhart saga, and will post more at a future date.

Billings’ latest search fails to locate Earhart Electra

David Billings recently returned from his seventeenth trip to East New Britain in search of the Earhart Electra, and again he was unable to find the hidden wreck that he believes is the lost Electra 10E that Amelia Earhart flew from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. 

Billings’ New Britain theory is the only hypothesis among all the various possible explanations that vary from the truth as we know it, that presents us information and poses questions that cannot be explained or answered. Unless and until the twin-engine wreck that an Australian army team found in the East New Britain jungle 1945 is rediscovered, this loose end will forever irritate and annoy researchers who take such findings seriously.

Readers can review the details of Billings’ work by reading my Dec. 5, 2016 post, New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities.  Billings’ website Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” offers a wealth of information on this unique and fascinating theory.

Billings has sent me a detailed report on the events of the last three weeks, and it’s presented below. I wish he had better news, however, as this aspect of the Earhart search is one that screams for resolution, unlike the others, which are all flat-out lies and disinformation, intended only to keep the public ignorant about Amelia’s sad fate.

SEARCHING FOR THE ELECTRA AND FOR AMELIA AND FRED

The Start
Our last expedition started on Friday, June 2, when the six members of the Australian team met at the Brisbane International Motel on the Friday evening prior to the flight out of Brisbane for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on the morning of Saturday, June 3.

We flew from Brisbane for three hours and went into transit at Port Moresby, then on to the flight which is “nominally” to Rabaul but actually Kokopo and arrived at Tokua Airport after an hour and 20 minutes, on time, and then by mini-bus to the Rapopo Plantation Resort just outside of Kokopo, which was the base for our “equipment and rations” gathering over the next two days.

The local singing group welcomes David Billings to Rapopo Plantation Resort. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

Shopping
The hired HiLux vehicles arrived and Sunday and Monday was spent on shopping for the major items from prepared lists and boxing all the goods up and storing them in the rooms. Money changing at the banks in Kokopo and final shopping was Tuesday for odds and ends.

The U.S. team members arrived at the Rapopo on Monday, June 5, and after their hectic flight schedule relaxed on the Tuesday ready for the road trip on Wednesday.

The Journey to Wide Bay
The road trip with all 10 members was carried out in three Toyota HiLux Dual Cab 4WD’s with diesel engines. We had walkie-talkies for contact during the drive. The road we had planned on was to be approximately 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) and we expected to be able to do this in about four and a half hours. The actual time was seven hours over very rough roads and with a planned one major river crossing and several minor river crossings. In the event, due to finding one road impassable, we were forced to ford a quite wide and substantial river which we know from previous trips can be in flood quite rapidly as it has a large watershed area stretching up into the Baining Mountains.

The supposed “sealed” roads out of Kokopo through small villages towards Kerevat town were a nightmare with potholes every few yards and the daily multitude of vehicles were weaving in and out of the potholes and wandering all over the road to avoid the holes.

A good 10 kilometers out of Kerevat town, a turnoff towards the village of Malasait brought us onto the very rough tracks that we were to use for the rest of the journey. This rough track constitutes the major part of what is euphemistically called the “East New Britain Highway.” For a detailed look at the Gazelle Peninsula in relation to the Billings search, please click here.

The Gazelle Peninsula forms the northeastern part of East New Britain Province. Billings said the route from Kokopo to Wide Bay (below southern part of map, not labeled) is “mainly over very rough logging tracks.”

On the Highway
All went well over the awful rough roads until about the halfway point whereupon we came across a gigantic mudslide over a stretch of the “highway” on a downslope about 100 meters long, with ruts in the mud about 500 millimeters (19.6 inches) deep. There was a truck there which they had shed the load off of it and copra bags littered the drains as they had strived to get the truck through and they were picking the bags up on a long pole when we got there. Rain water had gone completely over this section and washed the road out. After throwing rocks into the deepest rutted sections and pushing the loose mud down also, we managed to get through this area in four-wheel drive. We had to remember this section of “road” and prepare for it for the return journey.

Shortly after this, we crossed the Sambei River No. 2, in a wide sweeping arc with water just over the wheel hubs which allowed us to stay on the shallowest parts and then continued on the way.

At this river crossing we had met up with a local man who said he was going to the Lamerien area and we followed him along a newly cut forestry road which joined up with the old road near to the turn-off to Awungi then we entered the steep descending curves down into the Mevelo River Valley and expected to turn off to the right to follow the track through the Mumus and Yarras River Valleys. However, our guide drove straight ahead to a security guard post leading into the Palm Oil Plantation, sited on the northern side of the Mevelo River. On realizing that we were being led into the Palm Oil Plantation the expectation then was that the bridge over the Mevelo which we could see “not completed” in Satellite views must then be “completed,” which would mean we could cross the wide Mevelo River with ease.

The Mevelo River
After driving through the Palm Oil roads for about 40 minutes we came to the Mevelo River and our hopes were dashed! There was no bridge. We had seen a bridge with a very nearly completed driving span in the satellite pictures with but one span to be completed. What we were now looking at was a damaged bridge with no roadway across the pylons. The Mevelo River is a very fast flowing river in flood and an earlier flood had obviously caused the bridge supports to move and the bridge had collapsed.

The bridge was down, destroyed by the “mighty” Mevelo at some time in a flood. Several of the old shipping containers that had been used as ballast cans for rocks to hold and support the concrete bridgeworks had been moved out of position by the strength of the flow of water down the Mevelo River and now we were left with a choice — we must now ford the river or turn back.

Luckily, while we had a rest stop close to the access road to the river, I had seen two Toyota Land Cruiser troop carrier vehicles come out of the track entrance to the river and sure enough when we arrived at the river, there were the wet wheel tracks of these vehicles left behind on the steep entrance into the river, so we decided to go across, fording the river in the HiLux in H4, in four-wheel drive.  I went first and kept a straight line across and the water was deeper over on the far side of the river and estimated to be just at wheel height. The second vehicle came across and then Matt took a different wider line and we could see water up to the bonnet before the front end of the vehicle reared up out of the water onto dry land. A sigh of relief went up from all watching!

The Mevelo River ford point with the damaged bridgeworks and sunken dislodged containers (looking north). (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

The Old Track
What we now know is that the former old track (part of which I have previously walked) which leads out of the Mevelo Valley and up to the Mumus and Yarras River Valleys, our planned route, is totally overgrown and cannot be used. It is a seven-hour 166 kilometer (106 miles) drive from Kokopo to Lamerien over very rough roads with what we thought were two major river crossings. We had three large rivers to cross, only one of which was bridged.

Change to the Planning
The crossing of the Mevelo River by the ford, which was forced upon us by the closure of the now “overgrown road” out of the Mevelo Valley meant that we had to rethink our carefully laid plans on several aspects: The Americans had appointments to keep on their return so had to get back for their flights.  We got to the campsite on Thursday, June 7 and managed to get the tents up before dark. That left a maximum for them of six nights in the camp but in the light of the river fords (particularly the Mevelo River ford) we had to gauge intervals in the rain to get back over the Mevelo River, which was accessed as the biggest obstacle. 

1. The American participants had a maximum of seven nights/six days at Wide Bay and had to return to Kokopo, the seventh day had been planned as the “return to Kokopo day.”

2.  Originally it had been planned for two vehicles to return with the American participants and then one vehicle return to Wide Bay on the same day. It was now deemed too dangerous for one vehicle to make the trip back due possible breakdown on the rough roads or getting bogged on the mudslide. This planned return trip would take two days if carried out.

3. The drive cannot be done Kokopo to Wide Bay (Lamerien) and back in one day, it had been planned as a one-day trip because “if the river crossings were possible on that day in the morning” then they would still be able to be crossed later in the day. The two-day return trip negated that idea.

4. More importantly, we would have to ford the Mevelo River on a return journey and to that there was no alternative, the Mevelo River had to be crossed in order to get back to Kokopo with the vehicles, that meant the surety of a day when the river ford was at a low point.

5. We also had to make a contingency for the 100-meter-long mudslide in the road at roughly the halfway point, after the Sambei River, which doubtless would not have been repaired by the time of our return. This meant that lengths of logs had to be carried both for ballast in crossing the two main river fords and as fill to drop into the ruts on the mudslide section. The chainsaw also had to return with the vehicles in case of the need for more wood.

Secondary Jungle Visited Three Times
It rained the first night (Thursday) and Friday afternoon we made it up the hill.  Since 2012 it has become just a tangled mess up there, the old bulldozer tracks are barely visible and the tree roots across the ground hold pools of water making it treacherous. 

The climb up to the top of the hill can be quite steep in places and with the rain it was very slippery and some assistance was needed in paces and the willing hands of the young men of the village gave that assistance. The hill height is around 420 feet and the start level is 150 feet, so it is a tough climb over 270 feet of elevation.

David Billings in the East New Britain jungle checking search area location from previous GPS waypoints. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

It rained the second night for three hours with lightning and thunder rolls and lashing rain from 12 p.m. to 3 a.m., and then more rain during that new day.  June is supposed to be the “drier” month of the year. We went up the hill three times, it rained while we were in there.

Due to the available time for the Americans in the team, the rain, the rising rivers to cross and the vehicles to be got across the rivers, we had to consider getting out at an opportune time with the biggest obstacle, the Mevelo River, at a low point. We watched the Mevelo on a daily basis.  The Mevelo went down a bit and we took the opportunity to get out on Monday, June 12. Seven hours later we were back in Kokopo.  

“East New Britain Highway” is Atrocious
Back to the mudslide! Yes, the mudslide was still there and still about 100 meters long, but this time on the return, on an upslope. We had to remember that stretch for going back so we cut some logs the length of the HiLux tray and took two layers of 5-foot round logs back with us both as ballast for the river crossing and to patch up the road when we got to the mudslide.  When we got there a big truck was bogged in, but luckily off to the side, so we gave them a shovel, then we filled in the deeper parts of one rut with the logs we carried and I went first with one wheel side in the rut and the other on the center “heap of slime,” and in H4 we all got through but it was close-run thing.  All the villagers that were working on the road cheered!  Most of the road is laterite where a bulldozer has shaved off the top soil and exposed the rock underneath but this section was just mud. The roads must be terrible on the HiLux suspension and most of the journey is in first and second gear with occasional third being used.

Members of David Billings’ team sweep the East New Britain jungle in search of the Earhart Electra. Once again, nothing was found on this, the seventeenth time he’s visited this remote area of the world in search of the lost plane. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

Where do we go from here
It is obvious that we cannot use vehicles again until the roads improve and bridges are built, that means use and reliance on a helicopter again, for “in” and “out,” with additional expense.

The idea was that by using vehicles we could cut down the expense and carry as much as we liked to make the camp comfortable. We had also intended to go down to the Ip River where a World War II wreck had been reported about 10 years ago and to which no one has been to identify, so we had thought that we would do that, but the villagers told us that the coast track was impassable.

All the film taken will now be used to make a documentary concerning the search for the aircraft wreck seen in 1945, which I am convinced on the basis of the documentary evidence on the World War II map and the visual description by the Army veterans, is the elusive Electra. We shall have to wait and see what interest is generated by the documentary.

Sincerely,

David Billings,
Nambour,
Queensland,  Australia (June 20, 2017)

Billings’ next trip to East New Britain will be his eighteenth, if he indeed makes it, and if persistence means anything at all, perhaps he will finally locate the wrecked airplane he believes was Amelia Earhart’s bird. I wish him the best of luck, as he will surely need it. If you’d like to contribute to his cause, you can visit his website, Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project for details.

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