Like the recent Earhart timeline, this is another piece that’s long overdue. David Billings, a retired Australian aviation engineer, has worked intensely for over two decades on a project that, if successful, will turn nearly everything we assume about Amelia Earhart’s final flight on its head. I’ve known Billings casually through countless emails since about 2004, a year or so before his membership in the Amelia Earhart Society online discussion forum was revoked on a technicality by a hostile forum moderator.
Despite our vastly different beliefs about the Earhart disappearance, we’ve maintained a cordial communication. To me, Billings exemplifies the best in what some might consider the old-school Australian male, in that he’s forthright, with a sharp, wry sense of humor, unafraid to speak his mind, and dependably honest – a trait becoming increasingly rare in this day and age. His work is admirable and worthy of our attention.
The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling. Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed “Earhart experts,” whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.
Rather than waste needless effort trying to describe Billings’ New Britain Theory in my own words, we will now turn to the home page of his comprehensive website, which provides a thorough introduction. The site, titled Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” presents a wealth of information in nine separate sections, is presented in a reader-friendly, professional style and is must reading for the serious Earhart student. We begin at the beginning; the following inset material is direct from the home page of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project:
Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.
The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.
On July 2, 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “. . . we are running on line north and south . . .” manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.
This project theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel.
The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crash into the jungle.
David Billings [sic], a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analyzed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.
The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”
The foregoing should give you a fairly good snapshot of Billings’ New Britain Theory. Much more can be found in the pages of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project.
In Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, the author recalled his first meeting with the famed Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, an interview arranged by Cmdr. John Pillsbury, public information officer for the 12th Naval District, in connection with Goerner’s work on a 1962 radio documentary The Silent Thunder.
The meeting was the beginning of a friendship Goerner treasured, but it wasn’t until about a year later that Nimitz shared some of his inside knowledge about the Earhart case with Goerner. At Pillsbury’s retirement party at the Fort Mason Officers Club in San Francisco, he passed an incredible message to the KCBS newsman. “I’m officially retired now,” Pillsbury told Goerner, “so I’m going to tell you a couple of things. You’re on the right track with your Amelia Earhart investigation. Admiral Nimitz wants you to continue, and he says you’re onto something that will stagger your imagination. I’ll tell you this, too. You have the respect of a lot of people for the way you’ve stuck at this thing. Keep plugging. You’ll get the answers.” (Italics mine.)
Nimitz’s statement to Goerner through Pillsbury was a stunner, and it immediately found a permanent place in my memory when I read it for the first time so many years ago. Just what could the great Navy warrior have meant when he said, “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination”? The answer has been elusive, but if Billings can locate the wreck, and it proves to be Earhart’s Electra, we’ll have a strong clue and a new place to start looking for that special something that Pillsbury hinted so strongly about.
In closing “Chapter II: The Final Flight” in Truth at Last, I cite some of the many questions that remain unanswered about those final hours: “What was Noonan, Pan Am’s best navigator, doing as their hopes of securing a safe landfall were evaporating before his eyes? Why the forty-minute void between Earhart’s 8:04 and 8:44 a.m. transmissions? Why couldn’t she hear Itasca on 3105 kc? Why did she ask for 7500 kc for bearings, when her direction finder could not home in on that frequency, instead of asking for 500 kc? Earhart never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time, preventing the Itasca radiomen from taking bearings. Why? If the Electra was running out of fuel or experiencing another emergency, why didn’t she send a Mayday message?
“Did her transmitter break down after her last broadcast, as Prymak suggested?” I continued. “Was she really trying to reach Howland, or was her peculiar behavior simply part of a deception to make it appear she was lost?” But one question never occurred to me: “Why was Amelia Earhart in a different Electra than the one she flew from Oakland, Calif., when she set off on her second world flight attempt on June 2, 1937?”
What would it mean if Billings finds the original Earhart Electra, NR 16020? First of all, the discovery should be, at minimum, the biggest story of the week worldwide, with virtually all media organizations in the West giving it top billing (no pun intended). If past is prologue, however, any news that reflects the truth in this longstanding cover-up will be universally ignored, though a few exceptions might occur with a story of this magnitude. Billings needs to find the wreck and identify it in a way that’s forensically conclusive.
Remember, the metal tag recovered from the engine mount has vanished, likely joining the Earhart briefcase discovered by Robert E. Wallack in a Japanese safe on 1944 Saipan, the photos of the fliers in Japanese custody that several GIs claimed they found but lost on Saipan, and whatever else might be squirreled away in top-secret hidey-holes. Assuming Billings is finally able to locate the wreck, how will he determine beyond doubt whether this is the long-lost Electra, and not just another World War II casualty?
“I have always been good at ‘aircraft recognition,’ seeing an aircraft and immediately recognizing the type of aircraft it is, particularly WWII military types,” Billings told me in an email. “After being with the Electra 10E for 20 years and looking at the pictures and three-view drawings, it would be easy to recognize from certain aspects; for instances: the look of the six window panels surrounding the cockpit and the twin tails, the cabin door, the fuel filler panels, the step in the setting of the horizontal stabilizer are all recognition features. We are, however, speaking here of a damaged Electra, from the sighting in 1945, said to be with the cockpit smashed back to the heavy main spar, so the cockpit with the DF loop on top is effectively ‘not there’ and no description of the twin tails was given suggesting the empennage [tail assembly] is not there either.”
Billings says information he’s gleaned since 2011 indicates that the plane was purposely buried, though not too deeply, by someone using a bulldozer, so the use of metal detectors will be critical to a successful search. “When we get a strike with a metal detector then we follow the continuing strikes to map out the extent of what we have in the ground following the metal detector beeps,” Billings continued. “We mark a rough plan on the ground. From that, firstly I would then be looking away from the ground plan for a distance, for the left hand Engine Serial No. 6150, said to be 30 meters away from the airframe and it will be a lump on the ground, if the bulldozer driver missed seeing it. If we find that engine, then it will have a Pratt and Whitney Data Plate on the back of the blower housing with “6150” stamped on it. At the airframe, if we have a rough ground plan we can dig where the right hand engine is as it too will have a Data plate showing “6149.” One of these would be proof positive.”
Though I admire Billings’ work, we certainly don’t agree on everything. The idea that Earhart turned around and landed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea after nearly reaching Howland Island is unacceptable to me — and every other Earhart researcher I know. But the existence of the original Electra at East New Britain and the Marshalls-Saipan truth are not mutually exclusive, as would appear at first glance. Both can be true, and assuming Billings’ evidence isn’t some kind of bizarre hoax or misunderstanding, both must be true.
How can two scenarios that appear so radically different be part of a coherent series of events in the summer of 1937? One possible answer immediately suggests itself: Amelia Earhart changed planes somewhere along the line of her world flight route, and we already have some evidence to support the idea. Please see my earlier post, “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga for the entire confusing discussion. It’s not conclusive, of course, and it raises many more questions than it answers.
The successful location and identification of the original Earhart Electra in East New Britain would be earth-shaking news, but it would also create a new Earhart “mystery,” a real one in this case, not the fabricated myth the establishment wants us to buy. If it’s ever discovered, the truth that explains the Electra’s presence in East New Britain could indeed “stagger our imagination.” In any event, a plane change and eventual crash of the original Electra in the East New Britain jungle under other circumstances makes far more sense to this observer than the dramatic turn-around Billings proposes. The Mili Atoll and Saipan evidence are just too overwhelming to support the entirety of Billings’ theory, in my view.
Billings has made 16 trips to the Papua New Guinea jungle since 1994, and plans his final foray into East New Britain sometime in the spring of 2017, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. Funding is always a problem, but he says a recently completed road will allow vehicle access and eliminate the exorbitant helicopter costs previously incurred. Billings has always borne the heaviest part of the money burden, but if you’d like to help his cause, here’s a page with donation information.
In a recent email, I told Billings that I wanted to do a post about him and his work, writing, “We both want the truth, and if the original Electra is in the PNG jungle, so be it. IF and when you can prove it, we can then worry about how and why it got there!”
“Exactly!” he replied. “My same thoughts all along.”
Earhart researchers Dick Spink and Les Kinney, who led a search team sponsored by Parker Aerospace, returned from Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands Jan. 30 after spending five days combing the tiny Endriken Islands near Barre Island with high-tech equipment including ground-penetrating radar and metal detectors.
Although no one has made any more claims that “concrete proof” or a “Holy Grail” has been found, they didn’t return empty-handed, either, and some of the artifacts appear to have serious potential.
“Wow, what a trip!” Spink wrote in an email Feb. 3. “Two of the pieces we found are very consistent with what I found on my first couple expeditions to Mili. One piece in particular is some type of identification plate that is consistent in size with that of a Lockheed airframe tag. There is no way of knowing this until we get it to the lab, but you can tell it was some type of ID tag.
“Something important to note,” Spink continued, “is that all of the aluminum pieces we found were in a direct line between where [I believe] the [Earhart] plane came to rest and the location of where the plane was loaded onto the shallow draft barge. Very interesting indeed, and the foundation of this story is becoming more solid.”
Readers unfamiliar with the full background on this story and the new search at Mili for parts of Amelia Earhart’s Electra can find details in my three earlier posts, Yahoo! News announces new search for Electra parts, “Recent find on Mili Atoll called “Concrete proof” and “Update to Recent find on Mili story.”
“We found six small artifacts that could or could not have come from the Electra,” Kinney wrote in a Jan. 29 email. “We also found a couple of small unidentified pieces of aluminum, and a round one inch diameter rusted magnet. Most of this stuff was buried — all except one piece were found by metal detectors.”
Kinney urged caution about making any premature announcements until thorough testing can be done. He will coordinate the tests, financed by Parker Aerospace and conducted as soon as possible. None of the tests will likely provide absolute proof that an artifact came from the Earhart plane, but Kinney, Spink and antique aircraft Jim Hayton all believe the aluminum plate and airwheel dust cover found by Spink in previous trips to the Endrikens were probably from the Electra.
Kinney also interviewed some native Marshallese he called “knowledgeable locals” in the Mili Atoll area, and says he “confirmed there were no aircraft wrecks on any of the nearby islands stretching out for at least ten miles” during or before the war years, with only one exception. This supports his earlier research, and makes the possibilities even stronger that one or more of the artifacts’ came from the Earhart plane.
“We also got some Japanese aircraft samples we picked up on Mili Island to compare the aluminum we got from our island,” Kinney wrote, adding that “everything has been cleared by the Marshallese government. I wrote up a release and the President signed it as well as the Historic Preservation Office Manager. Everything is legal.”
As is usually been the case when Earhart searches are undertaken by TIGHAR, Nauticos and others, the media has enthusiastically informed the public about the great adventure. These same news agencies have almost invariably failed to publish follow-ups when the searches fail to deliver. Much the same is the case here, though on a far smaller scale; nothing about the search has been published to date by Yahoo! News or any other media outlet, though Spink says he will be talking to a local newspaper soon, and other possible media exposure may be forthcoming.
Readers of this blog can be sure that this reporter will do all that he can to keep them informed about any news in what might be properly called “the postmodern” search for Amelia Earhart.
“No hard evidence” in Earhart case? Knaggs’ find on Mili refutes skeptics’ claim (First of two parts)
Even casual observers of the Earhart case know that the major weapon used by skeptics and critics of the truth, the blind crash-and-sankers, the Nikumaroro morons and the rest who refuse to accept the obvious about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s Mili Atoll landing and deaths on Saipan is their never-ending cry, “Where is the physical evidence? No hard evidence has even been found!”
Forget the many dozens of witness accounts from natives, Saipan veterans and other sources that so clearly points to the truth. Only when the Electra is finally discovered, they say, will the Earhart puzzle be solved. Until then, all theories are acceptable – except the hated Saipan truth, of course, which is a “paranoid conspiracy theory” and is far too “extremist” to have any validity. These bozos are quite happy to keep Amelia and Fred in cold storage for eternity, floating out there in the unfathomable ether where the world’s great mysteries abide.
They’re wrong, as usual; hard evidence has been found and analyzed, and it tells us a compelling story. Most of the doubters are unaware of this evidence, but it makes little difference. Even if the Earhart plane was somehow miraculously found underneath the Saipan International Airport’s tarmac amid hundreds of tons of wartime refuse, where, as Thomas E. Devine has told us, the plane has been since it was bulldozed into a deep hole several months after it’s torching in the summer of 1944, the naysayers wouldn’t accept it. And our corrupt media, which has been so invested for so long in perpetuating the big lie that Amelia’s fate remains a mystery, would take all pains to thoroughly ignore and suppress news of the discovery, as they always have.
But that’s for another time. This post is the first of two that will present and discuss the hard evidence that was found at Mili Atoll, evidence that all but proves the reality of our heroes’ presence at Mili Atoll in July 1937. So that readers can best understand the sequence of events that led to the discovery of this artifact, a bit of background is in order.
Amelia Earhart: The Final Story among best ever penned
Former Air Force C-47 pilot Vincent V. Loomis and his wife, Georgette, traveled to the Marshalls in 1978 hoping to find the wreck of an unidentified plane Loomis saw on an uninhabited island near Ujae Atoll in 1952. Loomis never located the wreck, which he fervently dreamed was the lost Earhart plane, but in four trips to the Marshalls he obtained considerable witness testimony indicating the fliers’ presence there. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, was praised by some at a time when big media’s rejection of information supporting Earhart’s survival and death on Saipan had yet to reach its virtual blackout of the past two decades, and is among the most important Earhart disappearance books ever written.
The Final Story’s most glowing review came from Jeffrey Hart, writing in William F. Buckley’s National Review. After gushing that Loomis “interviewed the surviving Japanese who were involved and he photographed the hitherto unknown Japanese military and diplomatic documents,” Hart flatly stated, “The mystery is a mystery no longer.” Of course, the U.S. government disagreed completely, and continued its abject silence on all things Earhart.
On his first flight to Majuro, Loomis met Senator Amata Kabua and Tony DeBrum, commission officials seeking Marshallese independence from the United States. Kabua, a descendent of the first king of the Marshalls, Kabua the Great, said Earhart had come down in the islands and that her plane was still there. DeBrum told Loomis, “We all know about this woman who was reported to have come down on Mili southeast of Majuro, was captured by the Japanese and taken off to Jaluit. Remember, the stories were being told long before you Americans began asking questions.”
Among the witnesses Loomis interviewed at Mili Mili, the main island at Mili Atoll, was Mrs. Clement (Loomis provided no first name), the wife of the boat operator Loomis had hired. Mrs. Clement said her husband knew nothing, but she recalled that she had seen “this airplane and the woman pilot and the Japanese taking the woman and the man with her away.” She pointed out the area – “Over there … next to Barre Island” – as the spot where the plane had landed, but she offered no other information.
Loomis next sought out Jororo Alibar and Anibar Eine on Ejowa Island, hoping to confirm the story he heard from Ralph Middle on Majuro. Middle’s story was that two local fishermen, Jororo and Lijon, told him that before the war they saw an airplane land on the reef near Barre island, about 200 feet offshore. “When ‘two men’ emerged from the machine, they produced a ‘yellow boat which grew,’ climbed aboard it and paddled for shore,” Loomis wrote. “Jororo and Lijon, only teenagers, were frightened, crouching in the tiriki, the dense undergrowth, not quite knowing what to do.” Shortly after the men reached the island, the fishermen saw them bury a silver container, but the Japanese soon arrived and began to question, and then slap the two fliers, Middle said. When one screamed, Jororo and Lijon realized it was a woman. The pair continued to hide, watching in silence, because “they knew the Japanese would have killed them for what they had witnessed.”
The natives’ description of “the yellow boat which grew” is especially compelling for its realism, as it reflects their relatively primitive understanding of what only could have been an inflatable life boat produced by Earhart and Noonan after the Electra crash-landed, possibly on a reef. No inventory of the plane’s contents during the world flight is known to exist, but several sources support the common-sense idea that the fliers would not have departed Lae without such a vital piece of emergency equipment.
Amelia, My Courageous Sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey and Carol L. Osborne’s 1987 biography, contains a photocopied story from the March 7, 1937 New York Herald Tribune, “Complete Navigation Room Ready to Guide Miss Earhart.” Discussing emergency items the Electra would carry on the first world flight, the unnamed reporter wrote, “In the fuselage will be a two-man rubber lifeboat, instantly inflatable from capsules of carbon dioxide.” In the July 20, 1937 search report of the Lexington Group commander, under “Probabilities Arising from Rumor or Reasonable Assumptions,” Number 3 states, “That the color of the lifeboat was yellow.”
In September 1979, South African writer Oliver Knaggs was hired by a film company to join Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search. The Knaggs-Loomis connection is well known among Earhart buffs, but neither Loomis, in The Final Story, nor Knaggs, in his little-known 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight (Howard Timmins, Cape Town, S.A), mentioned the other by name. In Her last flight, a collector’s item known mainly to researchers, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan.
Knaggs wasn’t with Loomis when Ralph Middle told him about Lijon and Jororo at Majuro in 1979, and wasn’t there when Loomis interviewed Jororo. Knaggs wrote that “our leader [Loomis]” had told him of Lijon’s story, which he didn’t believe initially, but later, when a village elder repeated it, Knaggs became interested. Knaggs returned to Mili in 1981 without Loomis but armed with a metal detector in hopes of locating Lijon’s silver container, and establishing his own claim to fame in the search for Amelia Earhart.
In part two of this post, we’ll look at what Knaggs found, what the experts said about it and what it means in the continuing search for Amelia Earhart.