Today we rejoin Calvin Pitts for Part IV of his fascinating and instructive analysis of the final flight of Amelia Earhart.
As Part III ended, Amelia had made her decision to turn northwest, not to the Gilberts but to the Marshall Islands, “and Japanese soldiers who may or may not be impressed with the most famous female aviator in the world,” Calvin wrote. “When she crossed into enemy territory, she apparently lost her charm with the war lords, and eventually her life.” We continue with Part IV of Calvin’s analysis.
Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY, Part IV
By Capt. Calvin Pitts
When we arrived at Area 13, unbeknownst to the casual observer, the entire narrative changed. Something different, something major happened.
The Itasca crew didn’t know. In their confusion, according to their log, they kept calling and trying to make contact for two hours. The radioman calling from Nauru didn’t know. Balfour from Lae didn’t know. Tarawa radio didn’t know. Husband George didn’t know. Hawaii radio didn’t know. But somebody from somewhere must have known. Who was it?
First, before we ask questions, we need to look at THE END in order to establish the ending of the so-called “disappearance.” It has been a mystery to those on the outside, but not to those who studied and embraced the evidence. Nor was it a mystery to Franklin D. Roosevelt– especially the president..
This, knowing THE END, and only this will enable us to make sense of what was happening during those early moments in Area 13: 2030z, 2100z, 2200z, 2300z, 2400z, or the local morning hours of 9 a.m., 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, noon and thereafter.
THE END produces, first, three stone pillars: Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Gen. Graves Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. What do such preeminent World War II men of honor have to do with this story, and what do they know that is so critical for what we will learn in the process? Three quotes will answer for us:
Gen. Vandergrift: “Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.” (TAL, p.257) Gen. Erskine: “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.” (TAL p.260)
Admiral Nimitz to Fred Goerner: “Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese [and taken to Saipan].” (TAL p. 132). “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination.” (Nimitz to Fred Goerner through Navy Cmdr. John Pillsbury) (TAL p. 178).
Those were Men who had honor, who would not lie;
Men who could stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries
They were tall men, sun-crowned, who lived above the fog in public duty, and
in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds, their large professions
and their little deeds, mingled in selfish strife,
LO! Freedom wept, Wrong ruled the land, and waiting Justice slept.
GOD, give us more Men like these where the times demand
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands;
Men whom the lust for office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will; Men who have honor … who will not lie.
— Josiah Gilbert Holland (modified)
They did not lie. These were three men, three impeccable sources, three individual answers, none of which were given in the presence of the other, at different times, with the same conclusion: Amelia had been on Saipan.
Earhart and Noonan were not in the Phoenix Islands; they did not die at sea. Noonan, the best navigator in the world, who had flown the Pacific often with Pan Am, was not lost. Earhart, prepared to execute the contingency plan so carefully worked out with Gene Vidal, did not turn back to the Gilbert Islands. Earhart and Noonan were taken to Saipan.
“You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves,” Gen. Graves Earskin said. And professional, competent people have been doing just that for 80 years.
What’s the staggering news here? One part is this: We know THE END of the story. Following the silence after Area 13, we have about a five-hour window or less of flying and survival time. Something unusual happened back in the states while the Electra was being repaired, the truth of which was being played out during those final hours after Amelia’s last official transmission at 2013z.
We know essentially the area in which they were last known to be alive in the Electra. Later, after the war, and the incredible leadership of three of our top warriors, we know where the doomed pair ended up. Therefore, if we want to unlock this so-called mystery, we need know not only where they were, but why and how they got there.
Here’s the point of establishing THE END. We have three pillar posts of evidence that cannot be doubted. They are anchors to which the end of this story is tied. But there are those who say this was only a temporary end, that a China scenario followed. Since there are so few researchers who accept this, we will leave that “conclusion” for another time. For now, we tie the end of the chain of this story to the Saipan anchor.
From Saipan, we can backtrack 1,700 miles to the Marshall Islands, thanks to several incredible and determined writers and investigators, among them Fred Goerner, Vincent Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Bill Prymak and others.
The eyewitnesses they found and interviewed are convincing. The Electra was seen on Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands. The crew and the plane were taken to the Japanese military headquarters on Jaluit Atoll. From there, all the evidence we have tells us they were taken by plane to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan by the Japanese. They were on Saipan, as the three flag officers told Goerner.
To that, we can add that Bill Prymak was one who could see the obvious when others missed it. Later, we want to visit the content of OVERLOOKING the OBVIOUS. Prymak observed the following: An eyewitness in the Marshalls described a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.
Yet, over 1,700 miles away on Saipan, in 1937 when travel between the two cultures was limited to small boats, Saipan natives described, during the same time-period, a man-like woman with short hair in pants, and a tall man with blue eyes who had a bandage on his head, who were together.
Does something not strike us as unusual? From two different cultures, with 1,700 miles of water between them, in only a very short time, native eyewitnesses in the Marshalls and in Saipan are telling the same story. How was that possible, unless they were both telling the truth?
Did they make up an identical tale without knowing what the other was saying? Two cultures, many miles apart, in a short time, were describing the same people to interviewers. Was this a coincidence? Obviously, not likely.
Where does this evidence leave us? With the Generals, we have three cornerstones, three reliable pillars, impeccable witnesses, impressive leaders, unassailable warriors separately telling the same truth. They spoke what they knew, although they did not want to embarrass the government they served, hence were restrained with their words.
What little they said was enough to establish the truth — Earhart had been on Saipan.
That buries the “sink and drown” [crashed and sank] theory. It also buries the Nikumaroro castaways “hypothesis,” the fake media’s favorite mother load of deception, embraced by the establishment’s Smithsonian, National Geographic and media outlets everywhere. Without them, the truth would have gained traction much earlier, but it’s the establishment world in which we are forced to live, which makes finding truth in the swamp infinitely more difficult.
Added to those three stellar voices who had no skin in the game were two separate cultures miles apart but saying the same thing — the American lady with short hair and the white man with a white head-bandage had been in the Marshalls and on Saipan at about the same time.
A cornerstone and a foundation, eyewitnesses giving interviewers the same story, which is the evidence upon which this truth is built. Even scripture says: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” We didn’t see it, but those who saw the evidence — Vandergrift, Erskine, Nimitz, Marshallese eyewitnesses, Saipanese eyewitnesses — gave us the truth to believe, accept and investigate even further.
I. With a tedious analysis of the records, times, speeds, radio calls and Itasca logs, we tracked the lady and the man to “Area 13” at 2013z. This is Data Point No. 1.
II. Data Point No. 2. Switch to the other side, 1,000 and 2,000 miles away. Three cultures converge, the Marshalls, Saipan and the Americans, where the eyewitnesses and the greatest military leaders provide the END for the same story.
III. The Gap. We are then left with a four- to five-hour gap that we must bring together if we wish to change supposition into knowledge, or mystery into history.
The factual and documented information on both sides of the Gap tells us WHAT. But we still wrestle with the WHY behind the WHAT. How do we answer the obvious things which have so often been overlooked?
How? By refusing to overlook them any longer.
During the four- to five-hour gap while we search, an amazing thing happens: an awakening. Consider two data points of that evidence:
(1) The Electra is flying an imaginary “157-337 degree (sun) line,” now merely a heading, at 2013z / 8:43 a.m. “looking” (?) for the Itasca. At about four hours remaining, they hit “Bingo” fuel. It’s time to go into action with the contingency plan: “If and when you come to your contingency fuel, turn back to the Gilbert Islands toward friendly people. Land on a good beach, and they’ll find you. Tarawa has a radio. We’ll find a way to get to you.”
Were those their words? No, but it was their plan that Vidal had designed. Even Noonan’s sister had said: “Remember to turn back if you can’t find Howland.”
A 160 mph true air speed, plus a 15 or more mph tailwind for four hours would get them to the Gilberts. But with what heading? “Heading, Fred. What heading?”
From a 2013z position of about 150 to 200 miles northwest of Howland, they needed a heading of about 260 degrees or less to hit the midpoint of the 500-mile north-south string of the Gilbert Islands.
However, based upon the END of the story, where they actually ended up, they needed a heading of some 290 degrees or more. That would get them to where the evidence said they were, the Marshall Islands, with a free trip to Saipan, courtesy of the Japanese.
Focus on the evidence. Heading 260 degrees or less to Gilbert’s midpoint. Heading 290 degrees or more to get to Mili Atoll where they actually landed on a coral beach — 290 degrees versus 260 degrees?
From a position at 2013z, to the Marshalls with a 260 degree heading? That didn’t happen. To the Marshalls with a 290 degree heading? THAT DID HAPPEN, and was no accident. Once this truth clearly dawned — the heading was not accidental — a missing, critical ingredient was added.
What’s the significance of this ingredient? Epiphany. That heading and that destination were intentional. INTENT. In that moment after consideration, we knew then what we didn’t know at 2013z, namely, they intended to go somewhere on purpose. A heading to the Gilberts would not — repeat, NOT — have taken them to the Marshalls.
With intent aforethought: For eyeball proof, open Google Earth and try it. They would need a hurricane-force crosswind to blow them from the Gilberts to the Marshalls with a Gilbert heading. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for the skeptic, they had a tailwind from the east.
We now have intent, the first moment of realization. They not only went to the Marshalls, they intended to. Something was driving them.
(2) Ironically, shortly after that epiphany, we read a comment by researcher Bill Prymak. It went something like this: “Why was AE so casual and so scarce with her radio calls? If it had been me in such an emergency, desperately trying to make contact and find Howland, I would not have waited :30, :45, 1 hour, 2:30 hours between calls. I would have been all over that radio:
Itasca, this is AE. Please answer. How do I home in on your frequency? I’ll hold the switch down for a full minute. No more occasional calls. Help me out . . . now. Are you there? I’ll stay on 3105 while you broadcast now on 3105, then 6210, then 7500, then 500. I’ll also listen to Morse code. Fred will understand your message, or key A.A.A. repeatedly , then key N.N.N. That will let me know you’re hearing me. Forget protocol. Talk to me. This is getting desperate.”
Not even one MAY-DAY CALL. Why so casual? No declaration of an emergency. Why so incredibly stingy with words? At 2:45 am? OK. But at 8:00 a.m.? May-Day, MAY-DAY!
2:45 a.m. – “??” unreadable (1 hour difference)
3:45 a.m. – “will listen” (2:30 hour difference)
6:15 am. – wants bearing – “about 200 miles out” (:30 difference)
6:45 a.m. – “take bearing – about 100 miles out” (almost 1 hour difference)
7:42 a.m. – “on you, can’t see you” (:16 difference)
7:58 a.m. – “circling (?), can’t hear you” (:02 difference)
8:00 a.m. – “received signals, take bearing” (:43 difference)
8:43 a.m. – “on line 157-337, will repeat” — S.I.L.E.N.C.E.
Not one call, not one, indicated an emergency. Perhaps the tone of her voice was tense, or even indicated “panic,” as Bellarts later stated, but not one hint of an emergency. Much too casual. Words cost nothing. What does the silence tell us?
If she doesn’t find Howland, it’s back to the Gilberts and the abandoning of the Electra on a beach. Amelia knows that. Consistently, she made very brief calls which lasted mere seconds, then she was silent for long periods. What is that telling us? That it is not normal behavior in an emergency. It is much too casual for a person facing fuel exhaustion and death. It is not rational.
Strangely, it may be telling us that she has no intention of landing here. If not, why? Don’t know yet, but how did Bill see that? Because if she wanted to land, there would have been desperation. She was cool and casual because she had another place in mind.
Amelia’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, said afterward: “Amelia had no intention of landing at Howland. It was a distraction.” (Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987); “Amelia Earhart: What Really Happened to Her?” (D.A. Chadwick’s Blog).
Paul Rafford Jr., in his book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, tells us: “Bill Galten also told me that although Earhart might have been able to land on Howland, he didn’t see how she could take off. His reason was the same as that offered by Itasca’s Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts, who told Fred Goerner that he felt that if she could land, she could not have been able to take off again.” So here are two of the original radio crew on Itasca agreeing about the serious dangers Howland posed to the Earhart Electra and its crew. We then did some investigation of our own.
These are only two of the many items which come under the category of OVERLOOKING THE OBVIOUS. The latest is THE HOWLAND RUNWAY scenario. When exploring the details and a comparison with the Lae takeoff, was the Howland runway even safe from which to take off in an Electra with a heavy load of fuel? Based upon details which we have been able to uncover, the answer may be obvious. She’ll know once she begins the takeoff, but then it will too late.
Let’s do some reasoning here. When Amelia took off at Lae, she had 3,000 feet of dirt runway. At the end, there was a 25-foot cliff dropping off to the Huon Gulf. The Electra’s takeoff run for about 2,900 feet broke ground, sank slightly, then more or less leveled, then at the end where the cliff dropped off, it descended about 20 feet toward the water where the props were creating an observed spray from the ocean.
That reality is in Amelia’s mind. She sees a picture. It is now behind her, but an even bigger challenge awaits her at Howland. How long is that coral-gravel runway? The flat part of the Island is 1.5 miles long by one-half-mile wide. If the longer N/S runway is just half that, since it is on the east side, rather than in the elongated middle, then we have about 4,000 feet, as later measured, but which the workers already knew.
There is also a gravel E/W runway about 2,400 feet at the south end of the N/S runway for the prevailing daily east winds. We now have a match waiting for some gasoline. Lae’s runway was hard dirt. Howland’s is crushed coral recently plowed and graded, and looser than hard dirt. Lea’s temperature was less than 85 degrees. Howland’s is often 100 degrees or more.
Lae’s had a safety net of a 25-foot drop to the Gulf beyond the cliff at the end of the runway. Howland at sea level has mere inches for descent after takeoff from sand’s edge to the water. Unlike Lae, at Howland, there is no safety net.
Going through the mind of any pilot facing this would be: Under these conditions, with these differences, can a takeoff with a load of fuel be made successfully at Howland? It was successful at Lae apparently because of the “safety net” of clear space underneath beyond the cliff. Amelia, like any pilot, might wonder.
Nor has she forgotten the ground loop at Honolulu under much better conditions. If a wheel of the Electra were to hit a soft spot, and veer slightly as it did in Honolulu, will she follow her habit of trying to maintain directional control with the throttles rather than the rudders? Honolulu all over again, just waiting.
If, when the plane breaks ground at Howland, but settles 20 feet as at Lae, there will be a ditching in the water with gear down, not a pretty thought. If density altitude were to work against her due to hotter temperature, what then? If even one of those 10,000 gooney birds were to get in the way of a prop on takeoff, hello water. The “WHAT IF’S” are endless.
Nearing Howland, Amelia may be thinking that the chances of taking off are not so good. Turn back to the Gilberts? There are many smooth sandy beaches there for a safe landing, but once on the soft sand, how will the Electra get airborne again?
Then there’s the option of the Marshalls. The inner debate continues, and a major decision is looming. What to do? How long is the runway? How safe is it?
With an East wind of 15 to 20 mph, this is obviously a crosswind which is not acceptable for a heavy plane on such a runway. Even the men on the ground who prepared it had recorded, in essence, in their log — impossible to take off on N/S runway with that crosswind. And the E/W runway is too short; at 2,250 feet between markers, plus the narrow 300-foot addition, plus the flagged off 200 feet, a total of 2,750 feet is available for takeoff.
Before we awaken Amelia from her intense concentration, let’s slip in another bit of “obvious” factual history which has often been overlooked. It concerns FDR himself and the government, especially Naval records generated by the former secretary of the Navy.
First, we have the official Navy-Coast Guard reports of their searches for the Earhart Electra that lasted from July 2 to July 19, and were filed beginning July 20. (see TAL pages 53-57). We also have information on file as “Report of Amelia Earhart as Prisoner in Marshall Islands,” dated Jan. 7, 1939. (Reference: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38, Entry 81, General Correspondence, 1929-1942, File A4-3/Earhart, Box No. 70). (See above image of the top of page 1 of this report.) This unclassified document has long been available to Earhart researchers through a simple request.
This, and additional information shows that as early as 1.5 years after the disappearance, Jan. 7, 1939, it was reported under then-classified documents that “Earhart was a prisoner in the Marshall Islands.” Since the U.S. had already broken the Japanese Code, it is more than mere speculation that FDR and Co. knew that Amelia and Fred were in Japanese hands.
(Editor’s note: Here Calvin is referring to the strange, little-known “Bottle Message” found near Bordeaux, France on Oct. 30, 1938 by a 37-year-old French woman. The message’s unidentified writer stated, in part: “I have been a prisoner at Jaluit (Marshalls) by the Japanese; in the prison there, I have seen Amelia Earhart (aviatrix) and in another cell her mechanic [sic], a man, as well as several other European prisoners; held on charges of alleged spying on large fortifications erected on the atoll.” I have not yet written about this message on the Truth at Last Blog for several reasons, but others have attempted to verify its provenance, without success. See * below for more on this.)
The classified proof in Navy files was declassified in 1967 and has been available to the public since then. Anyone can read it. Possessing a personal copy, one can show that the government knew the whereabouts of Amelia and Fred at least as early as 1939 or before. (Later, we’ll raise the issue of knowledge through having broken the Japanese code.)
That being the case, something so totally “obvious” to government authorities in 1939, and then obvious to the public through researchers in 1967, has lain hidden under a pile of dust while speculators and get-rich charlatans have invented stories about dying at sea or crashing on an uninhabited island leaving a size 9 piece of shoe as proof that a size 6 lady named Earhart had worn it. Such is a crime against the history of humanity.
While the obvious lies at our feet, we applaud phony pictures of a ship at Jaluit in 1937 under a Smithsonian caption of “Earhart and Noonan,” but which was proven to be false. And we support establishment money being spent to divert the public’s attention to a fake story on a Phoenix Island while we allow the government to keep promoting those distractions. This is the typical disinformation-distraction ploy. Although the establishment can distract from the truth, it cannot change it.
Something is obviously wrong with this picture. The public is more tolerant than they are observant. We cry “mystery” while holding the file of facts in our hands.
Time: 2013z / 8:43 a.m.:
Amelia awakens from her decision-dilemma. To the Itasca: “We’re on a line 157-337 degrees . . . Will repeat this message.” To Fred Noonan she may have said: “I’ve thought about the Howland runway compared to what we faced at Lae. It’s too dangerous. The Gilberts are out. Not going to sacrifice this plane. We’re going to the Marshalls. Give me a heading, and there’s no time to discuss it. If we land here, I probably won’t be able to get airborne again. Heading, please.” (End of “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY,” Part IV.)
Next up will be the Conclusion of Calvin Pitts’ “Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY.” Your comments are welcome.
* (Editor’s note continued: Far more revealing among the Navy documents declassified in 1967 is the notorious 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Report (below), ostensibly undertaken to investigate Thomas E. Devine’s 1960 statements to ONI Special Agent Thomas M. Blake in October 1960. Devine, at home in West Haven, Conn., having seen the reports of Fred Goerner’s first Saipan visit, decided to tell the ONI about his 1945 experience on Saipan with the unidentified Okinawan woman who showed him the gravesite of a “white man and woman who had come from the sky,“ before the war. Devine believed this site was the common grave of Earhart and Noonan.
The ONI found nothing to support Devine’s gravesite claims, which wasn’t surprising, but its unstated goal was to discredit all information that placed Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. In this it actually failed miserably, though no one in the media has ever even alluded to the document’s existence, and it remains completely unknown to the general public despite its declassification. The story of the ONI Report in itself is another amazing travesty in the saga of the Earhart disappearance, in that it virtually establishes the Marshalls landing and Saipan presence of the fliers while attempting to debunk both ideas. For an extended discussion of this obscure but vastly important document, see pages 95-100 in Truth at Last.
Calvin Pitts is best known for his 1981 world flight, when he and two co-pilots commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Wiley Post-Harold Gatty World Flight in 1931. The 1981 flight was sponsored in part by the Oklahoma Air & Space Museum to honor the Oklahoma aviator Post.
Calvin’s first co-pilot was Jerry Kuzia, an FAA inspector from Cleveland, who helped with many of the detail preparations during 1980. After a cancelled clearance due to high-frequency radio failure over the Atlantic and the subsequent two week-delay, Kuzia ran out of vacation time. NASA engineer Emmett Fry flew to Germany to replace Kuzia, and competed the flight back to Manchester, New Hampshire.
But instead of replicating Post and Gatty’s 15,474-mile world flight, an unforeseen circumstance changed their plans. A clearance across Siberia was cancelled due to an HF radio failure over the Atlantic, which in turn caused a delay in Germany. Additionally, several mechanical and red tape delays extended the trip to nearly 25,000 miles from Manchester, departing on June 23, 1981, instead of Post’s flight of 15,000-plus miles, which began exactly 50 years earlier, on June 23, 1931. They flew a single-engine 1980 Beechcraft A36 Spirit of Winnie Mae, named after Post’s Lockheed Vega, the Winnie Mae. To read Calvin’s recollections of his around-the-world journey, please click here.
During his long and accomplished aviation career as an instructor, corporate pilot, airline pilot, flight manager, training manager and engineering test pilot, Calvin has flown antique planes to airshows, trained pilots and flown a multitude of single and multi-engine aircraft, including Twin Otters, DHC-7s, Aero Commanders, Metro IIIs, Lear Jets and Boeing 727s. He also worked for 10 years in public affairs for NASA at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field Naval Air Station, Calif.; and NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Calvin, 84, lives with his wife Wanda in the small Kentucky town of Sadieville, where he has a “log house on a small river, surrounded by wild life, fish, otters, beavers, and beautiful bluegrass and trees,” and where he stays “busier than ever.” Occasionally someone asks him to go flying, he says, “but time keeps flying even when I’m grounded. It’s great to be alive with good health and lots to do with good friends. Life has never been better, blessed and more challenging.”
In the past year, his complimentary comments have been a welcome addition to this blog, and recently he told me much more about his longtime fascination with Amelia’s disappearance. He’s known many of her friends, including Mae Post, Wiley’s wife; Gordon Post, Wiley’s brother; Clarence Page, Director of the former Oklahoma Air & Space Museum (now the History Museum of Oklahoma); Ernie Shults, Wiley’s mechanic, and Jimmie Mattern (1905-1988), who flew The Century of Progress Vega against Wiley Post in the 1933 solo around-the-world race, but crashed in Siberia. “It was Jimmie who loaned me Amelia’s thermos from her Atlantic flight to carry on a successful flight RTW,” Calvin wrote in a recent email.
“Mattern carried the thermos with him in 1933, but failed to finish the flight,” Calvin went on. “Finally, Amelia made it all the way around the world with me, even with the delays, disappointments, conquered challenges and final success. I have pictures holding that thermos with the Spirit of Winnie Mae in the background before the flight, and with 99’ers drinking from Amelia’s thermos in Lexington, Kentucky after the flight. Thoughts of her were very intense, especially as we flew near Howland after leaving Tarawa. Ironically, our fight began with Wiley in New York, transitioned to Amelia over the Pacific, and then ended with Wiley and Amelia as we returned to have dinner with a close friend of them both, Fay Gillis Wells. It was, to say the least, a surreal experience where you imagined you could actually feel their presence.”
Fay Gillis Wells (1908-2002) was the first woman pilot to bail out of an airplane to save her life, and one of the original founders of the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of licensed women pilots that now numbers over 6,500 members. “Her stories about Amelia were priceless,” Calvin wrote. “Fay was not only an intimate friend of Amelia, but was also the person who arranged Wiley’s fuel stops in Siberia in 1933 where her father was a businessman.”
Ernie Shults, Wiley Post’s mechanic in Bartlesville, Okla., was another old-timer who knew Amelia, Calvin recalled. “His stories about the difficulties of the 1934-’35 stratospheric flights in a wooden plane with a normally aspirated engine were priceless. Because of his mechanical stature, he had many contacts with Amelia.” Louise Thaden, the first woman pilot to win the Bendix Trophy Race and who is largely credited, along with Amelia Earhart, as the co-founder of the Ninety-Nines, used an engine Shults rebuilt. Shults passed away in 1997 at age 99.
Still two more of Calvin’s aviation acquaintances were Joe Crosson and his wife, Lillian. Joe was the first to fly over Antarctica and the first to make a landing on Mount McKinley’s glaciers, and was celebrated on radio, newspapers and even comic books. He helped Wiley Post complete his first solo flight around the world in 1933, and flew to Barrow, Alaska to retrieve Post and Will Rogers’ bodies in 1935. Post and Rogers stayed with the Crossons in Fairbanks before leaving for Barrow and their untimely deaths.
“Lillian fed them their last meal before the crash,” Calvin quoted her as telling him. “It bothered her, she told me, to think that they died a few hours later with her food in their stomachs. She and Joe were good friends with Amelia, and Joe’s sister, Marvel, was a competitor of Amelia’s in air races and knew her very well. Their family stories are treasures. There were numerous others, which gives me the feeling that I knew Amelia. (Italics mine.)
“Because of this,” Calvin continued, “with great information from EarhartTruth postings, I have spent literally hundreds of hours reading and writing about Amelia’s disappearance. Since I have a close friend who still lives in Saipan, my communication with her has verified the fact that the local rumors there are so well known, so numerous and so widely accepted that locals find it strange that Americans even question her presence there. My friend lives near the Japanese Jail where Amelia and Fred were taken. I have a passionate desire to visit Saipan, but age and expense will probably not allow me to realize that dream. All of this, and much more, is merely a way of illustrating that I share your deep interest in The Amelia Story.”
Thus in Calvin Pitts and Saipan’s Marie Castro, we have two of the last living links to Amelia Earhart, slightly indirect though they may be. I’ve never met Amy Kleppner, Amelia’s niece through her sister Muriel and only surviving direct relative, now 87, who publicly echoes the official, anachronistic crashed-and-sank line whenever asked. But if anyone else is out there who knew Amelia and is still living, I’m unaware of it.
Calvin has also extensively investigated the 1935 deaths of Wiley Post and Will Rogers in a plane crash in Alaska, and has written critically about the U.S. government’s failure to conduct a proper investigation into the tragedy, but it’s his interest in the Earhart disappearance that concerns us now.
Calvin has asked me to keep the spotlight away from him and on his analysis of Amelia and Fred’s last flight in this post, but it’s important for you to understand and appreciate what he has achieved — and who he’s known — in his extremely impressive aviation career. Calvin brings a lifetime of well-earned credibility, as well as objectivity and honesty, to his analysis of Amelia Earhart’s final flight.
At a time when the entire Western establishment’s hatred and aversion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance has never been worse, it’s heartening that a man who has been a well-known figure within that establishment comes forward to fully embrace the truth without apology. Following is Part I of Calvin’s analysis of Amelia’s last flight.
Amelia Earhart: DISAPPEARING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SKY
By Capt. Calvin Pitts, PART I
The following is a summary of a few clues which lead directly to Amelia’s fateful decision to disregard a previous Contingency Plan, designed by her and Gene Vidal, director of the Bureau of Air Commerce. By intent, it appears she made a deliberate decision to forget what had been agreed upon, going instead to the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands — on purpose. I posit here the tentative belief that ending up in the Marshalls was not the result of merely being lost, but was intentional, the details of which are just a little more than intriguing in the following post.
Any attempt to unravel the not-so-mysterious mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance must deal with both a WHAT and a WHY. After years of searching for answers by competent researchers, it is more than reasonably undergirded with solid evidence that the Electra’s pilot and navigator ended up on Saipan as prisoners of the Japanese.
After decades of work by men such as Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Jim Golden, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Thomas E. Devine, Donald Kothera and Bill Prymak, and recent investigations at Mili Atoll by Dick Spink and Les Kinney, as well as others like Mike Campbell writing about the answer to the Earhart disappearance, we can feel assured that we know WHAT became of the Electra pair.
They were captured by the Japanese near Barre Island at Mili Atoll where they crash-landed, taken to Jaluit Atoll, the Japanese headquarters in the Marshall Islands, and then flown to Saipan where they spent time in the Japanese Jail in Garapan, eventually dying while in captivity.
While that may be the end of the 1937 story, it is not THE END of the story that subsequent generations have extracted from tons of available evidence. We now know WHAT happened to them.
But the question remains unanswered: WHY?
Why did the Electra with such precious cargo as two beloved aviation professionals end up so far from Howland, and in Japanese hands in the Marshall Islands, a hotbed of war activity? Our government knew that a pending attack was coming by the Japanese on China. Our government knew that those islands should be avoided by civilians.
Based upon firsthand sources, my actual course for the Electra is not a straight line from Lae to Howland Island. Instead, due to a massive low-pressure system and serious thunderstorms sitting directly on the pre-planned course, the Electra flew directly east from Lae to the Solomon Islands, then northeast to the Nukumanu Islands (also known as Nukumanu Atoll and formerly Tasman Islands) hence northeast to Nauru Island, and then east toward Howland where the course turned dramatically northwest to the Marshalls from a distance approximating 200 miles from Howland, a small island 30-city-blocks-by-10-blocks wide.
Or could it be that the fact that our government knew these things was the very reason that The Amelia Story ended as it did? That is not an idle question.
In fact, Japan’s declaration of war on China (July 7, 1937) which was the precursor of World War II four years later against the United States (Dec 7, 1941), did actually happen a mere five days after the Electra’s disappearance on July 2, 1937.
So, WHY did Amelia and Fred end up at the Marshall’s Mili Atoll, approximately 750 statute miles from their decision point northwest of Howland Island?
Our government knew all of this because they had already broken the Japanese Diplomatic Code, as well as all their naval codes. Our leaders, especially President Franklin D. Roosevelt, knew that the Japanese were about to explode in war against China, at the time a U.S. ally.
Our leaders, especially FDR, knew that war between Japan and China was on the horizon, if not with us. THAT was no secret. Our government, especially FDR, knew this.
But the world also knew something else, namely that Earhart and Noonan were actually making a civilian round-the-world flight at that very time, and would be passing within close proximity of serious military activity in the Marshall Islands.
Our government, especially FDR, knew all of this — and more. So why didn’t they issue a clear warning to Amelia to be extremely careful on that leg from New Guinea over the Gilbert Islands en route to Howland – or did they?
Has something been kept from the American public for over 80 years? And one more WHY? Why, after all these years, is it impossible to see the classified records that deal with what they call a “mystery” disappearance, especially the details about the Navy’s efforts to find Amelia, Noonan and the Electra? If it truly is a “mystery,” why not let us read the records for ourselves, so we can help solve this? Why the secrecy?
Why is this civilian event, eight decades old, still off-limits to history researchers? What is our government still trying to hide — and WHY? Give that at least five seconds thought. A civilian flight in 1937 is still off limits for researchers. Why? Give us the records and we’ll tell you why.
Nevertheless, in this search for a reasonable answer, there are some key events and realities which provide clues for removing another factual layer from this “mystery onion.” Aside from the government’s role, here is a sampling of a few clues which lead up to the point of Amelia’s fatal decision to change something significant in her plans.
1. Drift Bombs: Noonan forgot the “drift bombs” at Lae, New Guinea, making it impossible with the drift indicator to determine daylight drift from the strong southeast crosswinds en route for the 2,556 statute mile, 18- to 20-hour flight in search of a very small island. Not knowing the amount of drift complicated the question about how far north-northwest they were from their course upon arriving within about 200 miles of their destination.
Those bombs were ceramic-type cylinders filled with either bronze or aluminum shavings dropped from about 1000 feet, breaking as they hit the water and spreading a reflective surface on the water that could be tracked with the drift sight, estimating both the direction and speed of the wind. After dark, magnesium water lights were available.
Some Electras had a Mk IIB Pelorus drift sight which could be used on either side of the aircraft provided the Sperry “Auto Gyro Auto Pilot” created a stable flight. With turbulence, accuracy was virtually impossible.
Amelia’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, offered a description of how the Electra’s type D-270 Speed & Drift Indicator worked: “An arrangement has been devised to open the cabin door about four inches, where it is held rigidly in place. A Pioneer drift indicator is mounted for use looking down through this aperture to check wind drift on the earth or sea below. For this work flares are used at night over water, smoke bombs in daylight.” (Morrissey, Muriel Earhart, Osborne, Carol L., Amelia, My Courageous Sister, Osborne Publisher, Inc., Santa Clara, 1987, p. 192)
There was some uncertainty regarding drift because Noonan forgot the “drift bombs.”
2. International Date Line: They crossed the IDL when within about 200 statute miles of Howland. Actually, according to my calculations on Google Earth, at an average ground speed of 145 to 150 mph, the Electra was within about five miles of the IDL at 1745z (Greenwich Mean Time, 6:15 a.m. local Howland time), when that important transmission of “about 200 miles out” was made, which was the time of sunrise at their destination. If due to extreme fatigue or busyness, Noonan forgot to adjust for that change in days, then the accuracy of his celestial calculations would be off by at least 60 nautical miles or more.
Just before this critical time of 6:15 am (1745z), here is some of Noonan’s workload: (We will assume that he had not been drinking the night before, and was not hung over, although there is one report to the contrary. We will assume that he was only dealing with extreme fatigue caused by much loss of sleep.)
(1) due to the reported clouds north and northwest of Howland, was he able to get good celestial calculations for an approximate position?
(2) what guess did he make for their unknown drift due to a strong crosswind, where the drift meter was not usable due to his forgetfulness?
(3) plotting that position on a chart;
(4) determining their distance from Howland;
(5) relaying this information to Amelia, via a fishing pole and card, for an important radio transmission at 6:15 (1745z), Howland’s sunrise, in compliance with their standard calls at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour;
(6) reviewing the “celestial landfall” approach;
(7) reviewing the “expanding box” technique of increasing the search area;
(8) fighting off the mental fog from extreme fatigue;
(9) remembering to change charts when passing over the International Date Line;
(10) preparing for the next fix 30 minutes later at 6:45 a.m. (1815z) where the deviation for the celestial landfall approach would be initiated;
(11) did Noonan take another star or moon shot to update their position?;
(12) did he forget to use a different celestial chart for the next day as they crossed the IDL? If he did, then his calculations were all wrong. This we will never know. But the coincidence of the mandatory 6:15 (1745z) radio call occurring at the very same time they were crossing the IDL was ironic, and was no small matter.
3. Celestial Landfall: Did Noonan suggest to Amelia that they use the “celestial landfall” technique for approaching Howland? As an instructor with Pan Am, it was Noonan’s practice to teach new navigators the technique of using a celestial Line of Position (LOP) as an imaginary “landfall,” whereby they would deliberately aim some miles north or south of their destination so that upon arriving at the celestial landfall, or “sun line,” they would know which way to turn toward their intended runway.
As one who professionally taught this method of approaching an island in an ocean, such as Wake Island on Pan Am’s scheduled route, it is inconceivable that he himself would not use it with Amelia when approaching such a small island as Howland. It is reasonable to assume that Noonan aimed north rather than south of their destination for the simple reason that their emergency landing occurred in the Marshall Islands, north of Howland.
Complicating this is the matter of cockpit communication. With their cramped quarters and navigation table between the two of them, how did Noonan explain this approach to Amelia? Did he do this at Lae, and if so, did such a detailed explanation register fully during the pressure of executing such an approach while fatigued and being distracted by various radio problems?
4. Expanding Box: In addition to the above, if one had difficulty locating an island with the celestial landfall approach, then Noonan taught an additional method which was called the “expanding box” technique. This maneuver consisted of a series of 90-degree turns with expanding legs of the box. This expanding box around a given point would hopefully and eventually allow them to locate their island. Time and heading, corrected for wind, was the key for executing this method of surrounding a point with an expanding box.
5. Explaining celestial landfall: As it applied to this specific approach to Howland:
(A) It was defined by the Line of Position (LOP) which occurred over Howland at 6:15 a.m. (1745z) sunrise. That definition is an imaginary line perpendicular to the sun’s azimuth listed in the navigational almanac for July 2, 1937, i.e. 067 degree azimuth creating a perpendicular “sun line” or LOP of 337 degrees NW or 157 degrees SE.
(B) However, the LOP at that time actually consisted of an “imaginary zone” of approximately 60 nautical miles in width from 6:15 a.m. (1745z) to 7:17 a.m. (1847z), the length of time the sun’s azimuth (the direction of a celestial object from the observer, expressed as the angular distance from the north or south point of the horizon to the point at which a vertical circle passing through the object intersects the horizon)** remained at 067 degrees. That meant that 7:16 am (1846z) was the outside limit of the existence of a “sun line” of 157°-337°, because the sun’s azimuth changed at 7:17 a.m.
** Put that into street language: Standing on Howland, you are standing at the center of an imaginary compass. Look due east. That is 90 degrees. Turn left 23 degrees. You are now looking at 67 degrees where the sun will break over the horizon. That gives you the sun’s azimuth at sunrise, 6:15 a.m. on July 2, 1937, a number published in the almanac that Noonan possessed.
(C) Translated: When you have time to explore some of the sites below, you’ll begin to see the impossible job Noonan had in explaining the concept to Amelia, and the impossible task she had trying to fly accordingly. If you’re on the 157-337 “sun line“ or LOP between 6:15 a.m. (1745z) and 7:17 a.m. (1846z) within 60 nautical miles of Howland, you might have success. If you’re a novice, you might want to think twice about actually trying this for the first time out over the open Pacific.
6. CONFUSION: At 8:43 a.m. (2013z, according to the Itasca log) almost 90 minutes after 1846z, Amelia made a radio call to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at Howland, stating that they were running “north and south” on the (sun) line 157°-337°. That, of course, was impossible since the sun’s azimuth had changed from 67° about 90 minutes earlier, thereby making a 157°-337° LOP nonexistent.
The difference in heading or course was minimal, but that is not the issue. Instead, the issue was the confusion illustrated by such a transmission. Noonan had undoubtedly used those course numbers more than an hour earlier, but obviously failed to explain how they changed with the sun’s changing azimuth. At 8:43 a.m. (2013z), Amelia was flying a heading, not a course. And with a very strong crosswind from the east, her position east and west was changing by the minute, even if her NW heading was a constant 337 degrees.
This confusion was greatly complicated by much additional radio confusion, which was extremely concerning to the Itasca crew who were doing their best to communicate. (The Itasca log and radio transmissions will be discussed later.)
7. Position: At 8:43 am (2013z), making an estimated calculation of her average ground speed of approximately 145-150 mph, PLUS making an estimated calculation for drift divergence from her desired easterly course, PLUS making an estimated pattern calculation for the celestial landfall approach, PLUS making an estimated pattern calculation for the expanding box technique, PLUS her radio transmission at 8:43 (2013z) stating that she was running north and south on the nonexistent “(sun) line 157-337,” all provide a reasonable and realistic “area” of position some 150-200 miles NW of Howland.
At 8:43 a.m. (2013z), with the last transmission (was it?) from Amelia as shown on the Itasca log, it had been 20-plus hours since their takeoff from Lae at 10 a.m. local Lae time (0000z):
- where they had a serious thunderstorm diversion and strong low pressure area;
- where they bucked excessively strong winds;
- where the clear night sky turned to overcast coverage making star sightings and celestial calculations impossible for long periods of time;
- where the drift meter was useless due to forgetting the drift bombs at Lae;
- where radio problems surfaced and transmissions from Lae and the Itasca were mostly unheard, a repeat of an earlier case of losing their receiver;
- where the Itasca had sent numerous Morse code messages (shown in the Itasca log), which went unacknowledged by the Electra, a verbalized frustration expressed by Bellarts and his radio crew;
- where there was confusion regarding direction finder “homing” on a signal which could not be received;
- where previous radio problems and incompatible frequencies re-appeared;
- where Amelia had discounted the pleas of George Putnam and Gene Vidal to abandon the flight in Lae;
- where Noonan’s drinking problem re-surfaced in Brazil and Lae;
- where the human factor of fatigue, due to excessive stress and lack of sleep reared its ugly head, and
- where Amelia was down to one last decision concerning the pre-flight Contingency Plan to reverse course for the Gilbert Islands.
UNDER THESE CONDITIONS, IT IS EASY TO UNDERSTAND WHY DECISION MAKING COULD BE IMPAIRED AND MISTAKES COULD BE MADE. BUT THE REALITY IS THIS: MUCH OF THEIR RADIO CONFUSION WAS SELF-INDUCED, WHICH CREATED PROBLEMS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED.
AS ONE LOOKS BACK TO HONOLULU AT HARRY MANNING’S DECISION TO LEAVE THE FLIGHT “DUE TO INADEQUATE RADIO CAPABILITY,” WE CAN APPRECIATE THE FACT THAT THEY HAD SET THEMSELVES UP FOR PROBLEMS WHICH NEED NOT HAVE HAPPENED. FOR THIS REASON, ALONG WITH “THE MILITARY CONNECTION,” WE WILL NEXT TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT WE CALL “THE RADIO DISCONNECTION.”
FURTHER, IF THERE WAS A BIGGER PLAN IN PLAY, AS WE WILL EXPLORE, THEN THE RADIO ISSUES COULD TAKE A BACK SEAT TO WHAT MAY REALLY HAVE BEEN HAPPENING.
End of “Clues” Part I
Your comments are welcome. Though I agree with much of Calvin’s analysis, some points of disagreement are to be expected in any analysis of Amelia’s last flight, when so much is yet unknown and educated speculation is the best anyone can do. I will refrain from expressing my views until Calvin’s complete analysis is published. For now, I want to extend my most sincere appreciation and thanks to Calvin for his learned and timely contribution.
Another July has nearly passed, a month when, for decades, two things have been certain. Many will flock to Atchison, Kansas for the annual Amelia Earhart Festival love-in on her July 24 birthday, and a new dose of recycled snake oil purporting to solve the so-called “Earhart Mystery” as dictated to media stenographers by Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR, the only “internationally recognized expert” to whom anyone should listen, will be injected into a culture sodden with lies about Amelia’s fate. We’ve been watching this revolting circus of endless deceit for 30 years now, with no relief in sight.
Last year Gillespie brought cadaver dogs to Nikumaroro to search for the remains of the lost fliers. Words fail to express how utterly ridiculous this idea was, once one understands how many people lived and died there since the late 1930s, none of them Earhart or Fred Noonan! Even more ludicrous, the U.S. and world media reported this absurd spectacle as if it were a serious attempt to find the lost fliers, while an ignorant, incurious public looked on without a word of protest against this attack on all common sense.
(Editor’s note: Soon after this post was published, TIGHAR’s Tom King Ph.D. wrote to inform us that “Ric didn’t take the forensic dogs to Nikumaroro; he opposed our taking them. You can blame National Geographic and me for that outrage.”)
We can fairly wonder why our esteemed media gatekeepers never asked TIGHAR’s boss why he would be looking for Earhart’s bones on Nikumaroro, when the bones found there in 1940 were long gone, and according to University of Tennessee professor Richard L. Jantz, were almost certainly Earhart’s? On March 7, 2018, The Washington Post covered the story thusly: “Bones discovered on an island are hers, a new analysis shows.”
This July, Gillespie didn’t ask the credulous to believe that a jar of freckle cream, discarded pieces of aluminum, an old shoe sole, a zipper, a woman’s compact or even long disappeared human bones are proof that Earhart and Fred Noonan landed on Nikumaroro in the Phoenix Islands and died of starvation a week later on an island overflowing with food and water sources.
Gillespie has taken a more subtle approach this year, perhaps realizing that nearly everyone except the truly brain dead have had their fill of the annual hysteria and phony hype about the imminent “solution to the Earhart mystery” that he and his minions will soon produce. These disinformation drills are always followed by absolutely nothing, as another worthless claim is debunked and falls by the wayside, relegated to the garbage pile of the assorted flotsam and jetsam that Gillespie and his cronies have scraped and dug out of Nikumaroro, where hundreds of native settlers and even U.S. Coast Guardsmen lived from the late 1930s to the ’60s.
In a lengthy paper titled “The Post-loss Radio Signals” he authored with Robert Brandenburg, Gillespie brings out his trademark bells, whistles, colorized graphs and charts that have long dazzled and bamboozled the unwary and made him infamous among the literate to proclaim: “As with Dr. Jantz’s findings, the patterns and relationships emerging from the data show that TIGHAR has answered the 81-year-old question: what really happened to Amelia Earhart?” None of this is new, and nothing Gillespie conjures up will ever place the lost fliers on Nikumaroro, because they were never there, as a mountain of legitimate evidence tells all who bother to take their eyes off the shiny objects TIGHAR is constantly waving at them.
The Washington Post, long a stalwart in the TIGHAR water-carrying brigade, led the way in this season’s current propaganda blitz with its July 25 story, “Amelia Earhart’s last calls: Research suggests dozens heard radioed cries for help.” Here’s the key excerpt from the Post story we will focus on forthwith:
On July 3, for example, Nina Paxton, an Ashland, Ky., woman, said she heard Earhart say “KHAQQ calling,” and say she was “on or near little island at a point near” . . . “then she said something about a storm and that the wind was blowing.”
“Will have to get out of here,” she says at one point. “We can’t stay here long.”
Note that the Washington Post says nothing about where the radio signals came from that Paxton claims she heard, despite the fact that Paxton named that location in some of her letters. Of course not, because the Marshall Islands are nowhere near Nikumaroro, where Gillespie and TIGHAR’s cash cow lives.
Fox News, along with the rest of the usual suspects, followed the Post story with its own version of the same agitprop, and three comments with my name and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last were expunged shortly after they appeared on the Fox News site. This was reported to me by staunch supporter William Trail, who notices such things. When it comes to the Earhart story, Fox News is far worse than the hated Washington Post, which Fox demeans as being too liberal. Can you blame me for despising this “fair and balanced” news Gestapo?
At least the Post briefly mentioned Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last in its new article, and even provided a link to its July 11, 2017 story, which gave me a few paragraphs to vent, thanks to Amy B. Wang, the story’s co-author who took the time to briefly interview me. Pigs will fly before Fox News or any of the other mainline media would even consider doing such a thing.
Longtime researcher Les Kinney has plenty more to say about Paxton’s claims, and he doesn’t file his stories with Fox News, the Washington Post or any other news organizations, for obvious reasons. Occasionally he brings his work here, where the truth is always welcome and most appreciated, especially when it sheds new light on nagging questions.
The last time we heard from Kinney was his March 9 dismantling of the aforementioned TIGHAR-Richard Jantz-bones fantasies. Although we still differ over his belief about the identity of the figure sitting on the dock in the Jaluit-ONI photo of History Channel infamy, as far as I can discern, we agree on virtually everything else of significance.
Without further delay, here’s some real Earhart news, courtesy of an Earhart researcher whose findings, with one well-known exception, will not be found in our corrupt media. (All boldface mine.)
The Nina Paxton Papers
By Les Kinney
At about 2:20 in the afternoon of July 3, 1937, Nina Paxton was fiddling with the tuner on her Philco radio in Ashland, Kentucky. Suddenly, she heard Amelia Earhart “In a very clear strong voice.” For a few seconds, Nina attended to the needs of her five-year old son thinking Miss Earhart must be on a training flight. When she then realized Amelia was crying for help, she listened and took a few notes. A few minutes later, Earhart was gone.
Until her death on Christmas Day, 1970, Nina Paxton told anyone who would listen that Earhart had crash landed in the Marshall Islands. She tried to remember everything she heard that day. She began standing vigil over her radio listening to the short wave band hoping to hear Amelia again. A few years later, Nina wrote to Rand McNally looking for information on the Marshall Islands. She developed a guilt complex and believed she hadn’t done enough to save Earhart’s life. She searched for new memories, words or phrases Amelia might have said on that early July afternoon that might have previously escaped her. No one seemed to believe her. In the mid-1940s, she wrote to the Office of Naval Intelligence, Walter Winchell, and the FBI. Toward the end of her life she corresponded with Fred Goerner, the bestselling author of The Search for Amelia Earhart. Nina’s letters always carried the same general message: Amelia Earhart landed in the Marshall Islands.
Skeptics said Nina could have gotten her information from newspapers, radio, and seeing the 1943 movie Flight for Freedom. The fact that Nina waited a full week to tell her local newspaper didn’t help her credibility. On July 9, 1937, the following brief article appeared in the Ashland Daily Independent. It differs from Nina’s notes from July and August 1937. Nina had more to say than the local reporter sent to print:
Mrs. C.B. Paxton, 3024 Bath Avenue, told the Independent she heard the distress message of Amelia Earhart noted American woman flyer lost in the Pacific ocean last Saturday afternoon at two o’clock. Miss Earhart and her navigator Frederick J. Noonan, last were heard from in the air at 2:12 EST last Friday when they said they had only a supply of gas good for thirty minutes.
“The message came in on my short wave set very plain,” Mrs. Paxton said, “and Miss Earhart talked for some time. I turned the radio down one time to talk to my little child and then turned it back up to catch the last part of the message.
“I didn’t understand everything Miss Earhart had said,” Mrs. Paxton told the Independent,“ because there was some noise. She gave the following message as she understood it:
“Down in ocean,” then Miss Earhart either said ‘on,’ ‘or’ [sic] near little island at a point near. . . .” After that Mrs. Paxton understood her to say something about “directly northeast,” although she was not sure about that part. “Our plane about out of gas. Water all around very dark.” Then she said something about a storm and that the wind was blowing. ‘Will have to get out of here,’ she said. “We can’t stay here long.”
The message was preceded by Miss Earhart’s call letters, “KHAQQ calling, KHAQQ calling.”
Because Nina’s letters in the 1940s were so passionate, I suspected what she had to say was true. Why would she lie? Nina was educated, married, a registered nurse, and had no bone to pick. When I started investigating her background, I found out she died a widow in Ashland, Ky., Christmas Day in 1970. She left no family. Her husband passed away in 1954. Her son got into one scrape after another until he ended up in prison.
It took me three years and quite a bit of luck to locate the Paxton papers. Eventually, I discovered Nina’s Earhart files at tiny Mars Hills University in the mountains of western North Carolina. They were donated to the university by a wife of a doctor that had worked with Nina in the 1950s. The Paxton box had been collecting dust in a library storeroom since 1975.
I planned to report the Paxton findings in the book I am writing on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Recent events caused me to change my mind. TIGHAR just released a new Post Loss Radio Study touting the claims of Betty Klenck in 1937 as a 15-year-old claimed to have heard Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on her home radio for several days. None of the post-loss radio messages collected by TIGHAR give a location where Amelia and Fred went down. The Paxton papers tell us Earhart and Noonan went down in the Marshall Islands. Mars Hills University recently put a few of Nina Paxton’s letters on the internet: http://southernappalachianarchives.org/ /show/4. It is time to share my findings.
There are over a hundred letters, some notes, and a few newspaper and magazine clippings making up the Paxton material. I copied them all. The first letter is dated July 14, 1937. Nina continued to write and offer insight into the Earhart disappearance until close to her death. After reviewing all the files, it appears there might be a few writings and reference notes missing.
At about 2 p.m. on July 3, 1937, local time, Nina Paxton heard Amelia Earhart’s distressed voice announce she had gone down in the Marshall Islands. Nina had no idea where the Marshall Islands were located. Nor did she know the call sign for Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra wasn’t KHABQ. After hearing Earhart on her radio, Nina went to the Ashland Police Department and then to a nearby Coast Guard Station to report what she had heard. They laughed at her and said the call sign for Earhart’s Electra was KHAQQ. It was for this reason that Nina didn’t tell the local press of Earhart’s distress message until July 9, 1937. Nina had no idea the call sign for Earhart’s previous plane, a Lockheed Vega, was KHABQ. A tired, exhausted, worried and emotionally drained Amelia Earhart blurted out her old call sign the day Nina heard the distress message on July 3, 1937. It would have been an easy thing to do.
Nina Paxton heard the only post-loss radio report giving a specific location where Amelia and Fred landed. During the two months following Earhart’s disappearance, Nina enclosed her rough notes in the letters she sent to Mrs. Noonan, George Palmer Putnam, Walter Winchell and Congressman Fred M. Vinson. Nina typed the rough notes out twice and tried not to embellish what she had heard. She created spaces where she was unsure of a word or phrase. The first rough note is without a heading. The second one is titled, “Call of a Courageous Lady.” She didn’t like that either and scratched it out.
In some of her later notes, which aren’t on Mars Hill’s web site, Nina wonders why Amelia used the time of her arrival as 2:20. She possibly thought Earhart might have converted the time to Eastern Standard Time and makes that point in later letters. Nina puts this confusion in parentheses. Nina’s two rough notes held by Mars Hill University seem to be a cumulative compilation she completed sometime in August 1937. Nina says “the plane was damaged in landing near a part of Marshall Islands.” Amelia says Noonan was injured, and that he “doesn’t walk very well, and that he (Noonan) bruised his leg badly when landing.”
(Editor’s note: This detail about Noonan’s leg injury is directly reflected by eyewitness Bilimon Amaron’s account to several researchers, including Vincent V. Loomis. See pages 107-108 in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story.)
In a letter to George Putnam dated Aug. 5, 1937, Nina writes she found a piece of scratch paper she had written while listening to Earhart. “Miss Earhart mentioned three little islands. The little one (perhaps a reef) they were on, north of Howland Island at a point very near an island she called “Marshall.” (Sadly, this little piece of scratch paper is missing from the Mars Hill holdings.) Rather naively, Nina tells George Putnam in a letter dated Aug. 5, 1937, “If there is an island known by the name of Marshall and it can be contacted, I believe it well worthwhile to do so at once as I am sure Miss Earhart, and Captain Noonan will be found in this area.”
Early researchers Vincent Loomis and Oliver Knaggs in the late 1970s and early 1980s focused their attention on the middle of three islands at Mili Atoll. On my recent trips to Mili Atoll, we discovered airplane artifacts in the middle of three small islands. Nina’s rough notes indicate she heard Earhart say, “Directly north-east of a part of Marshall Islands, 90 ****173 longitude and 5 latitude. We missed our course yesterday and came up here.”
No one knows whether Fred Noonan carried sectional maps for the Marshall Islands. The U.S. Navy hadn’t the opportunity to map the area since the Japanese took control in 1914. It wasn’t on their planned route and its likely Fred had to rely on an old British map of the Pacific from his seafaring days. There is a picture of Amelia and Fred on the internet standing next to the tail of the Electra looking over such a map. If they relied on that map, Fred would have only had a general idea where he and Amelia had gone down.
When Nina heard Amelia Earhart on the afternoon of July 3, 1937, she scratched down a few words where Amelia said they had landed. “90 ******173 longitude and 5 latitude.“ If you look on a map, 5 degrees North latitude and 173 East longitude is not far from Mili Atoll. (End of “Nina Paxton Papers.” )
I devoted nine pages of Chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals,” in Truth at Last, a section titled “The ‘Post-Loss’ Radio Messages,” (pages 40-49 TAL 2nd Ed.) to an examination of most of the significant alleged receptions from Amelia, but omitted Nina Paxton’s claims because at the time I wasn’t enthusiastic about them and hadn’t properly researched the Paxton claims to write about them intelligently. Thanks to Les Kinney, we’re now much smarter about Nina Paxton.
So what are we to believe? Did Amelia Earhart send radio messages from her downed Electra, transmissions that were heard by Nina Paxton in Ashland, Ky., by Pan American Airways, U.S. Navy stations in the central Pacific and numerous amateur radio operators in the continental United States? I’m not technically smart enough to claim any special insights, but I’ve presented the educated verdicts of several experts in radio propagation and reception capabilities of the day in several posts. For what its worth, I think Nina Paxton’s account could be the most compelling of all these alleged messages, and should be taken seriously at the very least.
You can find an extensive discussion of the significant post-loss messages in the three posts I wrote on this subject in 2014:
Earhart’s “post-loss messages”: Real or fantasy?“ published April 30, 2014, followed by “Experts weigh in on Earhart’s ‘post-loss’ messages“ two weeks later, and finally “Amelia Earhart’s alleged ‘Land in sight’ message remains a curiosity, if not a mystery | Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last“ on May 27, 2014.
Anyone familiar with the Earhart saga knows that in 1987 the Republic of the Marshall Islands issued a set of four commemorative stamps and envelope covers in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Amelia’s crash-landing off Barre Island, in the northwest section of Mili Atoll, on July 2, 1937.
The story depicted in the stamps is based largely on the narrative in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, though not all of it can be considered accurate. For example, no evidence exists to support the idea presented by the authors of the one-page information sheet issued with the stamps that the fliers were taken from Jaluit to Truk, and then to Saipan. On the contrary, we have plenty of witness testimony that Earhart and Noonan were taken from Jaluit to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.
Likewise, the statement that Earhart and Noonan, once realizing they were lost, “implemented their contingency plan and turned into a WNW course for the Gilberts,” and eventually found themselves at Mili Atoll, is speculation and not a known fact. Though this could have happened, we simply do not know precisely how or why Earhart and Noonan landed off Barre Island, only that they did indeed do so.
Shortly after publication of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, in the summer of 2012, Frank Benjamin, an Earhart researcher and educator who was teaching at Anne Arundal Community College, in Arnold, Md., sent me the syllabus for his course, “Mysteries of History and Science.”
The Earhart disappearance was the featured event in “Mysteries of History and Science,” and Truth at Last was the only textbook named in the syllabus. To my knowledge, this was the first and only time this book has been the textbook for a college course, thanks to Benjamin.
Among the materials Frank sent me was the original information sheet that described the creation of the 1987 Marshall Islands stamps and covers, issued by the Marshall Islands Philatelic Bureau. Below, for both the discerning collector and the slightly interested, is the contents of the sheet’s contents, and some of the covers and stamps that it described.
The disappearance of American aviatrix Amelia Earhart during her around-the-world flight attempt in 1937 has been one of aviation’s great unsolved mysteries. Recent investigations by Vincent Looms and David Kabua (son of Marshalls President Amata Kabua) have led to eyewitness accounts of what happened to Earhart and her navigator Frederick Noonan. This issue is based on those accounts.
The Amelia Earhart commemorative is the Marshall Islands CAPEX ’87 issue, released concurrently at Majuro, capital of the Marshalls, and Toronto, Canada. Earhart tended wounded soldiers in a Toronto hospital during World War I, and her first brush with the excitement of aviation came at the Toronto Aero Club Fete of 1918.
Her associations with Canada continued: her 1928 flight, in which she was the first woman to fly the Atlantic, went from Boston, MA, Halifax, NS, and Trepassey, NWF to Carmarthen Bay, Wales; her flight of 1932, when she became the first woman to solo the Atlantic, was routed from Teterboro, NJ to St. John, NB, to harbor Grace, NWF and on to Culmore, Ireland.
At 10 a.m. on July 2, 1937, Earhart’s Electra took off from the Cliffside runway at Lae, New Guinea bound for Howland Island, via the Nikumanus and Nauru; if she reached it all right, the remaining legs to Hawaii and California would be easy. A Guinea Airways pilot [probably Jim Collopy], who saw her takeoff, commented that the craft was so overloaded that it dropped off the end of the runway and wet its props in the Gulf of Huon before Earhart could get to flying speed.
Awaiting her on Howland Island, 2500 [actually 2,556] miles away, was the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, equipped with the latest navigation and communication devices. Commander Warner K. Thompson had search lights aimed skyward all night as a beacon; with the dawn, the Itasca began burning bunker oil, which put out a black plume visible for thirty miles around. An experimental Navy direction-finding unit (DF) was set on Howland itself, and officers also scanned the skies with binoculars.
All through the night and the next morning, radio operators struggled to establish two-way communications with the Electra. Earhart’s transmissions would drift in and out, but she seemed unable to understand messages the Coast Guardsmen were sending, and she never stayed on the air long enough for them to fix her position. Each succeeding broadcast seemed more desperate and confused, until, two hours after sunrise locally, her last message: “We are on the line of position 157-337. We are running north and south.” Then, fifty years of silence.
Thinking they were south of Howland Island, but unable to find it, Earhart and Noonan implemented their contingency plan and turned into a WNW course for the Gilberts. However, since they were north of Howland, their new course carried them directly over Mili Atoll, most southeasterly of the Japanese-held Marshall Islands.
Two Mili fishermen on Barre Island, Lijon and Jororo Alibar, saw a silver plane approach and crash-land on the nearby reef, breaking off part of its right wing. The two Marshallese hid in the underbrush and watched as two white people exited the wreck and came ashore in a yellow raft. A little while later Japanese soldiers arrived to take hold of the fliers. When the shorter flier screamed, the Marshallese realized one was a woman. They remained hidden until long after the captives were taken away.
The Japanese Navy Survey Ship Koshu was sent from Ponape to Barre Island to pick up Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. The canvas sling the Koshu normally used for plucking Japanese seaplanes from the water was still around the big silver bird when the ship returned to Jaluit on July 19, where Japanese Medical Corpsman Bilimon Amaran [sic], who treated Noonan’s crash injuries, boarded the ship and saw Earhart.
The Koshu then sailed immediately for Truk, where Earhart and Noonan were taken aboard a flying boat to Saipan, the Japanese military headquarters in the Pacific. Saipanese Josephine Blanco witnesses the Japanese plane land in Tanapag Harbor, and she was taken by her brother-in-law, a Japanese working at the base, to see the Americans.
Earhart and Noonan were considered spies by the Japanese and so were held on Saipan for questioning. Their fate remains unknown.
This stamp [sic] is based in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, by Vincent Loomis. It was designed by William R. Hansen, Lunar Artist-Apollo 16, who also designed the CPAEX cancel and cachet and wrote this panel. The House of Questa printed the issue to the standard commemorative specifications.
I should not have to mention that Loomis was not alone in his findings that revealed the presence of the lost fliers at Mili Atoll in early July 1937. The investigations of other authors and researchers, including Fred Goerner, Oliver Knaggs, Bill Prymak, and most recently Dick Spink and Les Kinney have strongly corroborated the truth depicted in the 1987 commemorative stamps issued by the Republic of the Marshall Islands. But what has always been accepted as fact by the Marshallese people continues to be denied by the U.S. government and falsely labeled a “mystery,” while virtually nobody ever questions or challenges one of the greatest lies in American history.