Readers of this blog are familiar with Australian David Billings and his New Britain theory, the only one among all other Earhart disappearance “solutions” besides the Marshalls-Saipan truth that presents us information and poses questions that cannot be explained or answered. Readers can review the details of Billings’ theory by reading my Dec. 5, 2016 post, “New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities.”
“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,” I wrote in a December 2016 post. “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.”
In June 2017, Billings returned from his seventeenth trip to East New Britain in search of the wreck of the Earhart plane. Once again, he was unable to find what he believes is the lost Electra 10E, which Amelia flew from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. Here’s my June 22, 2017 post: “Billings’ latest search fails to locate Earhart Electra.”
Billings’ website, Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project, subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” offers more information on this unique and fascinating theory.
Now comes another Australian, semi-retired field exploration and research geologist William J. Fraser, who lives near Cairns in tropical far north Queensland, to stir the pot. In a series of mid-February emails, Fraser presented his own novel explanation for the 1945 discovery of the alleged Earhart plane in East New Britain, which follows forthwith (bold emphasis mine throughout):
In compiling a solution to the vexing mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed aircraft I made two main assumptions:
1. That the theories and eyewitness accounts as detailed by Mike Campbell on this website and in his book Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, are substantially correct, excepting for the accounts of the American destruction of Earhart’s Lockheed 10E aircraft on Saipan in June 1944. I suggest that this was not the case and it was another Lockheed owned or captured by the Japanese which had been comprehensively booby-trapped.
2. That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real. This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map. However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the Australian War Memorial archives.
In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage of Earhart’s aircraft from an atoll in the eastern Marshall Islands in July 1937, it was quickly transported by ship to either Kwajalein or Saipan where it was washed down with available fresh water and assessed for restoration. At the commencement of wash down the engine cowls were put aside for some time while the engines were worked on. The 1945 observed apparent corrosion of one of the cowls by an AIF patrol member would have happened at this time.
The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, and it was put into passenger service, perhaps even pre-World War II and operated unobserved in the Marianas and Marshall Islands.
Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23, 1942 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.
Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.
I have attempted to understand why this is so and I presently propose several reasons to explain:
- Up to about the 1950s to 1960s the search area was probably primary forest (near virgin). However, forest mapping and classification done for the Government of Papua New Guinea indicates that post 1972 the search area was secondary forest (re-vegetating). Now why is this so? I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serous drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.
- The forest fire was very intense on favorable dry hill slopes and it could well have melted much of the aircraft components. Remnant layered charcoal is well known to cause problems for metal detectors as it is highly conductive which makes it very difficult to locate any metal objects.
- During the period 1980s to the mid 1990s selective, then total logging of the regenerating forest was carried out. It is possible that the aircraft remains may have been found and recovered at that time.
As the logging and access track preparation progressed under strict supervision (there were valuable equipment and fuel assets involved) there should have been maps (now archived) drawn up. This is standard industry practice. So, in the first instance there needs to be research of the logging and timber (lumber) company records and interviews with previous managers and workers. Following this research, a well-appointed search directive needs to be assembled and detailed expedition planning commenced with ancillary fundraising.
David Billings’ Response
Mike Campbell has asked me to comment on Mr. William Fraser’s astounding revelations about the Earhart Mystery contained in several assumptions and further text passages which contain imaginative thinking.
Being as Mr. Fraser has seen fit to make quite a lot of assumptions concerning my project, which is the search for the Electra 10E on New Britain Island, I see it as reasonable for me to comment, if only to correct, inform and educate as to what has actually happened in line with what has been written by Mr. Fraser as “assumptions” and further remarks.
The Project Team started to search for an aircraft in 1994, due to certain evidence obtained from veterans of the World War II New Britain campaign against the Japanese located at Wide Bay, New Britain. In short, these Australian Imperial Force (AIF) Infantrymen found some aircraft wreckage while on a patrol and the aircraft wreckage was not identified at the time, but detail from an engine found on site was later described to them in a reply from the U.S. Army as a [Pratt & Whitney] “Wasp” engine.
Many years later, written evidence was found on a topographical map, evidence (which also included detail of the patrol carried out) which clearly pointed to the owner of the Wasp engine as being Amelia Earhart. This big clue to the identity of this wreckage seen in 1945 by the patrol, was found quite by accident in 1993.
I gathered a team together and ventured into the Wide Bay jungle using the recollections of the veterans as to locations as a guide. Most of the path as told was incorrect and not until some archived messages in the Australian War Memorial were seen did we gather a fair idea of where they had been.
Now, on to the “Fraser Report” and my response to Mr. Fraser’s blog post:
The First Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
I make no comment except to say that Mr. Fraser is entitled to his opinion and to his assumption, such as it is.
The Second Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
“That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real.”
I applaud Mr. Fraser for seeing the light and agreeing that the wreckage, from the evidence and from the eyewitness statements, is indeed the missing Electra 10E.
“This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map.”
“However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the AWM archives.”
There is a handwritten report which is contained in the Australian War Museum (AWM) website. You have to be an African witch doctor to find it. Unfortunately it does not mention the wreckage find, as it is a topographical report with grid references designed to placate a certain Capt. Mott, who was an HQ staff captain and a mapmaker who was quite miffed that Patrol A1 leaders could not tell him to his acceptable degree of accuracy, “Where they had been.”
This upset to the staff captain caused Lt. Ken Backhouse, the Patrol A1 leader, to receive a slap on the wrist and be immediately sent out on another patrol along the Melkong River. However, that said concerning the topographical report, there is a missing situation report (SITREP) numbered as “63A.” Despite two visits to the AWM in Canberra, the nation’s capital, to peruse records and many, many website searches of the records, SITREP 63A still eludes us. The letter “A” signifies 63A as an “Annex Report,” something extraneous to the patrol orders that has been encountered, which is not strictly anything to do with the task at hand.
I strongly suspect that SITREP 63A described what they saw in the jungle. I also suspect that Capt. Mott (who wanted to know where the wreckage was sited) possibly had an idea of whose aircraft it may have been and kept a copy of 63A, being as the patrol members believed from the state of the wreckage that it had lain where it was for quite a few years. Mott was a very intelligent man and was famous for his mapping of Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia.
I did speak with Mott’s son in the mid-’90s after locating him in a nursing home, and he did tell me that his father had mentioned an aircraft wreck that he was interested in when speaking to his son in Melbourne after the end of World War II.
To continue with Mr. Fraser’s statements:
“In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage, etc., etc.”
It is a known fact that any aluminum alloy aircraft, especially one without any anti-corrosion finish in the form of paint (outside and inside) and which has been immersed in seawater is basically a write-off unless it can be washed out “immediately, pronto, quick-as-a-flash” with fresh water, and even then immersed in a water tank or treated with chemicals to halt the commencement of corrosion. There is also the thought that any magnesium alloy components would start to fizz away from the effects of salt water like a soluble aspirin tablet in a glass of water.
There are also the engines to consider, for they would be swamped with salt water which would get into the intake manifolds and through open poppet valves enter the cylinders. Who is going to strip, clean and reassemble the engines with some new parts?
I have neither the knowledge or the inclination to find out whether Kwajalein or Saipan had thousands of gallons of reticulated water from a mains pressure system to spare to even try to wash out the Electra after a sea voyage of a week or more to get from “an atoll in the eastern Marshalls” to either of those two places of Kwajalein or Saipan. I suspect that atoll locale habitations instead of having reticulated water, individually collected rainwater in tanks rather than having desalination plants or collection dams in that pre-war period.
Rather than the cowls being left without washing in the “Mr. Fraser circumstance,” I have previously proposed that the Electra picked up salt from the atmosphere whilst flying at low-level after take-off and while searching for Howland Island. The impinged salt being the cause of the “holed and filigreed” nose cowl rings described by the Patrol Warrant Officer.
“The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, etc., etc.”
No comment. Again, Mr, Fraser is entitled to his opinion/assumption.
“Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.”
Again, I applaud that Mr. Fraser comes out in support if the Electra 10E being where we say it is, but I have no comment on the circumstantial assumption as to the reason why.
We now get to some massive assumptions by Mr. Fraser in respect to an area of heavily timbered and quite difficult terrain, into which Mr. Fraser has never been.
“Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.”
1994 is the start; that is correct, but why then does Mr. Fraser go on to say the obvious: “without success,” and then go on to proclaim that our lack of success “is a mystery in itself”? That is, in itself, an immature schoolboyish remark from a person who has not been into this area of jungle, does not know the terrain, does not know the circumstances under which we undertook the earlier searches and who now compounds his lack of knowledge and his ignorance by saying, “I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serious drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.”
Please note the “yet to be determined,” which makes the forgoing statement a guess. I now say that the guess has no foundation in fact, for Mr. Fraser is mistaken. There has been no forest fire in the Wide Bay area which destroyed the whole forest 80 years ago or since. We have seen no evidence of that. The rainfall there has to be seen to be believed and definitely no droughts in our now 25 years. Rain, rain and more rain, even a cyclone.
I will not comment on the rest, I believe I have made my point abundantly clear. Fraser’s assumptions are just that, assumptions, made largely without substantial knowledge of the subject matter and in the belief that he and he alone is correct.
Mr. Fraser earlier communicated with me back in August 2018 with the suggestion that the wreck we were seeking from our information may be a Lockheed captured by the Japanese on Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines or the Netherlands East Indies, forgetting that (or not knowing), the R-1340 S3H1 engines were only fitted to the Model 10E Electras.
He again contacted me in November and this time he mentioned B-17F 41-24458 as a candidate. This B-17 was obviously powered by Wright Cyclones and nothing to do with S3H1s. This particular B-17F, famously known as “The San Antonio Rose,” must have crashed to the north of the Mevelo River, as it took Col. Bleasdale two weeks to walk off the mountain to his capture at Tol Plantation, which is north of this river. Our search area is south of the river. I doubt the colonel would be tempted to cross the Mevelo River by fording it. I certainly would not, for it has big crocodiles.
In November 2018 I assisted Mr. Fraser in his interest by providing him with a 1943 topographical map of the area and by giving Mr. Fraser several pointers from the Project because of his interest. I also pointed him in the direction of “GAIHOZU” the military maps that the Japanese used in the Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, of which the map of the area made by the Japanese does show some walking trails they used.
Fraser, with the aid of the area map I sent to him, then searched for holes in the jungle canopy using the modern-day “Zoom Earth” application and then proudly sent me a picture of the jungle with a “hole,” about which he stated: “It is in your search area.” There are many such holes in the jungle at floor level, not all of which can be seen from aerial views due to the tree canopy. I considered that Mr. Fraser was trying to suggest that here was a hole made in 1937 “which I did not know about” which existed to this day, and he asked me, “What can you see?”
Instead, I asked Mr. Fraser where it was in order to see if it was indeed “In our search area.” Fraser by return mail told me to tell him “what I could see” – first. Presumably then he would tell me where the hole was in latitude-longitude. By having to tell Mr. Fraser what I could see “first” meant that here we had a man playing the schoolboy game of ”Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” I grew tired of such pedantic messages long ago and told Mr. Fraser that I do not play games such as that and “Good Luck.” In the event, a hole on a modern-day application such as Zoom Earth or Google Earth would be “modern” and any hole made in 1937 would completely close over within ten years with new growth and so Mr. Fraser would be completely mistaken in what he was thinking. Why else would he send me a picture of a hole in the tree canopy?
Mr. Fraser has a basic lack of the appreciation of jungle growth activity if what he thinks may be a hole made by the entry of an aircraft in 1937 or during World War II, would still exist today, up to and over 80 years later.
I will admit we went on a hole search ourselves when one of my team found the exact aerial photograph made by a Photo-Reconnaissance Lockheed F-5 from 23,000 feet from which the 1943 Topographical Map was made. Then again, we were looking at holes on a photograph from only six years after the Earhart loss. We have a whole list of latitudes and longitudes for those holes, most of which are not in our designated search area.
Mr. Fraser’s stated “assumptions” and remarks on what he “thinks” may have happened are colorful, imaginative and somewhat amusing, and lettered men such as he may well think they know more than others. But in the end, practical knowledge will trump theoretical musings.
In addition to Billings’ list of problems with Fraser’s theory, a major discrepancy I find is that Thomas E. Devine, Earskin J. Nabers, Arthur Nash and other soldiers and Marines on Saipan saw or knew of the discovery of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, on that island in the summer of 1944. Devine even wrote down the plane’s registration number, and inspected it — climbing on its wing to look in — before it was torched at night, strafed by a P-38 after being doused with cans of gasoline, according to Nabers, who was also at the off-limits airfield for the event. Before Fraser’s introduction of this idea, nobody has ever suggested that the plane was destroyed because it was “booby-trapped.” Moreover, if our troops knew it was such, why would our tech-savvy GIs destroy an airplane for this reason? Couldn’t anything that was booby-trapped be un-booby trapped by skilled operatives?
As for the Earhart Electra and its discovery and pickup at Mili Atoll by the Japanese, by the time the plane would have reached Kwajalein, a distance of roughly 375 miles from Mili Atoll, it would probably have been too late to forestall the corrosion that its exposure to salt water would have caused. Sometime before that, probably in Jaluit or earlier at Mili, the Japanese had access to enough fresh water to wash the corroding salt away, else how could Thomas E. Devine and others have seen it operational at Saipan? We also don’t know the extent of the Electra’s engine’s exposure or immersion in the ocean or lagoon at Mili where it landed. Fraser’s other ideas about the disposition of the Earhart Electra are speculation.
Billings, for his part, has yet to propose a plausible reason to explain the Electra’s presence in the remote jungles of East New Britain. Turning around within a few hundred miles of Howland and heading back in a nearly 180 degree course that terminated in East New Britain simply doesn’t pass the common sense test.
Another explanation for C/N 1055 and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Electra being recorded on an Australian soldier’s map case in 1945 must exist, and has yet to be found. Thus the East New Britain mystery remains unsolved, and will stay that way unless and until the wreck found in 1945 is re-discovered. Even then, if the wreck were to be found and absolutely confirmed as NR 16020, the work of explaining how it got there will remain, as will the mystery.
Don’t hold your breath.
UDPATE: In an April 3, 2019 email, William Fraser writes:
I can understand a comment by a USA resident that the aircraft wreckage found by an AIF patrol in April 1945 in the Mevelo River area of New Britain is a different (Lockheed) aircraft. Nonetheless, for very significant historical reasons this wreckage needs to be re-discovered and identified.
Missing AIF Patrol Report
On the apparently missing patrol report for AIF 11th Infantry Battalion, D Company Patrol A1 for April 1945, I have made further enquiries with the records section of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. They have said “the curator of Official Records (says) that the Patrol Reports in question are comprised as messages in Appendix M found on images 130-152. Following your re-examination of the file and advice from Official Records, it appears that material in question was either not elaborated upon beyond what was included in the original file, was omitted from the original file, or was not submitted by those responsible for the reports.”
It is indeed unfortunate, but we have now come to a dead end here with the official Australian records.
A Conclusive New Search In New Britain
I have previously remarked upon the notable lack of success of previous searches over a period of some 25 years. In order to properly resolve this matter, I suggest that the Government of Papua New Guinea and its department responsible for historical sites and heritage would need to approve the formation of new independent NGO search directorate to enter the New Britain area and commence a ground search.
Now that my presentation to the Ninety-Nines at their South Central Sectional Meeting in Wichita, Kansas is history, we return to our regular scheduled programming. Today, as promised, we consider the multiple radio conundrums posed by the final flight of Amelia Earhart, more specifically, the writings of Paul Rafford Jr.
The elder statesman of Earhart research, Paul is alive and well at 95 in Melbourne, Fla., and he remains among the planet’s most knowledgeable on radios and their transmission capabilities during the time of the Amelia’s final flight. He worked with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He flew with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Earhart’s Electra. After a promotion with PAA, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
Earhart fans will recall Paul’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s decisions during the final flight. In 2006, Paul’s own book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it didn’t have commercial success, it is a treasure trove of invaluable information you won’t find anywhere else.
“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006. “Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems. We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.”
Paul wrote many articles for Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters between 1989 and 2000, and not only about Amelia’s inexplicable radio behavior during the last flight. He also developed compelling theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most fascinating possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time.
Paul wrote two pieces with basically the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to repeat and emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle the experts. We’ll start today with Paul’s 1997 treatment of the Earhart radio enigma, and in coming weeks will explore a host of his analytic and theoretical essays about our favorite missing American aviatrix. Without further ado, here is Paul’s essay, edited only for style and consistency, written April 10, 1997, which appeared in the AES Newsletters May 1997 edition. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“THE EARHART RADIO ENIGMA”
1) Why did Amelia Earhart have her trailing antenna removed in Miami before starting her second attempt to circle the globe? During the early days of over-ocean flying, airplanes would reel out a long length of wire called a “trailing antenna” for radiotelegraph communication with ships on the international maritime calling and distress frequency, 500 kHz (kilohertz, same as kilocycles). This was in addition to their regular fixed antenna for communicating with land stations.
Legend has it that both Earhart and Noonan’s code speed was very slow, so she removed the equipment required for contacting ships. However, the assumption about Noonan’s radio operating abilities is not supported by former crew mates. On occasion while flying as navigator on Pan Am’s Clippers he would relieve the radio operator for rest periods. However, by eliminating 500 kHz, Earhart also eliminated the possibility that the Itasca’s direction finder could lead her to Howland. She didn’t need to know code in order to transmit on 500 for bearings. Both she and the Itasca had 3105 kHz, and they could have coordinated any bearing procedures by voice.
New evidence indicates the probability that after Earhart arrived at Miami from Burbank during her second attempt to circle the globe, she secretly switched planes. The second plane came from the factory without a trailing antenna. But, in order to explain to curious observers why she arrived with the trailing antenna, but left without one, she had it removed right after she arrived. This would help obscure the fact that she had switched planes. The second plane also came without a direction finding loop. Earhart could dispense with a trailing antenna but not a loop. So, just the day before departure Pan Am installed a new one for her. (Editor’s note: In future posts we will look more closely at Paul’s claim of a plane switch in Miami.)
2) Why did Earhart refuse Pan Am’s offer to track her plane across the Pacific if she would install a Pan Am direction-finding frequency? During Earhart’s eight-day layover at Miami she met with Charlie Winter, Pan Am’s local radio engineer. During their conversation he pointed out that if she would install a Pan Am frequency in place of the vacant 500 kHz channel, our direction finders could track her whereabouts over the Pacific, the same as we did with our Clippers.
As Charlie told me later, she immediately rebuffed his suggestion with the comment, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.” Charlie was flabbergasted. But the question is, why was Earhart so quick to reject his offer? Didn’t she want her whereabouts to be known?
3) Why, after seven hours of contact with Lae, did Earhart dismiss Harry Balfour’s offer to continue communicating with her until she could contact the Itasca, waiting at Howland Island? Seven hours into the flight Earhart advised Harry Balfour that she was leaving 6210 kHz and would try and contact the Itasca on 3105 kHz. Her signals were still coming in well, so Balfour implored her not to break off contact with him until she had established contact with the ship. This was normal operating procedure back then. But, she switched off anyway, and he never again heard her, nor did she ever again have two-way contact with any station.
4) Why did Earhart never engage Itasca in two-way radio contact? Bill Galten’s logs show that Earhart never directly answered any of his more than 50 calls or ever gave any indication that she was heating the ship except on one occasion. She would suddenly come on the air without a preliminary call-up, deliver a brief message and go off, all in the space of seven or eight seconds.
5) Why did Earhart never stay on the air for more than a few seconds at a time? We can only guess, but it would appear, as in the Pan Am direction-finding offer, that she didn’t want her position known. The bare minimum time for obtaining a bearing with a vintage 1930’s direction finder was about 15 seconds, but it usually took longer.
Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, manning the Howland direction finder, complained bitterly that Earhart never stayed on the air long enough for him to get a bearing. She also confused the Itasca crew by never advising what frequency she would be listening to or if they should answer with code or voice.
6) Why did Bill Galten believe that Earhart never intended to land on Howland Island? Bill left the Coast Guard and came with Pan Am shortly after the Earhart disappearance. We flew together during World War II. On one occasion while discussing the Earhart mystery he exclaimed to me, “That woman never intended to land on Howland!” When I asked why, he had two explanations. First, her radio operating procedures were nothing like that of a lost pilot desperately trying to make a landfall.
Second, Bill claimed that the condition of the Howland runway was unfit for a safe landing. It was covered with thousands of goony birds that, despite the best efforts of the Itasca’s crew to shoo them away, would not vacate the area.
7) Why did Earhart ask for 7500 kHz from the Itasca when 7500 could not be used with airborne direction finders? While Earhart was supposedly approaching Howland, she requested, “Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles.” She had asked for it earlier so she could use it for radio bearings. Although the Itasca’s crew knew that she would not be able to get a bearing, they had no choice but to transmit long Morse code dashes for her. Five minutes later she replied, “We received your signal but unable to get minimum (a bearing).”
Fred Noonan, Pan Am’s ex-chief navigator, would very well know she couldn’t get one on that frequency. Instead of asking for 7500, Earhart should have listened for 500 kHz. The ship was transmitting for her on this frequency almost constantly. Her direction finder had been calibrated to this frequency range before she left Miami. Later, Harry Balfour checked it at Lae with a nearby station operating on 500.
When Earhart declared, “We read your signal but unable get minimum,” it was the only time she admitted hearing the ship. She would also conclude that the ship was hearing her signals because they had turned on 7500 kHz at her request. At this point she should have been ecstatic! Lost and out of communication, she at long last had radio contact. Even though the crew could use only telegraph on 7500, they could at least have sent very slowly and advised her to listen on 3105 for communication and 500 for direction finding. But did Earhart cling to this one chance for survival? No! She went off the air for 40 minutes and when she returned it was only to declare that she was flying up and down a line of position and would switch to 6210 kHz. The Itasca never heard her again.
8) What actually happened during Earhart’s last flight? This is a complex question and we can only propose a scenario based on what facts we know, plus some educated conjectures. War clouds were fast gathering in the mid-1930s. In Europe the Axis powers were getting ready to invade their neighbors and Japan was about to invade China. America was just recovering from the Great Depression and money for defense was scarce. Also, the isolationists were very powerful and opposed any “foreign entanglements.”
To astute observers of international politics, it was obvious that we were rapidly approaching a world war for which we were woefully unprepared. For example, the location of many Pacific islands on maritime charts had not been checked since the early 19th century whaling ships had stumbled across them. Their positions could be no more accurate than the ship’s chronometers that may not have been checked against time standards for weeks or more.
And so it was that the powers-that-be in government came up with a plan. Amelia Earhart was getting ready to circle the globe on a flight that would carry her over the mid-Pacific islands in question. Why not have her disappear during it? The American public would demand that the government find their heroine at any cost. A vast search would ensue. Ostensibly, it would be for humanitarian purposes, but meanwhile our fleet would be quietly updating its century old charts while reconnoitering the area. With war clouds looming, our charts had to be accurate. As an example of the problem, during the search one particular island in the Phoenix group was found 60 miles away from its plotted position.
The centerpiece of the plan would be the action around Howland Island after Earhart supposedly went down. But, after signing off with Harry Balfour, instead of Howland, Earhart would head for the British controlled Gilbert Islands, and land on a predetermined beach. After the Navy finished its survey, the flyers could be rescued. But tragically, rescue never came. Did Earhart overfly the Gilberts and land in the Marshalls? I leave the answer to other investigators.
The wording of all of Earhart’s transmissions was such that they could have been recorded weeks beforehand for later broadcast by a clandestine radio station somewhere in the vicinity of Howland. Coast Guard logs show that just before Earhart’s flight, the Itasca dropped off men and supplies at Howland and then proceeded to Baker Island, which along with Howland, was part of the inter-island weather gathering network operating on 7500 kHz.
At Baker, the ship dropped off four new colonists and their gear. They would secretly set up a radio station to transmit the Earhart recordings on 3105 kHz. (Editor’s note: Baker Island is an uninhabited atoll located just north of the equator in the central Pacific about 1,920 miles southwest of Honolulu, and lies almost halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbor is Howland Island, 42 miles to the north-northwest; both have been territories of the United States since 1857. Baker Island was the site of a U.S. LORAN [Long Range Navigation] radio station in operation from September 1944 to July 1946. The station unit number was 91 and the radio call sign was NRN-1.)
After word was received that Earhart had left Lae, the plan would go into action. When Earhart was supposedly approaching Howland, the Baker operator would commence sending the recordings at hourly intervals until sunrise. After that they would be sent more frequently, consistent with Earhart’s supposed flight activities when in the vicinity of Howland. The transmitter power was adjustable so the operator could simulate her calls at various distances out from Howland.
The transmissions were kept very brief so Cipriani could never get a bearing. Had he been able to do so, he would have noticed that the signals were coming from the south southeast, instead of west. Although he was unable to get a bearing at the time, days later he heard a strong, nearby station send a long dash on 3105 kHz. This time he got a bearing. It fell on a line of position running north-northwest by south-southeast through Howland. Baker is south-southeast.
For several nights after Earhart’s disappearance, numerous, unidentified signals were heard on her frequencies. Some were obvious hoaxes. However, there is no evidence to indicate that she ever again came on the air “live” after discontinuing contact with Balfour.
9) Why was an official Earhart accident investigation report never issued? Today, any aircraft crash or disappearance would get a far better accident report than Earhart’s did. The only official report we have from the government was that issued by the Navy. But, it is simply a description of the search, and not an accident report.
In a letter to Fred Goerner dated April, 1962, Leo Bellarts, former chief radio operator on the Itasca, commented about the lack of an investigation. “Honestly, I thought there was going to be an investigation of the flight and that is the reason that I have kept certain logs and papers concerning the flight.”
By contrast, the Hawaii Clipper that disappeared between Guam and Manila just a year later under very similar circumstances, was the subject of an intensive investigation. Perhaps the powers-that-be at the time didn’t want the public to know just what happened to Earhart. (End of Paul Rafford’s “Earhart Radio Enigma.”)
Among the most vexing questions about the Earhart flight, of course, the one whose correct answer might help unravel the whole impossibly complicated ball of wax, is WHY didn’t Amelia want anyone to get a fix on her position? We can assume that the Japanese were quite interested in her flight, for obvious reasons, and would have been listening to her transmissions from several of their radio stations in the central Pacific area, including Jaluit, where a powerful transmitter was operational. It seems quite clear by now that Amelia was up to something besides trying to locate Howland Island.
I’ve often said that the Earhart “mystery” can never be solved in the air, that the real answers are kept where our government buries its deepest secrets. But we’ve learned plenty since Fred Goerner started banging on doors, and now, for the most part, it’s mainly the many nagging details that continue to evade us. Readers should understand that this editor is not fully endorsing the entire range of Paul Rafford’s ideas, but presenting them for your consideration.
In coming posts we’ll delve further into Rafford’s theory that Amelia Earhart was engaged in a deliberate, well-planned radio deception during her last flight, as well as several other aspects of the flight that might shed light on the real mystery of the Earhart disappearance – not what happened to her on Saipan, but what was she doing during the final hours of the flight, and most importantly, why did she land at Mili Atoll?