Tag Archives: Fred Hooven

Hooven’s 1966 letter to Fred Goerner quite clear: Removal of his radio compass doomed Earhart

Frederick J. Hooven, famed for his engineering inventions, was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory. After graduating  from MIT in 1927, Hooven was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935.  His Hooven Radio Compass, which he  later sold to the Bendix Company, is now known as the Automatic Direction Finder or ADF, was installed in Amelia Earhart’s Electra in 1936, but was later replaced by an earlier, lighter unit. 

When he died in 1985, Hooven held a total of 38 American patents, as well as many foreign patents in fields such as avionics, bomb sights, automotive ignition and suspension systems, photographic typesetting and medical technology. His inventions include 17 radio and aviation navigation and landing instrument systems, bomb-release systems, six automotive ignition systems, three medical instruments, six photographic type compositions and seven other automotive inventions (axles, brakes, springs, suspensions, plus a complete engine, the 1966 Olds Toronado).

The late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, was adamant that some of the post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart's Electra 10E.

The late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, was adamant that some of the post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. Faced with the undeniable reality that neither the fliers nor the Electra could have been on the island in 1937 without leaving a trace for the many future inhabitants to find, he later abandoned the theory, though others have not been as astute.

In his 1966 letter of introduction to Goerner, below, the first of many from Hooven to his soon-to-be friend and Earhart research associate, he discusses his radio compass, his meeting with Amelia and what he believed was the fatal decision to remove his invention from the Electra. Many more would follow through the years.  (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)

December 5, 1966

Mr. Frederick Goerner
Doubleday
277 Park Avenue
New York City, N.Y. 10017

Dear Mr. Goerner:

I just finished reading your book on Amelia Earhart. I started the book with a good deal of skepticism, but now that I have finished it I find that I share your conviction that this whole matter must be clarified and honor rendered to those to whom it is due.  I can add a small and perhaps interesting sidelight to the Amelia Earhart story.  My contribution does nothing either to strengthen or weaken your conclusions, but I believe if my story had been different, Miss Earhart would not have been lost .

I installed on Miss Earhart’s Lockheed one of the first proto­types of the modern aircraft radio direction-finder.  Before she embarked on her flight, however, this was removed, and installed in its place was the old-fashioned null-type direction-finder that she carried with her. The modern instrument would have given her a heading on the transmitter of the cutter Itasca at Howland Island even under poor reception condi­tions and it would have shown her without ambiguity that her destination was still ahead.

The modern direction finder that I invented in 1935 had some important points of superiority over the old simple null-type that had been used ever since before 1920. We called it a radio compass then. It is always called the ADF today.  It uses a conventional antenna in addition to the directional loop, the result being that it is possible to listen to the station at the same time a bearing is being taken. It is so much more sensitive that it is possible to use a much smaller loop, contained in the familiar streamlined cigar-shaped housing that is still to be seen on all but the very latest models of commercial and military aircraft.

Most importantly, by using the signal from the non-directional antenna as a point of reference, the modern instrument is able to indi­cate the true direction of the transmitter from the receiver whereas the null-type indicator could do no more than tell that the transmitting station was somewhere along a line that passed through the center of the loop-antenna. Obviously, to obtain a useable null with the old system the signal must be several times louder than the background noise. With the radio compass, a useable bearing may be taken on a station that is not readable through the noise. All of these things combine to convince me that Miss Earhart would have reached Howland Island if the radio compass had still been installed in her airplane.

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

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

We built six of these prototypes. I was at that time vice presi­dent and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation, which was one of the small companies later combined into Bendix Radio. Vincent Bendix had retained Harry Bruno as his personal public relations counsel and he distributed these prototypes where he thought they were most likely to get his name into the papers. One of them went to Dick Merrill and Harry Richman, and we installed it on the Northrup Alpha they flew across the Atlantic and landed in Ireland. They both told me they owed their lives to the radio compass.

Harry had broadcast to his public over their 50 watt transmitter until the airplane ‘s battery was flat, so when they reached England they were able to use only their receiving equipment. It was foggy and they flew around for 24 hours before they found a hole they could get down through. They said they surely would have been back over the ocean if they had not had the radio compass on board. Just to bear out your contention about the transmitting range of the 50 watt transmitter I listened to Harry on my receiver in Dayton, Ohio on 3100 kilocycles until he was about halfway across the Atlantic.

Another prototype was turned over to the United States Army Air Corps at Wright Field. We installed it in a B-10 and connected the out­put to the directional control of the automatic pilot. I rode in this airplane on a nonstop flight from Dayton to Dallas, Texas and back. Dur­ing the entire flight the pilot never touched the controls of the airplane. It was guided over the entire distance by the radio compass, which was tuned in to local broadcast stations and radio beacons along the way.

The pilot of that airplane was a very close friend of mine, George Holloman, who lost his life in the South Pacific during the war and who gave his name to Holloman Field . Later on, the same radio compass was installed in an ancient Fokker C-151 which made the first completely automatic takeoff and landing at Wright Field in 1937. Later the same year at Muroc Air­ Force Base, that airplane made the first completely automatic unmanned takeoff and landing. Another of these prototypes went to the Department of Commerce and one I personally installed for American Airlines on the first DC-3 to go into commercial passenger service.

Miss Earhart brought her airplane to Wright Field in Dayton where I made the installation of our equipment. I spent most of the day with her and I concur with your description of her. She was attractive, charming, gracious — a real lady. She had with her a pretty young girl straight from the sticks, named Jacqueline Cochrane. We had lunch together in the cafeteria at the Field. So far as I know Miss Cochrane is still living and should be able to verify this part of the story.

I don’t remember when I learned that the radio compass had been removed from Miss Earhart ‘s plane before she took off on her world flight. The Radio Research Company of Washington, D.C. was another Bendix division. Its vice president was Laurence A. Hyland, who is now, or was until very recently, vice president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft. Hyland had been a Navy man and his company manufac­tured the standard Navy aircraft direction finder. As I understood it, Hyland convinced Miss Earhart that she should not trust such a new­ fangled device as my radio compass and that she would be much safer with the good old reliable instead. From what you say about the Navy’s involvement in the affair, it could well have been that the Navy persuaded her to take out this piece of equipment that had been developed in connection with the Army Air Corps.

A rare photo of a very young Fred Goerner, circa mid-1940s, at an unidentified California beach. Photo courtesy of Lance Goerner.

A rare, heretofore unpublished photo of a very young Fred Goerner, circa mid-1940s, at an unidentified California beach. (Photo courtesy Lance Goerner.)

You can see why I read your book with more than casual interest and would like to see such a grand lady take her proper place in history.

                                                              Sincerely Yours,

                                                                      Frederick J. Hooven

Hooven’s contention that if Amelia had used his radio compass she “would have reached Howland Island” was, of course, based on the assumption that she was actually trying to locate and land at Howland, and was not embarked on a far different and possibly covert flight plan. Many factors that have been presented and discussed in earlier posts argue for that, but we simply don’t know for sure. 

After years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged radio receptions, Hooven presented his paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, which became known as The Hooven Report, at the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in June 1982. Citing the bearings on the signals reported by the three Pan Am radio stations and the Howland Island high-frequency direction finder supplied by the Navy, Hooven asserted it was “undeniable” that the transmissions had originated from the downed fliers.

“Five bearings were taken on the weak, wavering signal reported on the frequency used by the Earhart plane,” Hooven wrote, “and four of them, plus the 157-337 position line of the last message all intersected in the general area of the Phoenix Group. This constitutes positive evidence of the presence of a transmitter in that area which could only have been that of the downed plane. No hypothesis purporting to explain the events of the last flight can be credited that does not offer a plausible explanation of these signals, and why they originated along the plane’s announced position line at the only location, except for Baker and Howland, where there was land.”

According to several knowledgeable researchers, Hooven later abandoned the Gardner Island idea after Goerner convinced him that regardless of the location of the source of questionable radio signals that inspired it, too many people had lived on Gardner for too many years without any trace of the Earhart Electra ever seen on the island.  I’ve tried without success to locate any documents that reflect Hooven’s alleged reversal, which I believe actually occurred.

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight established Hooven as the creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, not the executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), Ric Gillespie, who has yet to credit Hooven publicly, at least to this writer’s knowledge. If he has finally done so, I expect to be corrected quite loudly and quickly, and will report it here. Lacking any other plausible alternative to the Marshalls-Saipan reality, our establishment media continues to deny the truth and force feeds this rubbish, this long-debunked “Nikumaroro hypothesis,” to an incurious, gullible public, and to mislead all who remain willfully ignorant. 

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Goerner’s ’91 letter to Life magazine: Fred Hooven created Nikumaroro theory, not Ric Gillespie

In my Oct. 26 post, we saw Fred Goerner’s rather moderately toned March 1, 1990 letter to TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie, in which he gently warned the TIGHAR boss that the media would not long tolerate his false claims about Amelia Earhart’s alleged July 1937 landing on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro). Of course Goerner, who died in 1994, couldn’t imagine the depths that our media would eventually plumb in their enthusiasm and commitment to disseminating anything that continues to keep the public stupid about the Earhart disappearance.  

Fourteen years after Time magazine ripped The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” and urged its readers not to waste their time on “conspiracy” theories about Japan’s pre-war atrocities, Goerner still didn’t fully comprehend the media’s deceitful Earhart agenda.  But in his letter to Life magazine’s Ed Barnes, he adamantly insisted that Life should table any notions they had about promoting Gillespie’s Nikumaroro fantasies.

A previously unpublished photo of Navy enlisted man Fred Goerner, circa 1943, with two Navy buddies. (Photo courtesy Lance Goerner.)

A previously unpublished photo of Navy enlisted man Fred Goerner (center) circa 1943, with two unidentified buddies. (Photo courtesy Lance Goerner.)

The below letter is most instructive, especially for those unfamiliar with the true history of Earhart research, and clearly illuminates the salient details of the Nikumaroro fallacy. The fact that Goerner was ignored by Life leaves no doubt about how far the media, in this case one of the pre-eminent news magazines of the day, will go to support the bogus over the true in the Earhart case.  Whatever Barnes thought of Goerner’s letter — and I’ve seen nothing hinting at that — Life published Gillespie’s self-aggrandizing propaganda piece in its April 1992 edition, countering the TIGHAR falsehoods only with a small, easily overlooked boxed insert that quoted a few experts who exposed Gillespie’s claims as pure kaka. Here’s Goerner’s letter, as relevant today as it was in 1991: 

FREDERICK ALLAN GOERNER
Twenty-four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118

October 11, 1991

Mr. Ed Barnes
Life Magazine
Time/Life Building
ROOM 447
Rockefeller Center
New York, N.Y. 10020

Dear Mr. Barnes,

It is with some trepidation that I provide this information to you.

I stand behind the evidence I am presenting to you herewith, but I make it clear that I prefer not to be brought into what I consider to be the bogus claims of Dr. [sic] Gillespie, Ms. Thrasher and the organization known as TIGHAR: The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery.

You may use my name only if it is absolutely needed for verisimilitude.

First, I believe it is important for you to know that the McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands theory is not the property of or the result of the work of Gillespie and TIGHAR [all bolded emphasis mine, capitalization emphasis Goerner’s throughout].

The work is the result of the efforts of Professor Frederick Hooven of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College.  Hooven conducted a series of computer studies on the Earhart matter at Dartmouth, and I urged him in 1982 to write a paper regarding his conclusions that I might present to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., at the time I was participating in an Earhart symposium at NASM in 1982.

The late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, was adamant that some of the post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart's Electra 10E.

Undated photo of the late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory. To this observer’s knowledge, Hooven, who later abandoned the Nikumaroro landing idea after closely studying the history of the island and its many inhabitants, has never been publicly acknowledged by Ric Gillespie as the progenitor of the Nikumaroro “hypothesis,” as Gillespie calls it. 

Professor Hooven did so prepare the paper, and I presented it to Ms . Claudia Oakes, who was then Associate cuator at NASM and who had arranged the symposium. A copy of Hooven ‘s work is herewith attached.

I should here inform you that Frederick Hooven, among many, many impressive accomplishments, was the inventor of a low frequency air direction finder that was used for several decades aboard commercial and military aircraft. Hooven and the then U.S. Army Air Corps allowed one of those (then new) direction finders to be installed aboard Earhart’s plane, and Hooven met directly with Amelia Earhart. Because of pressures from her friend, Eugene Vidal, and a division of Bendix Radio, Earhart removed the Hooven device and replaced it with an older null-type, high­ frequency direction finding device then used by the U.S. Navy.

As you will note, Professor Hooven’s 1982 conclusions have been taken without attribution by TIGHAR. The very odd thing is that Hooven reached a conclusion before his death in 1985 (see attached obit) that NEITHER Gardner (Nikumaroro) or McKean could have been the landing places of the Earhart plane. His thinking was based upon a thorough research we conducted regarding the histories of both of these islands.

The initial Hooven research (represented by the paper presented to NASM) reached Gillespie and TIGHAR in this manner.

A gentleman named Hardon McDonald Wade, Jr., of Atlanta, Georgia became deeply interested in the Earhart mystery. He contacted me and learned about the Hooven paper. I wrote to Claudia Oakes at NASM on his behalf, and he was given a copy of Hooven’s work. Shortly thereafter Mr. Wade began to try to raise funds for an expedition to McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) Islands. He, too, presented the Hooven material without attribution.

Mr. Wade formed a partnership with a Mr. Thomas Willi of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and the two of them continued to attempt to raise funds. Finally, it was announced in the press (see attached item) that Wade and Willi had failed in their efforts to raise sufficient funds for the venture.

There was acrimony between Wade and Willi. According to Wade, he, Wade, “Kicked Willi out of the nest because he was trying to claim my work as his own.” This despite the fact the material belonged to Hooven.

Mr. Willi then formed a relationship with a gentleman named Thomas Gannon and they took the Hooven material without attribution to Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR.

Dr. Gillespie telephoned to me in the spring of 1989 and told me of plans for a soon to be accomplished visit to both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands.

I in turn told him it was NOT ethical to use Hooven’s material without attribution, and I also told Gillespie that Hooven and I had long since reached the conclusion that McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) could not have been a landing place for the Earhart plane. I explained in detail the facts we had learned about both of the islands.

Mr. Gillespie admitted that he was aware of Hooven’s connection to the material, but he did not explain why he was not crediting Hooven other than to say that he, Gillespie, and TIGHAR had conducted additional research which firmed the conjecture about McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro).

I further pointed out to Gillespie that the chart in TIGHAR ‘s prospectus which showed the Pan Am direction finder bearings intersecting in the vicinity of McKean and Gardner Islands were identical to those of Hooven with the exception that one 201 degrees bearing from Wake Island and the 157 degrees bearing from Howland Island had been erased. He stated this was done because the material “was not relevant to the McKean/Gardner Island scenario. “

Captain John Lambrecht of Dowagiac (center) and brother Marine Major Pete Lambrecht (left) aboard the aircraft carrier Makassar Strait, World War II.

Capt. John Lambrecht (right) and his brother, Marine Maj. Pete Lambrecht, aboard the aircraft carrier Makassar Straight, in an undated World War II-era photo. As a lieutenant assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Colorado in 1937, Lambrecht overflew Nikumaroro just days after the Earhart disappearance and saw no signs of the missing fliers or the Electra.

I told Gillespie that it was TOTALLY relevant because high frequency direction finder bearings circa 1937 were not considered to be accurate to within five degrees. The 201 degrees bearing showed that inaccuracy and the 157 dgrees bearing taken from Howland Island showed the direction finder operator could not tell from which side of the loop he was receiving the signal. It could be 157 and it could be 337.  It was unethical of TIGHAR not to make that clear.

I detailed the following information Professor Hooven and I had developed to Gillespie in 1989 both by telephone and letter.

We had personally contacted the three pilots from U.S.S. COLORADO who had overflown McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island in July, 1937, one week after the Earhart disappearance.

No sign of life or wreckage was seen on either of the tiny islands (McKean is less than 1 mile long and 1 mile wide. Gardner (Nikumaroro) is only 3.8 miles long and 1.1 miles wide at its broadest end.

Captain John Lambrecht, USN (Ret.), (who was the senior Navy aviator aboard COLORADO in 1937 and overflew both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) one week after the disappearance, sent me his reports and they indicated “signs of recent habitation” had been observed on Gardner (Nikumaroro). Captain Lambrecht told me the “signs of recent habitation” were the crumbling walls of what appeared to have been buildings.

Gillespie and TIGHAR have chosen to interpret “signs of recent habitation” (despite Lambrecht’s explanation) as “an Earhart survival camp.”

In October, 1937 (see Maude statement and pages from OF ISLANDS AND MEN), three months after the Earhart disappearance, Henry E. Maude and a team of British surveyors landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) and conducted a full investigation of the island and lagoon. Nothing was found that would link Earhart and Noonan to the island. The same was true at McKean Island.

In 1938, a joint New Zealand and British team (known as NZPAS, New Zealand Pacific Air Survey), headed by E.A. Gibson, M.W. Hay, R.A. Wimbish, Jim Henderon and Jack Faton, landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) conducted a full survey. They surveyed for an airfield, and they cleared obstructions in the lagoon.

The survey, the brainchild of sir Ralph Cochrane and E.A. Gibson, had twin purposes: To prepare the islands for defense purposes in the event of a Pacific War. To claim the islands for Britain for possible later use for trans-Pacific commercial aviation [sic]. I obtained the information from the New Zealand National Archives and from Mr. Ian Driscoll the author of the book AIRLINE published in New Zealand.

The 1938 NZPAS survey found nothing that would indicate Earhart and Noonan had ever been on Gardner (Nikumaroro).

In 1939 Henry Maude returned to Gardner (Nikumaroro) with the first contingent of Gilbert Islands settlers. Gardner  was  then  continually  inhabited  until 1964.  A village was built on the island on the area which had been surveyed for the airfield. Thousands of coconut palms were planted. Even a post office was established. During all of this activity, nothing that would connect Earhart and Noonan to the island was found and nothing was reported.

In 1939, the U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. BUSHNELL surveyed Gardner Island for U.S. defense purposes. This survey also included aerial photos and mosaics of the island. Nothing concerning Earhart or Noonan was found or reported.

This photo of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ric Gillespie appeared nationally in all manner of media sites and publications in the spring of 2012, in advance of TIGHAR's 10th trip to Nikumaroro in July 2102. WIth this photo, the feds abandoned all pretense that they are interested in the truth about Amelia's disappearance, and let it be known to all that they are still actively involved in misinforming and misleading the public, always directing us toward false solutions. Which of these two, Hillary or Gillespie, do you trust the most?

This photo of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ric Gillespie appeared nationally in all manner of media sites and publications in the spring of 2012, in advance of TIGHAR’s 10th trip to Nikumaroro in July 2102. With this photo-op, the feds abandoned all pretense that they are interested in the truth about Amelia’s disappearance, and let it be known to all discerning individuals that they are still actively involved in misinforming and misleading the public, always directing us toward false solutions. Which of these two would you trust the most — or perhaps more appropriately, the least?

In 1943, the U.S. Coast Guard built a Loran navigation station on Gardner. Vehicles, construction equipment and building materials were brought ashore. This facility operated until well after the end of World War II. It is unclear the exact date the Coast Guard departed, but it appears to have been in 1947.  Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found. Coast Guard personnel, who served on Gardner during that period, report that every inch of the island was explored agin and again because there was little else to do save the evening movie. Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found or reported.

Though Gardner was abandoned by its Gilbert Islands settlers in 1964, the island was surveyed in the 1960s and again in the 1970s with respect to the operation of the Pacific Missile Testing Range and NASA operations. Gardner has also been visited by a Smithsonian Institution expedition interested in the bird population of the island.  Gardner has also been visited by private yachts from time to time, including visitors who sailed down from Canton Island to the north.

It is because of the information listed above that Professor Hooven and I reached the conclusion that Gardner (Nikumaroro) could not have been the Earhart/Noonan landing place.

Despite knowing all of this, Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR spent more than $200,000 (by Gillespie’s statements to the media) on the 1989 visit to Gardner (Nikumaroro), and according to reports is spending more than $400,000 of contributors’ money on the current endeavor.

One may legitimately ask WHY and also ask can Gillespie and TIGHAR afford to come back empty handed?

After the 1989 trip, Gillespie tried to tell the media that a “battery” he had found COULD have come from the Earhart plane. Mary DeWitt, who was a member of the 1989 group, says there were old batteries all over the island. No surprise given the number of vehicles on the island over the years and the long occupation. Gillespie ceased to push the “battery.”

Then Mr. Gillespie attempted to convince the media that a cigarette lighter he had found on the beach belonged to Fred Noonan because Noonan was a smoker. When it was pointed out that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel carried such lighters during World War II, Gillespie ceased to push the “Noonan cigarette lighter.”

Then Mr. [sic] Gillespie attempted to float a bit of metal (with a serial number) as part of Earhart’s radio equipment. I have no idea what happened to that gambit other than Gillespie no longer mentioned it to the media.

Finally, last year Gillespie began to trumpet a piece of metal as having come from a navigation bookcase or cabinet aboard the Earhart plane. According to Ms. DeWitt, the bit of metal was found in the first hour ashore in 1989, and it was part of a catchment for rain in one of the buildings. It was not found by Gillespie but by the representative of the Kiribati government, who placed no significance upon it whatsoever.

It is clear to me that no one currently in the media has the background or possesses the information to challenge the incredible offerings of Gillespie and TIGHAR. There is a great lure to the Earhart mystery, and without either the information or the time to investigate, most reporters have simply reported Gillespie’s offerings because they make a good story.

Undated photo of Life magazine's Ed Barnes, the recipient of this letter from Fred Goerner, warning Barnes and Life about the phony claims of Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR. Goerner's warnings went unheeded, and Gillespie was given carte blanche to write his own mega-propaganda piece in Life's April 992 issue.

Life magazine’s Ed Barnes, the recipient of this letter from Fred Goerner, warning Barnes and Life about the false claims of Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR. Goerner’s advice went  unheeded, and Gillespie was given carte blanche to write his own super-propaganda piece in Life’s April 1992 issue.

Gillespie has hung most of his speculations upon a story which AP reported in 1961. It concerns one Floyd Kilts of San Diego, who stipulated he served briefly with the Coast Guard on Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. (See attached original AP offering.)

Because we (CBS) were involved in the Earhart investigation in 1961, we dug into Kilts ‘ contentions. Bill Dorais, one of our reporters, learned it was fourth- or fifth-hand hearsay. Kilts could not remember exactly who had told him or who had told the person who told him. It could not even be given the dignity of naming it a rumor. A motion picture had been screened at the Coast Guard facility (it was undoubtedly FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM which was thinly disguised Earhart fiction) which alleged Earhart might have gone down near Gardner.  The FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM plot has Earhart heading for “Gull Island.” There is a Hull Island in the vicinity of Gardner (Nikumaroro), and that had begun conjecture about the Phoenix Islands.

Subsequent investigation indicated that NO FEMALE SKELETON wearing WOMEN’S SHOES was ever found on the beach at Gardner. The man stated by Kilts as the “white planter” was actually a gentleman named G.B. Gallagher (see Maude material) who directed the settlement and who died on Gardner Island (and is buried there) in 1941.

The Suva, Fiji governmental history archivist replied that NO skeleton was ever reported found on a Gardner Island beach, and in 1968, while filming the documentary THE BATTLE FOR TARAWA, I spoke with the Deputy Director of the Gilbert, Ellice and Phoenix Islands government at Tarawa, Mr. P.G. Roberts. He said there was a legend among the Gilbert Islands people that the skeleton of a Polynesian man was found at Gardner, but this was definitely pre-1937.

The TIGHAR claim that the woman’s skeleton had women’s shoes of “Amelia Earhart’s size” is total fiction (see Maude letter.)  Such a find would have been broadcast throughout the Pacific. It would have been a sensation.

You should ask Gillepie and TIGHAR where the evidence is that shoes of Earhart’s size were found. The truth is Earhart DID NOT WEAR WOMEN’S SHOE WHEN SHE WAS FLYING. She wore men’s low-heel brogans, see photos taken the morning before the final takeoff from Lae, New Guinea July 2, 1937.

We at CBS dismissed Kilts ‘ story in 1961, and I mentioned it derisively in my 1966 book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART. For Gillespie and TIGHAR to spend such large amounts of tax-free donated funds upon such evidence beggars the wildest kind of fiction.

I am herewith attaching copies of letters from Henry Made to Dr. [sic] Gillespie and to me. I am also sending a copy of a letter from me to Maude in whch the specific questions are asked.

Professor Maude is a former Fellow at the Pacific History Center at the Australia National University at Canberra. He and his wife, Honor, are the leading scholars in the world with respect to the Central Pacific Islands and in particular Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. It was Professor Maude who led the expedition there in October 1937.

In order to convey the impression that it's Earhart coverage was somehow impartial and objective, Life included this small sidebar, titled "An Opposing View." It is a statement by Frank Shelling, former head of the P-2 Aircraft Structures Branch at the U.S. Navy Aviation Depot in Alameda, Calif. "Gillespie's case doesn't stand up," Shelling wrote, and then proceeded to fry another kettle of Gillespie's bad fish.

In order to convey the impression that its Earhart coverage was impartial and objective, Life included this small sidebar, titled “An Opposing View.” It is a statement by Frank Shelling, former head of the P-3 Aircraft Structures Branch at the U.S. Navy Aviation Depot in Alameda, Calif. “Gillespie’s case doesn’t stand up,” Shelling wrote. . . . “That fragment did not come from an Electra.”

I do not know what Gillespie will do when he does not find the plane at Gardner on the current visit there. Will he dig up some pitiful remains? There are plenty there: Polynesians, Gilbertese, Gallagher are buried there and maybe more. He does not have permission to invade those graves, but he must bring something back. Knowing what I do about the past gambits of Gillespie and TIGHAR, I would not put ANYTHING past him. Certainly he will come back with more bits of metal or perhaps the soles of some shoes which “may have belonged to Noonan.” It is not beyond my belief that Gillespie will attempt to salt the mine in some way.

I am going to reserve the information concerning Earhart’s and Noonan’s dental charts until I see what develops. I will not be a party to any chicanery or attempts to prolong this nonsense.

It should be obvious to you that I have no vested interest in any of this. My book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART has been out of print since 1970, and I have not attempted to insinuate my name into the media where this subject is concerned since that time. I have answered questions posed to me by members of the media, and I will continue to do so. For instance, I am providing this same material to my friend, Bill German, who is Executive Editor of the San Francisco CHRONICLE newspaper.

It is possible that I will one day write another book which details the incredible array of characters who have struggled to make capital of the Earhart disappearance in the last twenty years, including the yo-yos who have tried to claim that she was until 1984 alive and well and living in New Jersey. Wow!  Barnum lives.

By the way, the recent claim of a photo showing Earhart and Noonan in Japanese custody is baloney as well. I immediately recognized the photo as one taken in Honolulu in March, 1937, at the time Earhart cracked up her plane on the first attempted flight around-the-world. I am also herewith enclosing the story from Florida about how and when the photo was taken. By the way, Joseph Gervais and Rollin Reineck, who attempted to float the “in captivity” photo are the same gentlemen who claim Earhart was living in New Jersey until 1984 under the name Irene Bolam. Irene Bolam, by the way, sued Gervais in 1970 and collected an out-of-court settlement.

I have been informed that Gervais and Reineck have tried to counter TIGHAR publicity with the bogus photograph because they are trying to sell an Earhart script in Hollywood. It’s one batch of crap battling another pile of same.

Beware, Mr. Barnes, this is a real journalistic tar baby.

As Professor Maude puts it, “In Australia, we call it bull.”

Sincerely,

Fred

Goerner was not a racist, but he was a bit of an old-school reporter, so if you’re not real clear on what he meant by calling the Earhart story “a real journalistic tar baby” in closing his letter to Barnes, it’s understandable. Webster’s New World defines the term “tar baby” as “a difficult, abstract problem that worsens as one attempts to handle it,” which certainly captures the essence of the Earhart story.

Goerner’s letter, written in good faith with the best of intentions, was obviously ignored en masse by Life magazine’s decision makers, if not by Barnes himself. The Gillespie-penned piece published by Life did much to launch Gillespie to international recognition as the world’s most visible Earhart “expert,” despite the fact that he’s never found anything that would justify such a claim. The charade and pretense continue to this day.  This and many other incidents offer us clear evidence that the government-media establishment was and continues to be actively involved in misinforming the American public about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. No other conclusion is possible.

Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages

In my last posting, several of Amelia Earhart’s best-known “post-loss messages” were discussed briefly; the information was taken from a chapter in the original manuscript of Truth at Last that had to be deleted during the publication process.  The receptions included the report from a Nauru radio operator, who claimed to have heard a “voice similar to that emitted from [Earhart] plane” 12-and-a-half hours after Earhart’s last message to Itasca.

Walter McMenamy and Karl Pierson, Los Angeles amateur shortwave operators, both claimed to have heard SOS signals and other messages on frequencies 6210 and 3105, the two main wavelengths used by Earhart. From Rock Springs, Wyoming, came the report of Dana Randolph, the 16-year-old operator who claimed to have heard, on the morning of July 4, “This is Amelia Earhart. Ship is on reef south of the equator. Station KH9QQ”  [sic] on 16,000 kc, a harmonic of 3105.

Various signals including long dashes were heard in response to requests sent by Pan American Airways radio stations on Midway Island, Mokapu (Honolulu, KGMB) and Wake Island on 3105 kc and 6210 kc. Also noted was the  controversial “281 message,” heard by operators at the Navy’s HF/DF  station at Wailupe and the British steamer SS Moorby, 370 miles north of Howland island, and in California by Charles Miguel of Oakland, and reported by the Coast Guard’s Hawaiian Section to the cutter Itasca early July 5. Miguel reported hearing “281 … north … Howland … Can’t hold out much longer … drifting … above water … motor sinking … on sand bank 225 miles from Howland.”

Several other alleged messages were also reported by various parties, and some were outrageous or bizarre enough as to be easily classified as hoaxes. The reports presented here, in this writer’s opinion, are representative of the most credible of the alleged post-loss messages.

Commander Warner K. Thompson, Itasca skipper, included the Nauru message in his report without comment, but Almon Gray, a former Navy reserve captain and Pan Am Airways China Clipper flight officer, believed the signals, sent on 6210 kc and received at Nauru at 9:31, 9:43 and 9:54 p.m. July 2 (Howland time), merited “serious consideration. … The Nauru operator reported good signal strength and was able to judge the tone or timbre of the speaker’s voice yet was unable to understand what the speaker was saying,” Gray wrote. “He suggested the possibility of modulation problems.”

Gray noted that Harry Balfour, the Lae radio operator, as well as the “DF operator on Howland who was trying to take a radio bearing on the plane” had both reported similar symptoms and suggested possible modulation problems.  According to Gray, the probability that “more than one transmitter in the area would exhibit the same symptoms of over-modulation on the same frequency at essentially the same time is very small.  It is the writer’s opinion that the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.”

Paul Rafford Jr., who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, strongly believes that none of the alleged messages came from Earhart.

Paul Rafford Jr., who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, strongly believes that none of the alleged messages came from Earhart.

Paul Rafford, Jr., author of Amelia Earhart’s Radio (Paragon Agency, 2006), flew with PAA as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, and worked in the Manned Spaceflight Program from 1963 until his retirement in 1988 disagrees the messages could have been sent by Amelia. “Reference the very unsteady voice modulated carrier described by Hansen,” Rafford said in a January 2006 e-mail. “This immediately tells me that the signals could not have come from Earhart’s plane. Her transmitter was crystal controlled whereas ‘unsteady carrier’ indicates that the ‘voice modulated’ (radiotelephone) signal was not crystal controlled. Prior to crystal control, when voice was applied to a radio transmitter it could result in an unsteady carrier. However, this also suggests that the signal came from a naval or military transmitter. These services were slower to adopt crystal control than the civilian services. It was a matter of Depression era funding for new equipment.” 

In his little-known book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, Rafford was less technical when assessing the reliability of the signals that followed the KGMB announcement, depicting the receptions as an “outright hoax,” and insisting the claims didn’t pass the common sense test. “Would anyone believe that Earhart was running down her batteries by listening to music and news from KGMB instead of calling for help?” Rafford wrote.

U.S. Government confiscates PAA intercepts

Mrs. Ellen Belotti, George Angus’ secretary in 1937, contacted Fred Goerner in 1971 about the reports from the three PAA HF/DF stations she had retained under somewhat unusual and suspicious circumstances. “One day several U.S. Navy officers who identified themelves as from the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence appeared at the office (PAN AM) and confiscated all of the reports dealing with Earhart,” Goerner wrote in a 1971 letter to Fred Hooven. “She says the Pan Am people were warned at the time not to discuss the matter with anyone, and that the reports were to be considered secret and any copies of the reports were to be destroyed. Mrs.Belotti says she decided not to destroy her copies of the reports because she believed the Navy did not have the right to require that of Pan Am. She also felt a fair shake was not being given to her idol, Amelia.”

In 1979, Goerner told radio technician Joe Gurr, hired by Lockheed to work on the Electra’s radio at Oakland prior to the first world flight attempt, that he traced the PAA intercepts seized by the Navy in July 1937 to the Navy Security Group in Washington, D.C. The records are “in effect part of NSA [National Security Agency] and the records of radio intelligence are beyond the purview of the Freedom of Information Law [sic],” Goerner wrote. “I have also learned that the FCC conducted a full investigation into the radio receptions believed received from AE by amateur radio operators. The records of this investigation were also turned over to U.S. Naval Intelligence Communications and are considered also to be beyond the Freedom of Information Law. There’s something wrong there, isn’t there, Joe? What in God’s name is worth classifying after 42 years?” To this researcher’s knowledge, the PAA intercepts remain classified.

Navy, Coast Guard skippers unanimous in rejecting messages

Capt. J.S. Dowell’s “Report of Earhart Search,” of July 20, 1937, is a sometimes confusing summary of the Lexington Group’s two-week involvement in the mission. Dowell’s report begins with a ten-page segment labeled “Estimates and Decision,” replete with several subsections. Nowhere in Dowell’s report can a heading labeled “Conclusions” be found, and the statement  commonly accepted as such — “That at about 2030 [GMT, 9 a.m. Howland time] the plane landed on the sea to the northwest of Howland Island, within 120 miles of the island” – is presented in this opening section under seven other “Probable Actions of Plane,” before any narrative or summary of the search itself.

More germane to this discussion was the DESRON2 commander’s apparent willingness to consider the legitimacy of several of the “post loss” radio receptions. Under “Possibilities Arising from Rumour and Reports,” Dowell listed ten reported messages, including Walter McNemay’s July 3 reception, which he noted was given credibility by the Coast Guard; the “281 message;” Dana Randolph’s Rock Springs, Wyoming reception; and KGMB Hawaii’s test announcement that received dashes in response to its request.

Captain Leigh Noyes, Lexington’s commander, had no such inclinations, and in his nine-page summary of the carrier’s actions, “Report of Earhart Search Operations 3-18 July 1937,” Noyes’ comments, later echoed by other official sources, left no doubt where he stood on the idea that any of the transmissions could have originated from NR 16020.

Numerous radio messages were reported to have been received by various agencies, particularly amateur radio operators, which purported to give information received directly from the plane after it landed,” Noyes wrote. “Many of these messages were in conflict and many of them were unquestionably false. None could be positively verified. These messages were a serious handicap to the progress of the search, especially before the arrival of the Lexington Group.” 

The late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, was adamant that some of the post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart's Electra 10E.

The late Fred Hooven, the noted engineer, inventor and creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, was adamant that some of the post-loss transmissions originated from Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E.

Commander Thompson was equally convinced that none of the broadcasts received after Amelia’s “line of position” message at 8:43 a.m., July 3, came from the Electra. The Itasca commander’s 106-page report, “Radio Transcripts – Earhart Flight,” of July 19, 1937, is the chronological record of more than 500 official messages received and sent by Itasca from June 9, when it received orders to assist in the flight, to July 16, when the cutter was released from the search by the Navy.  The report contains far more than official communications, however. Thompson freely inserted his comments and complaints wherever he felt appropriate throughout the document, and in his zeal to represent Itasca as blameless for the Earhart loss, some of his statements have been shown to be inaccurate and possibly dishonest.

For example, Thompson claimed that Itasca had been repeatedly attempting to contact Amelia since 10 a.m., July 3, and that the signals sent by Itasca “as picked up by other units are steadily reported as possible signals from other sources. A careful check of the ITASCA radio logs shows that in most cases the signals were originated by ITASCA.” 

As Ric Gillespie points out in Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance, this statement is “patently untrue. A careful check of Itasca’s radio logs shows that not one of the purported receptions from the plane corresponds with a transmission by the cutter. In fact, Itasca’s own radio operators logged more unexplained signlas on Earhart’s frequency – forty-four in all – than any other station.”  Gillespie notes that as reports of distress calls came in to the cutter from various outside sources in the first several days of the search, Itasca “shared virtually no information about what its own radio operators were hearing.”

Thompson also declined to report that on the night of July 4, the Howland Island operator said that he “heard Earhart call Itasca” and that “Baker heard Earhart QSA 4 [strength 4 of 5] R7 [readability 7 of 9] last night at 8:20 p.m.”  Nothing is noted in the Howland log for July 4, however, except the notation “charging batteries all day.” Thompson did not include the Itasca or Howland Island radio logs in his report, but Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts and Radioman 3rd Class Thomas O’Hare kept their original logs and donated them to the National Archives in the early 1970s. Bellarts’ son, Dave, has also provided copies to many researchers, including this one.

Thompson denied that any possible transmissions from the Electra had been received by Itasca, Swan, Howland or Baker Island, basing this claim on speculation that these units “were closest to the signals,” as if he knew where the broadcasts were originating.  “None of these units heard the apparently faked messages,” Thompson wrote. … “Throughout, ITASCA opinion was that if the plane was down some of these units would get the traffic.” He then questioned the content of messages that were reported, without naming the sources, because “ITASCA was of the opinion that the traffic would consist of some useful information and not just call signs and dashes. Both Earhart and Noonan could use code. Why should a plane in distress waste time on repeated calls or on making special signals. If the plane was using battery the carrier signals were out of all proportion to the length of time the battery could stand up.” 

In his 16-point summary, Thompson continued to dismiss the idea that messages could have been sent by the Electra, depicting the stateside amateur reports as “all probably criminally false.” Moreover, he incorrectly stated that “the only interceptions were by amateurs, with the exception of one Wailupe interception” and concluded it it was “extremely doubtful that Earhart ever sent signals after 0846, 2 July.” As for the Electra, “ITASCA’s original estimate after three (3) weeks of search problem still appears correct, that the plane went down to the northwest of Howland,” Thompson wrote.

The commanding officer of USS Colorado, Capt. Wilhelm L. Friedell, essentially agreed with Thompson. “The broadcasting stations and the ITASCA continued to send messages to the [Earhart] plane,” Friedell wrote in his July 13, 1937 search report to the Fourteenth Naval District. “On the night of 3 And 4 July no signals were heard on the plane frequency by the ITASCA or COLORADO, but reports were received from Wyoming, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Australia and other points that signals, and in some cases voice reports, had been received from the plane. … There was no doubt that many stations were calling the Earhart plane on the plane’s frequency, some by voice and others by signals. All of these added to the confusion and doubtfulness of the authenticity of the reports.”

Other expert opinions vary

Were any of the intercepted messages sent by the lost fliers? It’s impossible to be sure, but any fair and objective consideration certainly must include more than the flatly dismissive verdicts of the Navy and Coast Guard.  Although George Angus, the Pan Am official who directed the Earhart watch in the Pacific area, didn’t share the enthusiasm expressed by R.M. Hansen, the operator in charge at Wake Island, who said he was “positive” that a bearing of 215 he took on a “very unsteady voice-modulated carrier …was KHAQQ [Earhart],”  Angus didn’t rule out the possibility that one or more transmissions had come from the Electra.

“All of the above information was turned over to the Coast Guard officials at Honolulu with emphasis being made at the time that there was nothing definite in what we had heard because of no identifying signals of any nature being received,” Angus wrote in his July 10, 1937 report, later seized by U.S. Navy Intelligence agents after it was sent to the Pan Am communications center in Alemeda, California. “While it would appear there may have been some connection between the dashes and the KGMB broadcast, we could not state definitely that the signals were from the Earhart plane.” 

Almon Gray wrote at length about the Nauru receptions reported 12-and-a-half hours after Amelia’s last message, concluding that “the signals intercepted by Nauru were in fact from the Earhart plane no longer in flight.”  Moroever, Gray believed that the “peculiar signals” intercepted by the PAA stations at Wake, Midway, and Honolulu “may very well have come from the Earhart plane.”

Fred Goerner based his opinion on years of experience gathering news and dealing with people rather than technical expertise, and was convinced of the validity of some of the receptions. Writing to Fred Hooven in 1970, Goerner addressed the various amateur operator claims of receptions from the Electra. “The messages were publicly discredited by the Navy and the amateur operators were branded as cranks,” Goerner wrote. “I have contacted a number of those operators within the last couple of years, and I believe the messages they received were bona fide. The men I have talked to are all dedicated and responsible amateurs who were very upset at the official attitudes in 1937. Several of them have accused the Navy of having asked the editors of QST and other radio magazines not to print the letters of protest they wrote.”

Paul Rafford Jr., who recently celebrated his 95th birthday, says he “never saw eye to eye” with Gray, and puts little stock in the post-loss receptions. In 1981, Rafford built a nine-to-one scale model of the Electra, and ran tests to determine the difference in transmitting efficiency between a trailing antenna and the Electra’s fixed “V” antenna, based on his knowledge of its parameters and characteristics. “Measurements with the model, confirmed by mathematical formulas, show that the trailing antenna would have radiated almost all of the 50 watts supplied to it by the transmitter,” Rafford writes.” By contrast, her fixed antenna transmitted only ½ watt on 3105 kHz.” In April 2009, I asked Rafford if he thought any of the messages could have come from the Electra.

Personally, I don’t go along with any so called post loss messages,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Some of them are outright bogus and none of them provide any useful information as to her whereabouts. In any case she would have to be down on land, undamaged, in order to put out a useful signal. It would be virtually impossible for her to be heard on 3105 for more than 200 miles by day and 100 by night. On 6210 she might be able to be heard out to 500 miles by day and 1000 by night, but most of the intercepts were on 3105.”

After more than 15 years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged radio receptions, Fred Hooven, the noted engineer and inventor who spent his last years as a Dartmouth University professor, besides working with Fred Goerner on the Earhart case, presented his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” at the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., in June 1982.

Citing the bearings on the signals reported by the three Pan Am radio stations and the Howland Island high-frequency direction finder supplied by the Navy, Hooven announced it was “undeniable” that the transmissions had originated from the downed fliers. “Five bearings were taken on the weak, wavering signal reported on the frequency used by the Earhart plane,” Hooven wrote, “and four of them, plus the 157-337 position line of the last message all intersected in the general area of the Phoenix Group. This constitutes positive evidence of the presence of a transmitter in that area which could only have been that of the downed plane. No hypothesis purporting to explain the events of the last flight can be credited that does not offer a plausible explanation of these signals, and why they originated along the plane’s announced position line at the only location, except for Baker and Howland, where there was land.”

“Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight”: Birth of the Nikumaroro theory

“Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” is more than an erudite analysis of the alleged post-loss radio intecepts.. Hooven studied everything available about the ill-fated flight, and saved his most damning criticism for George Palmer Putnam, “who promoted the flight in the first place,” and characterized Putnam’s role as its “most tragic aspect. It was his responsibility to see that the flight was properly administered,” Hooven wrote, “that Miss Earhart had the best equipment and the proper instruction in its use, that the best possible logistic arrangements had been made, and above all that the most complete provisions possible had been made for the safety of the flight, and for the organizations of rescue operations, especially for the hazardous over-water flights.” 

Hooven was convinced that “Putnam failed completely” to fulfill his responsibilities to Amelia, leaving “important management details to her,” and failing to sufficiently fund the required support operations. “He consistently showed interest only in the promotional aspects of the flight,” Hooven continued, noting that Putnam’s last messages to his wife “were exhortations to her to reach the United States by July Fourth in order to meet appearance commitments he had made for her.”

Hooven’s paper was a milestone in Earhart research, possibly the first academic, objective analysis of the post-flight intercepts, and firmly established him as the progenitor of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory – which became popularized by Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR and the mainstream media as the “Nikumaroro hypothesis” during the past 25 years.. In his conclusion, Hooven not only emphasized his conviction that Almon Gray’s “peculiar signals” were sent by the Electra, but he embraced Fred Goerner’s belief that Amelia and Noonan met their ends on Saipan, in Japanese custody.

“The evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that has been presented here,” Hooven wrote, “that the flyers landed in the Phoenix area, probably on McKean or Gardner, that they transmitted signals from there during the next three days, that they were removed by the Japanese, who either removed or destroyed their plane, that they were taken to Saipan, where they died sometime before the end of 1937, and that the U.S. Government knew about their fate, but for reasons of foreign relations and military secrecy were not able to make that knowledge public. We hope that one day records will be found or released that will reveal the truth about the fate of the flyers. Meanwhile the memory of a brave and gracious lady remains bright after forty five years.”

Hooven reportedly changed his theory that the Electra landed in the Phoenix Islands area – from which has sprung so much confusion and misinformation through the TIGHAR-Nikumaroro hypothesis that so dominates media coverage – and returned to Fred Goener’s original Mili Atoll-landing scenario. Several researchers, including the late Ron Reuther and Rollin Reineck, and the still-living Bill Prymak and Ron Bright, agree that Hooven indeed changed his mind.

“I should have also mentioned that Fred Hooven, after making original conclusions that Earhart came down SE of Howland, thus influencing Goerner to concur, later recalculated and changed his conclusions and determined that AE/FN came down close to Mili,” Reuther wrote in an email to me shortly before his death in 2007.  “I strongly believe Goerner would have reassessed his position and very likely would have agreed with Hooven’s final conclusion – near Mili,” if Hooven hadn’t passed away in 1985.

One possible post-loss message remains to be considered, perhaps the most controversial of all. We take a look at it in the next posting.

Earhart’s “post-loss messages”: Real or fantasy?

Among the most misunderstood themes surrounding the search for Amelia Earhart is that of the so-called “post-loss” messages that were allegedly received in the days following Amelia’s last official message on July 2 to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca. These various messages, received both in voice and code by a variety of people, were heard mainly in the central Pacific Ocean area and the West Coast of the United States. Practically since the day of her loss, inquiring minds have asked whether these messages sent by Amelia Earhart, were they the products of the overheated imaginations of earnest ham-radio operators, or were they outright hoaxes? 

While working on Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last between June 2007 and April 2010, I looked into this complex issue as best I could – as a most emphatically non-technical expert on the state of 1930s short-wave radio propagation equipment, capabilities and techniques. The result of my ad hoc study was a lengthy, 11,000-plus word chapter, “The Search and the Radio Signals,” that later had to be cut out of the book because the manuscript was too long to present a publisher. 

Simply trying to read and understand the technical analysis that’s available is a nightmare for a layman not familiar with the scientific terminology that accompanies such discussions. And though these posts will barely scratch the surface of this almost inscrutable subject and represent only an unschooled layman’s perspective, I feel it’s important to revisit these messages, if only for posterity and the scant few who might be interested.

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

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

I’ll try to present the most well-known of the post-loss messages, in some sort of timely order, so that readers can become familiar with some of the key people who were involved in this controversy. Later, we’ll consider what several radio experts have to say about the validity of these messages. No true unanimity or even consensus about whether any of the messages was legitimate has ever been reached among Earhart experts, but the sheer volume of these messages demands that they not be forgotten.

Twelve-and-a-half hours after Amelia’s last message to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, a radio operator at Nauru, which had not been asked to assist in the Earhart flight, sent a “wire note” to KPH, an RCA short-wave station in San Francisco, requesting that it be sent to Itasca:

“VOICE HEARD FAIRLY STRONG SIGS STRENGTH TO S3 0843 0854 GMT 48.31 METERS (6210 KHz) SPEECH NOT INTERPRETED OWING BAD MODULATION OR SPEAKER SHOUTING INTO MICROPHONE BUT VOICE SIMILAR TO THAT EMITTED FROM PLANE IN FLIGHT LAST NIGHT WITH EXCEPTION NO HUM ON PLANE IN BACKGROUND.”

Commander Warner K. Thompson, Itasca skipper, included this message in his report without comment, but Almon Gray, a former Navy reserve captain and Pan Am Airways China Clipper flight officer, believed the signals, sent on 6210 kc and received at Nauru at 9:31, 9:43 and 9:54 p.m. July 2 (Howland time), merited “serious consideration,” for several reasons, beginning with the fact that 6210 was the correct frequency for the Earhart plane, and that “it was not a commonly used frequency in that area,” Gray wrote.

The McMenamy and Pierson reports

Just before midnight July 2 (Pacific time), the Associated Press reported that amateur radio operators Walter McMenamy and Carl Pierson, both of Los Angeles, claimed to have heard radio signals on frequencies known to have been used by Amelia:

Walter McMenamy said he picked up weak signals on 6210 kilocycles at 6 P.M. (10 P.M. eastern daylight time) and heard the letters “L-a-t” which he took to mean latitude. The letters were followed by indecipherable figures. The signals continued for some time.  Mr. McMenamy expressed belief they came from a portable transmitter. He received other signals from a Coast Guard boat, presumably the cutter Itasca, requesting listeners to “stand by and listen on all frequencies.”

At 8 P.M. (midnight Eastern daylight time), Carl Pierson, chief engineer of the Paterson Radio Corporation, picked up similarly weak signals on 3105 kilocycles, Miss Earhart’s daytime frequency. He said they were erratic and indecipherable.

United Press reported that “the powerful Los Angeles amateur station had been hearing code S O S signals all night. This morning what appeared to be a radioed position of the plane was picked up. ‘It was a 179 and what sounded like 1.6,’ said McMenamy. “If that meant latitude and longitude, we calculate it would be somewhere 300 or 400 miles off the coast of Howland Island.”

McMenamy and Pierson reported hearing more signals on 3105 kc on the morning of July 6 that they believed came from Amelia, but could not make out the indistinct words. The San Francisco Division forwarded McMenamy’s position in its message to Itasca as “QUOTE 179 WITH 1 POINT SIX IN DOUBT UNQUOTE POSITION GIVEN AS QUOTE SOUTHWEST HOWLAND ISLAND.” Since Itasca was erroneously told in an earlier message that the Electa “could probably use its emergency transmitter [in fact, it had no such equipement] on water,” Thompson wrote that “this information could not be ignored” and proceeded to the “westward of the report area and searched 2000 square miles on July 4 without result.”

Both Pierson and McMenamy had met Amelia and monitored her messages during the 1935 flight from Honolulu to Oakland, thus their claims of recognizing her voice carried a degree of credibility. The pair had a new “rig and tower at Santa Paula in Southern California where they thought reception was the best,” wrote Fred Goerner, who interviewed them in the late 1960s.

Unfortunately, McMenamy appears to have fallen victim to the brief notoriety he enjoyed. following his alleged receptions. “Walter McMenamy is a ding-a-ling,” Goerner told Fred Hooven in a 1971 letter. … “McMenamy claims AE flew directly to an island and landed on time. They broadcast from the island for several days, and they were picked up by the U.S. Navy. Noonan, he says, ‘is probably still living.’ He says he saw Noonan in 1949 or 1950. That he had changed his name and was ‘still with Navy intelligence.’ AE, he adds was alive until November 6, 1945, when she was killed in a headon [sic] crash of a pair of Navy planes near Guadalcanal. He said he got his info regarding AE from the FBI.”

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.

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.

Karl Pierson was “an entirely different story,” Goerner continued. “A quiet, brilliant former radio engineer, he is now in charge of several research projects at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute at La Jolla, California, and he lives in San Diego. He says he is convinced the messages he and McMenamy received in 1937 in the days following the disappearance actually came from AE. He apologized for McMenamy by saying that McMenamy has ‘gone around the bend.’ Pierson says what puzzles him to this day is the attitude of the Navy toward the messages they received. He says he still feels the Navy did everything it could to discredit the amateur radio operators who reported possible Earhart messages. Pierson addes that he had a very close relationship with AE at the time of her 1935 Honolulu-Oakland flight, and that he monitored her radio transmissions during that entire flight with great success.”

McMenamy and Pierson were soon joined by more amateur operators in the continental United States claiming they heard Amelia’s distress calls on their shortwave radios. In Rock Springs, Wyoming, 16-year-old Dana Randolph had designed a new antenna to enhance long-distance reception and was listening during the morning of July 4 when he heard, “This is Amelia Earhart. Ship is on reef south of the equator. Station KH9QQ.” [sic] The transmission quickly faded, but Randolph and his father were directed to a local Commerce Department radio operator, whose investigation revealed that the reception was made at about 16,000 kc, a harmonic of 3105.

In messages to Itasca about the Rock Springs report, the Coast Guard’s San Francico Division said “this information may be authentic as signals from midpacific and orient often heard inland when not audible on coast” and “investigation reveals signals heard near sixteen megacycles thought to be from khaqq.” Earlier on the morning of July 4. Ray Mahoney, of Cincinnati, claimed he heard a message similar to the one reported by Dana Randolph. “The signals were weak,” Mahoney told the Associated Press. “About all I could make out were the call letters of plane and apparently it had hit a reef or was near a reef.” The AP report didn’t specify the frequency of Mahoney’s receptions.

George Angus, a Pan American Airways communications official in Hawaii, was notified about 2 a.m. on July 3 that the Earhart plane was missing, and he immediately set up watches at PAA’s radio stations on Midway Island, Mokapu (Honolulu) and Wake Island on 3105 kc and 6210 kc. Angus also arranged a plan with Honolulu’s two commercial radio stations, KGU and KGMB, whereby they would interrupt regular programming to make special broadcasts to Amelia, asking her to respond if she heard them. Immediately after KGU broke into its programming at July 3 at 10:30 p.m. local time, asking her to respond on 500, 3105 or 6210 kc, Mokapu station KNBF reported “a faint carrier on 3105 kc.” About four hours later, PAA station KNBI Wake Island, heard an “intermittent phone of rather wobby characteristics” on 3105 kc, and Midway Island’s station KNBH reported hearing a “weak, wobbly signal which sounded like a phone” on 3105.

The following night, Angus was at the Mokapu station when KGMB broke into its programming at 8 p.m. local time, asking Amelia to send four long dashes on 3105. Angus and K.C. Ambler, a PAA communications supervisor, immediately and distinctly heard four long dashes on 3105. After Angus called KGMB and asked them to repeat their request to Amelia, “only two dashes were heard and the second dash trailed off to a weak signal as though the power supply on the transmitter had failed,” Angus wrote in his report. The first four dashes were heard by the San Francisco Coast Guard station, Navy Radio Wailupe, KNBF (Mokapu), KNBH (Midway took bearing of 201, labeled “approximate”), Baker and Howland Islands, and the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45), soon to join the Earhart search. San Francisco heard the dashes on 3105 for the next six hours at twenty minute intervals, along with “unintelligable voice.” During the same time frame, Baker and Howland Islands heard a “weak carrier ‘NRUI [Itasca’s call letters] from KHAQQ.’”

The 281 Message

Early July 5, Itasca was notified by the Hawaiian Section of the latest possible reception from the Earhart plane:

8005 FOLLOWING COPIED NAVY RADIO WAILUPE 1130 TO 1230 GMT QUOTE 281 NORTH HOWLAND CALL KHAQQ BEYOND NORTH DON’T HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER ABOVE WATER SHUT OFF UNQUOTE KEYED TRANSMISSION EXTREMELY POOR KEYING BEHIND CARRIER FRAGMENTARY PHRASES BUT COPIES BY THREE OPERATORS 0242

This was the notorious “281 message,” a continuing source of speculation among researchers who have assigned a variety of interpretations to the number 281 that differ from that taken by Thompson and the Coast Guard. The message, sent in poorly keyed code on 3105 kc, was heard by three operators at the Navy’s HF/DF station at Wailupe and by the British steamer SS Moorby, 370 miles north of Howland Island, as well as in California by Charles Miguel of Oakland. Miguel reported hearing “281 … north … Howland … Can’t hold out much longer … drifting … above water … motor sinking … on sand bank 225 miles from Howland.”

Thompson believed it “was probably a faked message originating in the Hawaiian Islands,” and labeled the Oakland reception “clearly fraudulant.” The Itasca was 200 miles west of Howland when it was informed of the message, “searching down the 4 authenticated amateur reports,” according to Thompson, who wrote that it contained “useless information but the report required immediate check up.”

The message was immediately interpreted to mean the Electra was “281 miles north of Howland.” Itasca arrived at the position by dusk, and as USS Swan and SS Moorby approached the area later that night, two Itasca lookouts and the officer of the deck saw “a distinct flare to the northward. It came up from and settled down to the horizon,” Thompson wrote. Itasca headed toward the light and called Amelia, asking her to send up another flare. Moorby had not seen the flares, but Swan reported lights and considered them meteors, and Howland Island, 280- miles distant, also reported “flares to the northeast and burned three drums of gasoline.” The “flares” were a meteor shower, Thompson concluded, but commercial radio stations had apparently been monitoring Itasca, resulting in a “deluge of commercial requests.” An irritated Thompson wrote that the “whole incident illustrates the extent to which ITASCA was being monitored by commercial concerns desiring to ‘scoop’ others. There is a need to control such matters and the release of such traffic to the press by commercial stations is a violation of law, it is believed.”

As Itasca steamed northward to investigate the “281 message,” San Francisco Division sent information that “changed the whole search problems and virtually eliminated all intercepted radio traffic ideas (unless the plane was on land),” according to Thompson:

8005 OPINION OF TECHNICAL AIDES HERE THAT EARHART PLANE WILL BE FOUND ON ORIGINAL LINE OF POSITION WHICH INDICATED POSITION THROUGH HOWLAND ISLAND AND PHOENIX GROUP PERIOD RADIO TECHNICIANS FAMILIAR WITH RADIO EQUIPMENT ON PLANE ALL STATE DEFINITELY THAT PLANE RADIO COULD NOT FUNCTION NOW IF IN WATER AND ONLY IF MOTOR FOR POWER PERIOD NO FEARS FELT FOR SAFETY OF PLANE ON WATER PROVIDED TANKS HOLD AS LOCKHEED ENGINEERS CALCULATE 5000 POUNDS POSITIVE BUOYANCY WITH PLANE WEIGHT 800 1525

“Until this time the Itasca had considered plane had emergency radio capable of transmitting on water,” Thompson wrote. Although this message corrected misinformation San Francisco provided Itasca on July 2 about the Electra’s radio capabilities – “plane may attempt to use radio on water as radio supply was battery and antenna could be used on top of wing” – it perpetuated the false idea that the plane might be still afloat after three days in the water.

Fred Goerner reported that Joe Gurr told him the Electra “was absolutely capable of putting out a radio signal whether on the surface of the water, or on a reef or island. He says he installed an emergency battery in the cockpit, and as long as the top of the plane was above water, a signal could be sent through the antenna on the top of the plane. He also says that it was possible that Earhart’s signals might have been heard in the U.S. and not heard by vessels in the immediate Pacific area because of skip characteristics.”

Most others disagree, and insist that once in the water, the Electra would have been incapable of transmitting for a very simple reason: “Seawater would have short-circuited her electrical system,” Paul Rafford Jr. wrote.

Fred Hooven, the brilliant engineer whose inventions included the modern aircraft radio direction finder, a short-range radar set for World War II bombers, and the first successful heart-lung machine, thoroughly analyzed the post-loss transmissions during his longtime collaboration with Fred Goerner. “I have only two points of very minor disagreement with Gurr — one of which concerns the ability to transmit while in the water,” Hooven told Goerner in a 1982 letter. “I have no doubt that some possibility existed of the transmitter operating with the plane in the water but am quite certain that the battery would not have provided the current to operate it for as much as an hour. So that it is impossible to suppose that the signals that were heard over three days could have been transmitted from a floating plane. It is for that reason that I absolutely agree with Lockheed’s verdict that there was no way for the plane to transmit from the water without the opportunity to run an engine to charge the battery.”

The Electra’s potential flotation time is also unclear. San Francisco Division’s statement that “no fears felt for safety of plane on water” on the third day after a possible water landing was clearly erroneous. In 1998, researcher Bill Prymak, a pilot and engineer whose work in the Marshall Islands is presented in Truth at Last, studied the problem, plotting the Electra’s center of gravity from Lockheed documents and blueprints of the plane. Prymak said he “came to the conclusion that within seconds of a no-damage (a miracle in itself) water landing, the nose would immediately tilt down into the water at a 50 degree angle. For the empty cabin tanks to become buoyancy-effective they would have to be totally submerged, at which point the plane might float for a short while, but the cockpit would be nearly submerged even before the wing tank vents began filling with water. … There were no radio transmissions from Earhart’s plane if it was in the water.”

Prymak estimates the Electra would be completely submerged within an hour or so. Paul Rafford agrees, and writes, “had Earhart ditched, the Electra would have sunk shortly thereafter. An Electra that ditched off Cape Cod a few years later sank in a matter of minutes.”

Other alleged messages were reported in the days following Amelia’s loss, some more believable than others, but I have no desire to tax readers further than has already been done. In my next post, we’ll take at more of what Hooven and other radio experts believed about their possible validity.

 

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