Tag Archives: Paul Rafford Jr.

Rafford and Horner on the bogus Howland log

Today we take a look at the Howland Island radio log through the eyes of two of history’s most accomplished and respected Earhart researchers, Paul Rafford Jr. and Dave Horner.  The questions raised by the multiple discrepancies between the two sets of radio logs associated with the Earhart flight, the radio room of the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca and the one kept on Howland Island, are disturbing to say the least, and open doors to a wide range of justifiable speculation about what was really going on during those critical hours in the morning of July 2, 1937.  

The following article appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Boldface and italic emphasis mine unless noted. 

“The Cipriani/Howland Island Radio Log: Fact or Fiction?”
by Paul Rafford Jr., Jan. 25, 1998

In 1994, while looking for a friend’s address in the Radio Amateur Call Book, former Naval Officer and retired radio engineer John P. Riley suddenly caught sight of a familiar name, Yau Fai Lum.  This had been the name of the radio operator on Howland Island during Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated flight.  Could the Yau Fai Lum listed in the call book be the same one? — He was!  And as a result, John’s discovery set in motion an exchange of correspondence with Lum that now challenges the credibility of the Coast Guard’s Earhart files.

Howland was one of the Pacific islands occupied by the United States during the 1930s using civilian personnel under contract to the Department of Interior.  In addition to sustaining America’s claim to the islands, the colonists collected weather information and radioed it to Honolulu.  In order to keep expenses to a minimum, the Department used adventurous young amateur radio operators and their equipment to man the weather network, rather than professionals.

Yau Fai Lum, undated.  Courtesy of Paul Rafford Jr.

By chance, three of these radio operators were on Howland at the time Earhart was to arrive.  Yau Fai Lum was the operator assigned to Howland, while Ah Kin Leong and Henry Lau were traveling aboard the Itasca, en route either to or from their assignments on Baker and Jarvis.  They were sent ashore to help prepare for Earhart’s arrival.  [Coast Guard] Radioman [2nd Class] Frank Cipriani, ashore from the Itasca, was assigned to operate the high frequency direction finder.

According to the Itasca’s report and radio logs, after the ship departed in search of Earhart, Cipriani, Leong, and Lau remained on the island with Lum.  Under Cipriani’s direction, they would maintain a watch on her frequencies and use the direction finder to obtain bearings, if possible.  Except during periods of battery charging, contact would be made with the Itasca every few hours.

Copies of the Howland radio log, allegedly kept by Cipriani and the Interior Department radio operators, can be found in the National Archives.  The entries reflect bona fide activities that would be expected to occur, such as watch changes, battery charging periods, attempts at direction finding, and exchanges of communication with the Itasca.  However, there is one obvious error.  Items that we know happened on July 2 carried a July 3 dateline.

After locating Lum, Riley exchanged correspondence with him for several months. Although suffering from the infirmities of old age, Lum’s mind was clear and memory good.  But, to Riley’s amazement, he completely denied having taken any part in keeping radio watches for Cipriani.  In fact, Lum denied ever having met him.

When Riley pointed out his difficulty in believing that the two men could have lived together on Howland for two weeks without meeting, Lum emphatically declared that Cipriani had not been on the island during that period.  But he did not deny that Cipriani could have been on the island for brief periods before Earhart’s disappearance.  He pointed out that any work Cipriani did would have been in the Coast Guard’s own radio shack, some distance from Lum’s station at Government House.  He writes, “I did not interfere with their duties and stayed out of the way.”

A close-up look at the Howland Island camp, taken Jan. 23, 1937, that was equipped with a shower for Amelia Earhart that she never enjoyed.  The Coast Guard built an outdoor shower with water supplied by a 50 gallon drum mounted on top of a 10-foot-high platform.  (National Archives.)

Henry Lau was now deceased, but Lum was able to put Riley in touch with Leong. He verified what Lum had claimed, and wrote the following:

Sept. 4, 1994
“No idea who wrote the false log.  I stand no radio watch on Howland IslandCipriani, Henry Lau and me were on the Coast Guard cutter Itasca when it left Howland Island looking for Earhart.”

By law, radio operators must sign their names when going on and off watch. However, Lum’s first name, Yau, is repeatedly misspelled ’Yat’.  His comment is, “If I really wrote that log, how come I misspelled my own name?”

If, as it appears, the Howland log is a fraud, then what about the authenticity of the Itasca’s log?  In order to check it, those entries in the Howland log referring to contacts with the Itasca were compared with the Itasca’s log entries.  In nearly all cases where the Howland log indicates a contact with the Itasca, there is a corresponding entry in the Itasca’s log.  So, if the Howland log is a forgery, then at least some of the entries in the Itasca’s log are forgeries.

Sixty years later, which are we to believe: the word of two old gentlemen who have no reason to bear false witness: — or our Government’s questionable records?  I prefer to believe the two elderly gentlemen.

But, we must question, if the log is false why would our Government have engaged in such a surreptitious effort to make it appear that Earhart’s frequency was monitored with a direction finder on Howland for ten days after her disappearance?  But if true, why classify it for 25 years?  (End of Rafford’s comments.  Rafford passed away in December 2016 at 97.)

Even more comprehensively than Rafford, Dave Horner, and author and former AES member who’s still with us, examines this complex situation and devotes his entire Chapter 6, “The Howland Direction Finder,” in his fine 2013 book, The Earhart Enigma (Pelican Publishing Co.), to a comprehensive look at the Howland Island direction finder, the personnel assigned to Howland Island and the serious questions the phony Howland Island radio log raised and continues to raise about Earhart’s final flight.  

“Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know?”  Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937.  Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up.  Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs).  Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island.”

In his wide-ranging chapter, Horner expands on the information Rafford referenced in his AES Newsletters story from radio propagation expert John P. Riley Jr.’s 2000 story, The Earhart Tragedy: Old Mystery, New Hypothesis,which appeared in the August 2000 issue of Naval History Magazine (available by subscription only).  Other sources Horner cites are 1994 and 1995 letters from Yau Fai Lum to John Riley, and Rafford himself.  None of it puts Cmdr. Warner Thompson in a favorable light.

Horner begins this lengthy, complex chapter by stating that the “July 29 [actually July 19] 1937 report “Earhart Flight” [Radio transcripts, Earhart flight] by Cmdr. Warner K. Thompson, Itasca’s commanding officer “raised more questions than it answered.” 

This is a huge understatement, and the confusing situation among personnel on Howland Island, as well as the capabilities of the direction finder placed there to assist in helping Earhart find a safe landing on Howland, doesn’t easily lend itself to a complete treatment here, given the limitations of this blog and its editor, who has never possessed or claimed any significant degree of technical acumen. 

Unlike some, Horner held Rafford in some esteem, calling the former NASA specialist “always a gentleman,” and drew from his work throughout Chapter 6 of The Earhart Enigma.

This whole affair of the Howland DF log didn’t get messy until Yau Fai Lum claimed years later that Cipriani did not remain on Howland but returned to the ship,”  Horner wrote.  All of this surfaced in the early 1990s, when Lum told Earhart researcher and author Paul Rafford and John Riley, both contemporary radio experts, that he had never even met Cipriani.”  Horner continued:

Rafford was stunned.  “Never met Cipriani?  According to the log of the Itasca you were on that flyspeck of an island for over two weeks with him.  How could you possibly not have met him in all of that time?”

Lum responded directly and to the point.  Cipriani was only on Howland Island the evening before and early morning of Earhart’s anticipated arrival.

. . . Rafford continued his questions of Lum:  There are daily direction finding reports written until the search was over.  Your name is there, along with Cipriani’s. [Ah Kin] Leong, and [Henry] Lau.  You all stood FD watches.  Your name is right there in black and white!  How can you deny this?

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.  He has said that “One or two things should never be published as long as anyone on the Itasca remains alive.”  

Lum illustrated this disparity with one immeasurable comment: If I signed or typed the log, how could I misspell my own name?  Yat instead of Yau [Italics Horner’s.]  Our names as well as our call signs are typed, not signed by us.  It is a counterfeit!”

Horner called the above an almost unbelievable development.  The Itasca report from Commander Thompson placed Ah Kin Leong and Henry Lau ashore on Howland Island in order to assist Cipriani staff the high-frequency DF.  But Lum asserted, ‘That is a false report, full of –.’ ”  Lum explained that neither he nor any of the radio operators on Howland were trained or capable of operating the high frequency direction finder — Cipriani was the only one there who was trained to operative the HF/DF. 

All this should be disturbing to anyone who has put any faith in the official Itasca Radio Logs, Itasca Cruise Report or “Radio transcripts, Earhart flight,all of which were produced by or under the auspices and responsibility of Cmdr. Thompson.  

Big questions have never been answered, to wit: Who tampered with the Itasca and Howland Island logs, and why?  Just as disturbingly, what other changes were made to the Itasca and Howland logs — what might have been added, subtracted or in any way made to misrepresent the truth about Earhart’s final flight and the hours immediately after her last message at 0843 Howland Island time?

See my March 31, 2015 post, Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know?as you further consider what really occurred in the final hours of the Earhart flight, as well as how and why these strange, irregular occurrences have affected the entire official face of the Earhart disappearance. 

In a 1973 interview with crashed-and-sank author Elgen Long, former Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts said, “One or two things should never be published as long as anyone on the Itasca remains alive.”  What could Bellarts have meant?

For anyone who’s interested in further studying the Howland Island direction finder and all that it entailed, I strongly recommend The Earhart Enigma, available in used, inexpensive copies on Amazon, as well as new. 

Rafford’s questions about Earhart comms conclusion

We continue with the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding”  This analysis appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.

Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding”  (Part II of two.)
by Paul Rafford Jr.

June 22, 1993

Why was the Howland direction finder never able to get bearings on Earhart?

The reasons here are several fold.  Primarily, it was because Earhart never stayed on the air long enough for an operator to take a bearing.  But, even if she had stayed on longer, the combination of her low transmitting power with the inadequacy of the jerry-rigged aircraft DF on Howland, would have limited its range to less than 50 miles.  In other words, on a clear day she could have seen the island before the island could have taken a bearing on her.

The questions that arise out of this fiasco are:

1) Why did whoever organized the project of setting up the direction finder on Howland not know of its extreme limitation?

2) Why did Earhart, supposedly a consultant to the government on airborne direction finders, never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds?

Why did Earhart ask for 7500 kHz [kilohertz] in order to take bearings on the Itasca, considering it could not be used with her direction finder?

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

Supposedly, “7500” came about through Earhart’s ignorance of the two different designations for radio channels.  It has been theorized that she confused 750.0 meters with 7500 kHz.  Of course, 750.0 meters is 400 kHz, a bona fide beacon frequency, while 7500 kHz is 40 meters.

It would appear that not only did she get meters and kilocycles mixed up but she overlooked the decimal point.

Bob Lieson, a former co-worker of mine had done a stint on Howland Island as radio operator shortly after Earhart’s disappearance.  I asked him if the Itasca might have used 7500 kHz for any other purpose than to send dashes for Earhart. Oh yes, he replied, “We used 40 meters for contact with the Coast Guard cutters when they were standing off shore.”

This brings up two questions:

1) Could it have been that Earhart was not confusing meters and kilocycles but knew ahead of time that 7500 kHz was the Itasca’s link with Howland so would be available on call?

2) Why would Noonan, both a navigator and radio operator, let Earhart make the potentially fatal mistake of trying to take bearings on 7500?

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

Why did Earhart not seize on the one occasion where she heard the Itasca and knew it was hearing her, to try and establish communication with the crew?

This is the most incredible part of the Earhart saga.  At 1928 GMT she announced, Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles.”  Then, at 1933 GMT she announced, We received your signal but unable to get a minimum.”  Supposedly, she is hopelessly lost and about to run out of gas.  Now, after searching for Howland for over an hour, for the first time she is hearing the Itasca and knows the ship is hearing her.  Does she breathe a giant sigh of relief because she has finally made contact with the crew?  Of course they are using code but Noonan is a radio operator and can copy code while replying to the ship by voice on 3105 kHz.

No!  Instead of desperately trying to keep in contact, Earhart is not heard from for over forty minutes.  When she returns to the air it is only to make one brief, last transmission.  She declares she is flying north and south on a line of position 157-337 and will switch to 6210.  The Itasca never hears her again.

The Mysterious Post-Flight Radio Transmissions

What was the source or sources of the mysterious signals heard on Earhart’s frequencies that began just hours after her disappearance and lasted for several days?

During the hours and days immediately following Earhart’s disappearance, various listeners around the Pacific heard mysterious signals on her frequencies.

Ten hours after the Itasca last heard her, the crew of the HMS Achilles intercepted an exchange of signals between a radiotelephone station and a radiotelegraph station on 3105 khz.  The telephone station requested, “Give us a few dashes if you get us.”  The telegraph station replied with several long dashes.  The telephone station then announced, “KHAQQ, KHAQQ.”  (Earhart’s call letters).

Believing they were hearing the plane safely down somewhere, the Achilles sent the U.S. Navy a message to that effect.  However, in its reply, the Navy denied this possibility.

Two hours later, Nauru Island heard the highly distorted voice of a woman calling on 6210 khz.  They reported that, although they could not understand the words, the voice sounded similar to Earhart’s when she had passed by the island the night before.  However, this time there was “– no hum of engines in the background.”

West Coast amateur radio operators Walter McMenamy (left) and Carl Pierson, circa 1937, claimed they heard radio signals sent by Amelia Earhart, including two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Karl Pierson and a group of his radio engineering colleagues set up a listening watch on Earhart’s frequencies.  During the early morning hours of July 3rd, they heard SOS calls on 6210 kHz both voice and telegraph.  Of particular interest was the fact that the voice was a woman’s.  However, neither call included enough information to identify the plane’s position or status.

The Pan Am stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu managed to pick up a number of weak, unstable radio signals on Earhart’s frequencies and take a few bearings.  But, the stations never identified themselves or transmitted any useful information.

Despite his failure to get bearings earlier, the Howland operator got a bearing on a fairly strong station shortly after midnight on July 5th.  It indicated the transmitter was either north northwest or south southeast of Howland.  But, again there was no identification or useful information from the station.

The question that arises here is, were the distress calls heard by Karl Pierson and his group authentic?  If they were, why did the calls not include more information?  If they were not, who would have sent them and why?

Earhart’s “post-loss messages”: Real or fantasy?and Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages.”

Rafford asks tough questions about Earhart comms

Readers of this blog are familiar with Paul Rafford Jr.’s fascinating and imaginative contributions to Earhart research.  Rafford passed away in December 2016 at 97, but some of his ideas about Amelia Earhart’s final days and hours are still alive and well.  He was a valued contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most creative 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. 

We’ve seen three lengthy pieces on this blog already, basically re-presentations of Rafford’s work as found in Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters:The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga”; Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities; and Rafford’s ” ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?

The following analysis by Rafford Jr. appeared in the September 1993 issue of the AES Newsletters, and is the first of two parts.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline emphasis in original AES Newsletters version.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, was among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

Amelia Earhart – Some Unanswered Questions About Her Radio Communication and Direction Finding”  (Part I of two.)

by Paul Rafford Jr.,

June 22, 1993

The Miami Layover

Why did Earhart refuse Pan Am’s offer of direction finding help on her second attempt to circle the globe?

During her layover in Miami; Pan Am radio engineer, Charlie Winter, conferred with Amelia about her forthcoming trip.  She would no longer have 500 khz. in her transmitter, so why not carry a Pan Am frequency in its place., to be used with the airline’s Pacific direction finding network?

To his surprise, she immediately dismissed the suggestion with a contemptuous comment, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.

Why did Pan Am install a new loop on the Electra at Miami when all earlier pictures of the plane show that it already had one?

On the morning before Earhart’s departure from Miami, Pan Am radio technician Bob Thiebert was given a radio loop by his boss and told to install it on the plane immediately.  Bob mounted it and connected it to the receiver that had already been installed.  He then had the plane swung through 360° while he took bearings on a nearby broadcast station and prepared a calibration curve.

Page 215 of the book, Amelia, My Courageous Sister (1987), shows a news photo of Earhart, Noonan and two friends standing in front of the Electra.  The caption advises that it was taken on May 31, 1937.  An accompanying newspaper clipping comments:

“Mechanics today completed the adjustment of navigation instruments to guide Amelia Earhart down a well-worn aerial lane to South America on her eastward flight around the world. The aviatrix expected to take off at dawn tomorrow for San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1033 miles away.

The new loop appears on top of the plane while a mechanic appears in the background below, crouched over his tool box. — Bob Thiebert?

After Bob told me his story, several questions came to mind.  The Electra already had a loop and the pictures of the Honolulu crackup show no damage to it or the surrounding area.  Then, a newsreel picture purporting to show Earhart arriving in Miami clearly shows a loop on the plane.  Why install a new one?

This photo, from Paul Rafford’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, is captioned “Earhart’s Landing in Miami.” “It’s not easy to see,” Rafford wrote, “but a radio loop is visible directly above the cockpit of the Electra. . . . Although never revealed publicly, Earhart switched airplanes after arriving in Miami.  In 1940, John Ray told me how he had been called out to remove her trailing antenna shortly after she arrived from Burbank.”

I asked Bob if he had seen any evidence of where and how any previous loops had been mounted.  We know that there were at least two other loops installed on the Electra at one time or another after Earhart took delivery.

Bob was quite surprised to hear this and replied that he found no evidence that any other loop had ever been installed.  If there had been he would have seen where their mounting holes had been.  But, he declared, he had seen nothing to indicate this possibility.

Why, just before Earhart’s departure on her round-the-world flight did Pan Am mechanics in Miami make the same changes to her fixed antenna that had already been made by Joe Gurr in California just few weeks before?

Two days before Earhart’s departure, Pan Am radio technician Lynn Michaelfelder was sent out to the Electra,  . . . to fix a problem with the transmitter.”  Apparently there was some concern about the limited transmitting range of the fixed antenna.

He lengthened the antenna wires by moving the mast forward and by bringing the feed line down through the lower right side of the fuselage instead of through the roof.  Imagine my surprise when I came across Joe Gurr’s letter of May 3, 1982, to Fred  Goerner.  In it he describes making these same changes in California, just a few weeks earlier.

Lae to Howland

Why did Earhart refuse the offer of Harry Balfour, the Lae radio operator, to stay in communication with her until she made contact with the Itasca?

It was standard operating procedure in those days for an aircraft on a long ocean crossing to stay in contact with the station behind it until reaching the mid-point of the flight.  There, the plane would turn its radio guardover to the station ahead.  Although Balfour was not obligated to offer this service to Earhart, he did so anyway.

But, to his chagrin, when Earhart was approximately one third of the way toward Howland, against his advice because he was still receiving her very well, she signed off with him at sunset and switched from 6210 khz. to 3105 khz.  She explained that she had to try and make contact with the Itasca.  He never heard her again and she never again engaged any station in two-way conversation.

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart — at least as far as the “official” record tells us. 

There was no technical reason for Earhart to have to sign off with Lae before attempting to contact the Itasca.  She could have returned to 6210 at periodic intervals to confirm to Balfour that her flight was proceeding normally, or advise him if it wasn’t.  Then, after establishing contact with the Itasca she could have said goodbye to him.

Why did Earhart never stay on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time when she was in the vicinity of Howland Island?

While Earhart followed standard airline type operating procedures during her contacts with Balfour, when in the vicinity of Howland her procedures were anything but standard.  She never called the ship directly or answered any of its many calls.  Instead, she would suddenly come on the air without a call-up, deliver her message, and then go off until she had another message.  The Navy’s report states that communication between Earhart and the Itasca was “never really established.”

The Navy’s report also states that she never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time.  This includes the transmissions she was supposedly making so the Howland direction finder could take bearings.  Even under the best of conditions, back then a DF operator required at least 30 seconds to go through all the procedures required in taking a bearing after a station might suddenly come on the air without warning.  Later, Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, operating the Howland DF, complained that she never stayed on the air long enough for him to get a bearing.

Bill Galten, the Itasca radio operator on duty at the Earhart radio watch told me during World War II of his efforts to contact Earhart and of her peculiar operating procedures.  On one occasion she suddenly came on the air, announcing, Give me the weather!  I’ve got to have the weather.”  But, she failed to advise what frequency she would be listening to or if she wanted the weather to be sent on voice or telegraph.   In desperation, Bill sent it on both of his voice frequencies and then his telegraph frequencies.  He never received an acknowledgment.  Later, based on his futile attempt to get in radio contact with Earhart,  Bill gave me his personal opinion: “That woman never intended to land on Howland!”  (End of Part I.)

Paul Rafford’s “Howland Island Fly-By”: Phase II

We continue with Phase II, the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s response to questions about his unique theory, in this case a true “conspiracy theory in the Earhart disappearance, the “Howland Island Fly-By.”  Rafford’s thesis appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Bill Prymak, AES founder and president is designated as “AES” throughout; Rafford’s answers are seen simply as “A.”  (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)

PHASE II – THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS

AES – You believe that the mysterious voice transmissions heard for three days after Earhart’s disappearance were also pre-recorded?

A – Yes.  These were interspersed with some very poorly transmitted radio code to simulate what listeners might expect Earhart’s sending to sound like.

AES – But, today we know that she had left her radio key back in Miami, right?

A – Yes.  It was located in a locker at Pan Am weeks later.

Paul Rafford Jr. at 95, the elder statesman of Earhart researchers, who passed away in December 2016 at 97As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford was uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities, and his Earhart disappearance theories are perhaps the most unique and compelling in the entire Earhart pantheon.

AES – What would have been the purpose of these radio calls?

A – They would have lent credence to the theory that Earhart had survived and was calling for help.  This in turn would justify the Navy’s vast search.  I remember the public clamor to find her.

AES – Where was the transmitter that sent out the calls?

A – Our best evidence indicates that it was on Gardner Island in the Phoenix group.  It is now called Nikumaroro.  When plotted, bearings taken on the station by the Pan Am direction finding stations bracket the island.  I illustrate the details on my chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS.  A search plane sent to investigate reported signs of recent habitation but saw no one on the island.  However, this information was not released to the public at the time.

AES – Do you believe the same type transmitter was used for both the PBY and Gardner transmissions?

A – No.  Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, who handled the direction finder on Howland, reported the plane’s transmissions to be stable and on frequency.  In contrast, the Gardner transmitter was slightly off frequency and very unstable.  Also, to cover the Pacific as it did, higher power was required.  My computer analysis puts the power at 100 watts or more.

AES – What sort of transmitter do you believe was set up on Gardner?

A – When Karl Pierson recently described what the signal sounded like, I was immediately reminded of the transmitter we flew to Liberia right after Pearl Harbor to support South Atlantic aeronautical communication.  It was a 100 watt model that Pan Am used at outlying stations in the 1930s.  We powered it with a one-cylinder gasoline generator that the operator had to kick start before going on the air.

Its stability was on a par with what Karl describes but it did not operate on radiotelephone.  However, a simple modification could have been made that would allow it to be modulated enough to produce the speech quality reported by the various listeners, that is, “highly distorted.”

Karl also reported that when the transmitter was sending voice he could hear what appeared to be a gasoline engine running in the background, — but not an airplane engine.

AES – Why do you believe  that recordings of Earhart’s voice were used instead of announcements by another woman, either live or recorded?

A – Because three different individuals who knew Earhart’s voice identified it when they heard the transmissions.  Two were reported aboard the Itasca when she supposedly flew by Howland.  The third was radio engineer Karl Pierson in Los Angeles who listened to the voice during the nights following her disappearance.  He and his colleagues had monitored her transmissions during her flight from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1935.

Of course, the Navy could have substituted a sound alike woman and trained her to simulate Earhart’s manner of speaking.  But, the fewer people involved in a top-secret venture, the better.  Having Earhart do the recordings herself before the flight would have been the best way to ensure secrecy.

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

AES – You say Earhart’s last two-way conversation was when she signed off with Harry Balfour seven hours into the flight.  How can we be sure that all subsequent transmissions were not recordings?

A – We can’t be sure.  Every one of her transmissions from that time on is suspectHer contact with Balfour on 6210 khz advising that she was signing off with him and switching to 3105 may have been the last time Earhart was ever heard on a “live” radio.

AES – Why were certain transmissions clear while others were highly distorted?

A – It depended upon what the mission script called for at that particular time.  In those cases where the plane passed specific information to Lae, Nauru and Howland, they were clear.  Otherwise, they were weak or distorted.  I believe this was deliberately intended to confuse the listeners.

AES – You say information was passed to Nauru?

A – Yes.  T.H. Cude, Director of Police on Nauru, claimed that he heard Earhart say on 3105 that she had the lights of the island in sight.  However, in the search report this is recorded as “lights in sight ahead.”  Later, various investigators read the report and then made their own interpretations.  Some concluded that the lights were those of the USS Ontario, on station midway between Lae and Howland waiting for her to over-fly.  Others concluded they were the SS Myrtlebank, southwest of Nauru and due to arrive the following morning.

AES – Do you believe Earhart sent her Nauru sighting messages liveor were they recordings transmitted by Naval Intelligence?

A – From the evidence we have I would hesitate to support either theory.

AES – But, you are suggesting that Earhart may never have come near Nauru?

A – Yes.  She may well have been following another route to an unknown destination after she signed off with Harry Balfour at Lae.

AES – Then what would have been the purpose of these messages?

A – They would establish for the record that Earhart was apparently passing Nauru on schedule even though she may not have been anywhere in the area.

AES – You mean that if the Japanese were intercepting her radio transmissions this bit of disinformation — if it was disinformation — would lead them to believe that Earhart was actually following the flight plan that she had announced to the news media?

A – That’s as good a way of putting it as any.  Incidentally, with the exception of Cude’s intercept, listeners on Nauru reported that even though the plane’s signals became increasingly strong as it apparently approached the island, they were never able to understand the words.

Harry Balfour, circa 1937, the radio operator at Lae, New Guinea, the last person to carry on a two-way radio conversation with Amelia Earhart.

AES – On your chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS, you show that twelve hours after the Itasca last heard the plane, listeners on Nauru heard a woman’s voice on 6210.  But, again they could not understand what she said.  What is your comment about this?

A – They also reported that although the voice sounded the same as the night before, this time they could hear “no hum of engines in the background.”  I believe this transmission was the first in a series of covert signals that lasted three nights.  However, Nauru was the only station to hear this transmission.  This leads me to believe that other covert transmitters besides Gardner were involved in the operation after Earhart disappeared They may have been located on planes, submarines or even uninhabited islands like Gardner.

AES – What was the purpose of these calls?

A – They were designed to convince listeners that Earhart was safely down somewhere.  But, because they could not understand her words, the search team would not know where to look.  As a result, they had no choice but to search the whole Central Pacific — exactly what the mission planners had intended to happen.

AES – Who in government do you believe knew about the secret nature of Earhart’s flight?

A – No doubt the President knew the details because she was a frequent guest at the White House.  I suspect the plan originated with him.

Others who knew would be the Naval Intelligence team assigned to carry out the mission plans plus top people in the Department of the Interior that administered our Pacific Islands.  I doubt that anyone in the Coast Guard knew.

AES – Why do you believe that the President had anything to do with the Earhart mission?

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.  Bellarts told researchers that Earhart’s radio signal “was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” 

A – Because of her remark to Mark Walker, Pan Am pilot and Naval Reserve officer.  Mark had been assigned to work with Earhart and Noonan on the Pacific phase of their flight.  When he warned her of the dangers she replied that she had not proposed it.  Someone high in government had personally asked her to undertake the mission.

AES – You mention that [Itasca Radioman 3rd Class] Bill Galten had his doubts about what was going on after his many calls to the plane were ignored.  Why were he and others involved in the search not more outspoken about their doubts?

A – Because the Navy classified the logs and records.

AES – Why were they classified?

A – There were several reasons.  Classifying them would not only keep the public from reviewing them and asking sensitive questions, but it would prevent those in the services who might have answers from revealing what they knew.  World War II was imminent and we needed all the information about the Pacific islands that we could gather.  But, of course, we could not reveal our information gathering activities to a potential enemy. 

Next, where Earhart was concerned it was imperative for political reasons not to allow the public to suspect that their heroine might have lost her life while serving on a top secret government mission.  Not only might this have cost Roosevelt the next election but it could have provided powerful anti-war factions in the United States with enough ammunition to seriously delay our preparations for the world wide conflict that was about to break out.

As incredible as it now seems in the light of history, over 50 percent of those polled in a national survey just before Pearl Harbor refused to believe America was in any danger of an attack from Japan!

AES – The Itasca’s logs and the Navy’s records were not declassified until twenty-five years later, right?

A – Yes, but the classification was only at the CONFIDENTIAL level.  We have never been able to determine if there were any with a higher classification.  But if there were I doubt that they exist today.

AES – Why do you say this?

A – Because, as a friend of mine with former Naval Intelligence connections puts it, “Poor Ollie North, his downfall came about because he had to keep records!”

AES – So, where do you believe Earhart finally landed?

A – I can only refer you to the host of theories that have been advanced through the years.  They vary all the way from Earhart and Noonan simply getting lost and running out of gas near Howland to landing on a Japanese held island where they were taken prisoner.

But, one thing seems certain.  Wherever they finally ended up it was not where the mission planners intended.

I doubt we will ever know for sure! (End of Rafford interview.)

Rafford’s comparison of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s ill-advised record-keeping during the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal of the late 1980s, to the Earhart case is pure speculation and not a reliable assessment about the existence or non-existence of top-secret files on the Earhart disappearance. 

We have strong evidence that suggests top-secret Earhart files still existed in the early 1960s, when the Kennedy administration actually allowed Fred Goerner and Ross Game to view them clandestinely.  See my Dec. 20, 2019 post,Game letter suggests possible Earhart burial sitefor a discussion, or Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Edition), pages 271, 272.

Paul Rafford’s “Howland Island Fly-By”: Phase I

We return to the work of the late Paul Rafford Jr., the last survivor of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 at 97.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

Readers of this blog are familiar with Rafford’s fascinating work.  His public introduction came in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 bookAmelia Earhart: The Final Story, in which he discussed his current ideas about the Electra’s radio capabilities and Amelia’s bizarre actions during the final flight.  Rafford’s 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, wasn’t a commercial success, but presents invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.

I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change : Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities; and Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, was among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

Prymak’s interview of Rafford about his “Howland Island Fly-By theory appeared in the March 1992 issue of the AES Newsletters, and was presented in two parts, Phase I and Phase II.  Following is Phase I, presented nearly exactly as it appeared in the original, with photos added by this editor.  Prymak is designated as “AES” throughout, Rafford’s answers are designated simply as “A.”

Phase I of the question-and-answer interview was preceded by the following biographical information.

Paul Rafford Jr.: THE MAN

In 1940, Paul Rafford Jr. joined Pan Am as a Flight Radio Officer on the flying boat Clippers.  As a result, he is well acquainted with the radio equipment and operating procedures of the Earhart era.  After joining the company he met Pan Am people and others who either knew Earhart and Noonan or had a part in their flight preparations.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, under Pan Am’s contract with the Air Force, he worked as a Communications Manager on the Astronaut Recovery Team.  His specialty was the analysis and forecasting of radio communication with the ships and planes supporting the astronaut landings.

It was while at his console in Mission Control that he became impressed with the parallels between the Navy’s astronaut search and recovery operations in the mid-Pacific and its vast search for Amelia Earhart in the same area thirty years before.  As a result, he decided to apply space-age, computer aided investigative techniques to the problem of tracking down Earhart’s whereabouts when last heard from.

In the following question and answer session he presents his theory that Earhart may never have come anywhere near Howland Island.  Instead, what the Itasca’s crew really heard were recordings of her voice made weeks beforehand, transmitted by a Navy plane to simulate her supposed efforts to find it.

*******************************************************

“THE AMELIA EARHART
RADIO DECEPTION”

The theory presented herein represents
a major digression from the commonly
held belief that Earhart was in the vicinity
of Howland Island when her voice
was last heard on the air.

It proposes that the radio calls intercepted
by the Itasca were actually recorded
by Earhart before she left the
United States, to be played back at the
appropriate time later on by another
airplane.

Paul Rafford Jr.
December 7, 1991

 

Bill Prymak, a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960, interviewed Paul Rafford Jr. for this article.  Prymak and Rafford were among the most significant contributors to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, but Rafford’s “Howland Island Fly-By,” while still retaining the Marshall Island-Saipan truth, is perhaps the most unique of all the alternative scenarios proposed by researchers.

 

“PHASE I — THE HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY”

AES – So, you now suggest that Earhart never flew anywhere near Howland Island and you doubt that she ever intended to land there?

A – Yes, and I quote my friend Bill Galten, radio operator aboard the Itasca standing off shore, “That woman never intended to land on Howland.”

AES – But, don’t the Itasca’s logs contradict this?

A – No.  If you study the logs carefully you will note that Earhart never called the Itasca directly or replied to any of its many calls.  Her method of operating as observed by the ship was to suddenly come on the air for seven or eight seconds with a brief message.  Then, she would be silent for anywhere up to a half hour or more before breaking in with another message.

The Itasca’s report states that two-way contact was never established.  All of the transmissions received by the ship could have been recorded weeks beforehand for playback by another plane.  It could just as well have been a PBY flying out of Canton Island.

AES – How were the recordings played back to make them sound authentic?

A – By following a carefully planned script.  On my chart, THE SIMULATED HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY, I show the flight track I propose the PBY would have followed.  At 1415, 1515 and 1623 GMT, the plane could have transmitted the first three recordings while sitting on the lagoon at Canton.  They would simulate Earhart approaching Howland before sunrise.  Then, at dawn the PBY could have taken off and headed toward Howland, transmitting the remainder of the recordings as directed by the script.

AES – But, the year was 1937 and PBYs didn’t carry radiotelephone?

A – True, but small, low power radio telephone transmitters for short distance communication by aircraft were available.  I particularly remember the ten watt model we carried on the Pan Am flying boat Clippers.  It would have been ideal for the Earhart fly-by simulation.  The operator would simply start the playback machine and hold the radio mike up to the earphone to transmit the recordings.

AES – But, weren’t recording and playback equipment very primitive and bulky back then?

A – By modern standards yes, but not too bulky or primitive to be operated aboard a PBY.

AES – What evidence do you have that Canton Island might have been used as the base for the PBY that transmitted the Howland Island fly-by messages?

A look at the teeming wildlife on Howland Island, so overpopulated with “10,000 frigates, 8,000 boobies (albatrosses), and 14,000 terns,” according to Army Lt. Daniel A. Cooper, writing in July 1937, that many doubted that Amelia Earhart really intended to land there when she disappeared on July 2, 1937.

A – We know that the Navy had hosted a scientific party to observe a solar eclipse on Canton a month before Earhart’s flight.  Aviation fuel, a radio station and supplies could have been left behind for the PBY operation.

AES – Isn’t there an exception to your claim that Earhart never replied to any of the Itasca’s calls?  What about her request for the ship to transmit on 7500 kilocycles followed five minutes later by her statement that she had received the signal but was unable to get a bearing?

A – This apparent exchange of communication between the plane and ship could have been planned well in advance by the mission script writers.  Earhart would request 7500 khz from the Itasca.  Then, five minutes later she would announce that she had tuned it in but was unable to get a bearing.  This would later explain to investigators why she could not find Howland.

AES – But, suppose the Itasca had not been able to come up on 7500, what would the PBY crew have done then?

A – They could have substituted another recording in which Earhart would be heard saying that she was unable to pick up the ship.  However, it didn’t matter either way because the end result would be the same.  Earhart’s failure to find Howland would be blamed on radio navigation.

Incidentally, no aircraft direction finder can take a bearing on 7500 khz.  The Itasca’s crew knew this but without two-way communication with Earhart could not point out her supposed mistake and suggest a frequency where she could get bearings.

Today, we have every reason to believe that Earhart must have known that she couldn’t get a bearing on 7500 khz.  Previously, she had been an adviser to the government on aircraft direction finders.  Then, just prior to her departure from Lae, Harry Balfour, the local radio operator, had reviewed the operation of her d/f with her, particularly with reference to taking bearings on ships.

AES – Wouldn’t Noonan have known that she couldn’t take bearings on 7500?

A – Definitely!  We radio operators worked very closely with our navigators back then and they knew what could or could not be done using radio direction finders.

This was the official flight plan, 2,556 statute miles from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island.  The 337-157 line of position, or sun line, passed through the Phoenix Islands, near Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, and the popular theory, though completely false, is in part attributable to this phenomena.

Playing a recording of Earhart asking for that frequency was just a ploy to make it appear to the Coast Guard that she was ignorant about the basics of radio navigation.  What better way to explain why she got lost?

AES – But later, wouldn’t some of Earhart’s aviator friends have pointed out that she very well knew she couldn’t get bearings on 7500 khz?

A – Yes.  And I believe that this is one of the reasons why the logs and search report had to be classified for 25 years.

AES – What about the Howland Island direction finder, it never got a bearing either.  What went wrong there?

A – The Howland direction finder was still another ploy to make it appear that Earhart’s failure to find Howland was due to radio navigation.  The unit was an aircraft model, specially modified to take bearings on 3105 khz while Earhart was supposedly approaching the island.  Its range was very limited, particularly when taking bearings on airplanes using fixed antennas.  However, to further ensure that Howland couldn’t get a bearing, transmission from the plane never lasted more than seven or eight seconds, far too short for an operator to get a bearing.

AES – Why was it important for Howland not to get bearings on the plane?

A – Because they would have shown it to be approaching from the southeast and not from the west.  This would have been a dead giveaway that the plane was not Earhart’s.

AES – Why was it necessary for Earhart to appear to get lost?

A – To touch off one of the world’s greatest air/sea searches.  It would give the Navy an opportunity to make a vast survey of the Central Pacific, an area where the latitudes and longitudes of some of the islands had not been corrected on its charts since the early explorers first stumbled across them.

The storm clouds of World War II were fast gathering and our government needed all the intelligence information it could get.  The searches would also give the Navy an opportunity to exercise its forces in an urgent, war-like situation without upsetting powerful pacifist groups in the U.S.

AES – Where would she finally be found?

A – Probably on some secluded island but not before the Navy had completed its survey.  (End of Phase I.)

As is evident in the foregoing, Paul Rafford developed a unique, full-blown “Earhart Deception” theory, that’s compelling in its concept, execution and audacity.  In our next post, Bill Prymak’s interview with Rafford will continue with Phase II of the “Howland Island Fly-By.”

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