Like the recent Earhart timeline, this is another piece that’s long overdue. David Billings, a retired Australian aviation engineer, has worked intensely for over two decades on a project that, if successful, will turn nearly everything we assume about Amelia Earhart’s final flight on its head. I’ve known Billings casually through countless emails since about 2004, a year or so before his membership in the Amelia Earhart Society online discussion forum was revoked on a technicality by a hostile forum moderator.
Despite our vastly different beliefs about the Earhart disappearance, we’ve maintained a cordial communication. To me, Billings exemplifies the best in what some might consider the old-school Australian male, in that he’s forthright, with a sharp, wry sense of humor, unafraid to speak his mind, and dependably honest – a trait becoming increasingly rare in this day and age. His work is admirable and worthy of our attention.
The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling. Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed “Earhart experts,” whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.
Rather than waste needless effort trying to describe Billings’ New Britain Theory in my own words, we will now turn to the home page of his comprehensive website, which provides a thorough introduction. The site, titled Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” presents a wealth of information in nine separate sections, is presented in a reader-friendly, professional style and is must reading for the serious Earhart student. We begin at the beginning; the following inset material is direct from the home page of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project:
Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.
The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.
On July 2, 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “. . . we are running on line north and south . . .” manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.
This project theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel.
The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crash into the jungle.
David Billings [sic], a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analyzed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.
The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”
The foregoing should give you a fairly good snapshot of Billings’ New Britain Theory. Much more can be found in the pages of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project.
In Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, the author recalled his first meeting with the famed Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, an interview arranged by Cmdr. John Pillsbury, public information officer for the 12th Naval District, in connection with Goerner’s work on a 1962 radio documentary The Silent Thunder.
The meeting was the beginning of a friendship Goerner treasured, but it wasn’t until about a year later that Nimitz shared some of his inside knowledge about the Earhart case with Goerner. At Pillsbury’s retirement party at the Fort Mason Officers Club in San Francisco, he passed an incredible message to the KCBS newsman. “I’m officially retired now,” Pillsbury told Goerner, “so I’m going to tell you a couple of things. You’re on the right track with your Amelia Earhart investigation. Admiral Nimitz wants you to continue, and he says you’re onto something that will stagger your imagination. I’ll tell you this, too. You have the respect of a lot of people for the way you’ve stuck at this thing. Keep plugging. You’ll get the answers.” (Italics mine.)
Nimitz’s statement to Goerner through Pillsbury was a stunner, and it immediately found a permanent place in my memory when I read it for the first time so many years ago. Just what could the great Navy warrior have meant when he said, “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination”? The answer has been elusive, but if Billings can locate the wreck, and it proves to be Earhart’s Electra, we’ll have a strong clue and a new place to start looking for that special something that Pillsbury hinted so strongly about.
In closing “Chapter II: The Final Flight” in Truth at Last, I cite some of the many questions that remain unanswered about those final hours: “What was Noonan, Pan Am’s best navigator, doing as their hopes of securing a safe landfall were evaporating before his eyes? Why the forty-minute void between Earhart’s 8:04 and 8:44 a.m. transmissions? Why couldn’t she hear Itasca on 3105 kc? Why did she ask for 7500 kc for bearings, when her direction finder could not home in on that frequency, instead of asking for 500 kc? Earhart never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time, preventing the Itasca radiomen from taking bearings. Why? If the Electra was running out of fuel or experiencing another emergency, why didn’t she send a Mayday message?
“Did her transmitter break down after her last broadcast, as Prymak suggested?” I continued. “Was she really trying to reach Howland, or was her peculiar behavior simply part of a deception to make it appear she was lost?” Bur one question never occurred to me: “Why was Amelia Earhart in a different Electra than the one she flew from Oakland, Calif., when she set off on her second world flight attempt on June 2, 1937?”
What would it mean if Billings finds the original Earhart Electra, NR 16020? First of all, the discovery should be, at minimum, the biggest story of the week worldwide, with virtually all media organizations in the West giving it top billing (no pun intended). If past is prologue, however, any news that reflects the truth in this longstanding cover-up will be universally ignored, though a few exceptions might occur with a story of this magnitude. Billings needs to find the wreck and identify it in a way that’s forensically conclusive.
Remember, the metal tag recovered from the engine mount has vanished, likely joining the Earhart briefcase discovered by Robert E. Wallack in a Japanese safe on 1944 Saipan, the photos of the fliers in Japanese custody that several GIs claimed they found but lost on Saipan, and whatever else might be squirreled away in top-secret hidey-holes. Assuming Billings is finally able to locate the wreck, how will he determine beyond doubt whether this is the long-lost Electra, and not just another World War II casualty?
“I have always been good at ‘aircraft recognition,’ seeing an aircraft and immediately recognizing the type of aircraft it is, particularly WWII military types,” Billings told me in an email. “After being with the Electra 10E for 20 years and looking at the pictures and three-view drawings, it would be easy to recognize from certain aspects; for instances: the look of the six window panels surrounding the cockpit and the twin tails, the cabin door, the fuel filler panels, the step in the setting of the horizontal stabilizer are all recognition features. We are, however, speaking here of a damaged Electra, from the sighting in 1945, said to be with the cockpit smashed back to the heavy main spar, so the cockpit with the DF loop on top is effectively ‘not there’ and no description of the twin tails was given suggesting the empennage [tail assembly] is not there either.”
Billings says information he’s gleaned since 2011 indicates that the plane was purposely buried, though not too deeply, by someone using a bulldozer, so the use of metal detectors will be critical to a successful search. “When we get a strike with a metal detector then we follow the continuing strikes to map out the extent of what we have in the ground following the metal detector beeps,” Billings continued. “We mark a rough plan on the ground. From that, firstly I would then be looking away from the ground plan for a distance, for the left hand Engine Serial No. 6150, said to be 30 meters away from the airframe and it will be a lump on the ground, if the bulldozer driver missed seeing it. If we find that engine, then it will have a Pratt and Whitney Data Plate on the back of the blower housing with “6150” stamped on it. At the airframe, if we have a rough ground plan we can dig where the right hand engine is as it too will have a Data plate showing “6149.” One of these would be proof positive.”
Though I admire Billings’ work, we certainly don’t agree on everything. The idea that Earhart turned around and landed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea after nearly reaching Howland Island is unacceptable to me — and every other Earhart researcher I know. But the existence of the original Electra at East New Britain and the Marshalls-Saipan truth are not mutually exclusive, as would appear at first glance. Both can be true, and assuming Billings’ evidence isn’t some kind of bizarre hoax or misunderstanding, both must be true.
How can two scenarios that appear so radically different be part of a coherent series of events in the summer of 1937? One possible answer immediately suggests itself: Amelia Earhart changed planes somewhere along the line of her world flight route, and we already have some evidence to support the idea. Please see my earlier post, “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga for the entire confusing discussion. It’s not conclusive, of course, and it raises many more questions than it answers.
The successful location and identification of the original Earhart Electra in East New Britain would be earth-shaking news, but it would also create a new Earhart “mystery,” a real one in this case, not the fabricated myth the establishment wants us to buy. If it’s ever discovered, the truth that explains the Electra’s presence in East New Britain could indeed “stagger our imagination.” In any event, a plane change and eventual crash of the original Electra in the East New Britain jungle under other circumstances makes far more sense to this observer than the dramatic turn-around Billings proposes. The Mili Atoll and Saipan evidence are just too overwhelming to support the entirety of Billings’ theory, in my view.
Billings has made 16 trips to the Papua New Guinea jungle since 1994, and plans his final foray into East New Britain sometime in the spring of 2017, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. Funding is always a problem, but he says a recently completed road will allow vehicle access and eliminate the exorbitant helicopter costs previously incurred. Billings has always borne the heaviest part of the money burden, but if you’d like to help his cause, here’s a page with donation information.
In a recent email, I told Billings that I wanted to do a post about him and his work, writing, “We both want the truth, and if the original Electra is in the PNG jungle, so be it. IF and when you can prove it, we can then worry about how and why it got there!”
“Exactly!” he replied. “My same thoughts all along.”
We continue with our list of significant developments that have shaped and defined the modern search for Amelia Earhart through the years. As I wrote in the opening of this timeline, this is but one man’s opinion, and I make no sweeping claims as to its comprehensiveness. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome and will be considered for inclusion.
November 1966: Retired Marine Gen. Graves B. Erskine, deputy commander of V Amphibious Corps during the Saipan invasion, visits the radio studios of KCBS in San Francisco for an interview with Fred Goerner. While waiting to go on the air, Erskine tells Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”
June 1967: The ONI Report is declassified and transferred from the Naval Investigative Service (formerly the ONI) to the U.S. Naval History Division. From the day of its declassification, this document has been Exhibit Number One on the evidence list that reveals the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan. Moreover, the ONI Report offers a clear glimpse into the actual workings of the U.S. government’s longstanding practice of denial and deceit in the Earhart disappearance. Despite the mendacity, half-truths and misdirection that flavor its pages, the ONI Report remains the only official government statement ever released that indicates its knowledge of Earhart and Noonan’s presence on Saipan. Thus far, it is the closest thing we have to a smoking gun in the Earhart search.
November 1967 to April 1968: Donald Kothera and his so-called “Cleveland Group” visit Saipan twice in search of evidence supporting Earhart and Noonan’s presence and death there. Kothera’s interview of native Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have seen the beheading of a tall white man as a 7-year-old on Saipan in 1937, is among the most compelling of the Saipan witnesses’ accounts. Kothera excavated a site that some believe is the same one Griswold, Henson and Burks exhumed in 1944.
1969: Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition) by Joe Davidson, is published by Davidson Publishing Co., Canton, Ohio. Davidson’s book chronicles Don Kothera and the Cleveland Group’s activities in 1967-1968 on Saipan and their return to the states. The book, though often overlooked and poorly written, contains a wealth of important eyewitness material.
1970: Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America’s First Lady of Mystery, by Joe Klaas, is published by McGraw-Hill (New York). This is the notorious book that introduced the disastrous Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth to the world. Irene Bolam, a New Jersey housewife mistaken for Amelia Earhart in 1965 by the delusional Joe Gervais, sued McGraw-Hill for defamation. A settlement was reached and the book was pulled from the shelves after seven weeks, but not before great damage was inflicted on all legitimate Earhart research
Nov. 12, 1970: Japanese citizen Michiko Sugita tells the Japan Times that military police shot Amelia Earhart as a spy on Saipan in 1937. Sugita was 11 years old in 1937, and her father, Mikio Suzuki, was a civilian police chief at Garapan, Saipan’s capital. She learned about the execution of the American woman from military police at a party given by her father.
Aug. 10, 1971: In a letter to Fred Goerner, Retired Marine Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, the 18th commandant of the Marine Corps, writes: “General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.”
1978 to 1982: Former Air Force pilot Vincent V. Loomis made four trips to the Marshall Islands, two to Saipan and one to Tokyo in search of witnesses and Earhart-related evidence. Loomis interviews witnesses to the Electra’s crash-landing in the waters off Barre Island, and is generally credited with solidifying the Marshall Islands landing scenario.
September 1979: South African Oliver Knaggs is hired by a film producer to join Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search. In Knaggs’ 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan. Her last flight corroborates much of the witness testimony gathered by Goerner and Loomis, and is the first published book to present the eyewitness account of Bilimon Amaron, who tended to Fred Noonan’s knee wound at Jaluit in July 1937.
June 1982: After years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged radio receptions, famed inventor Fred Hooven presents his paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, at the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum. This was the genesis of the false “Nikumaroro Hypothesis,” which has so dominated public discussion since The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery’s (TIGHAR) first trip there in 1989. Later, Hooven reportedly changed his mind and fully embraced the Marshall Islands landing scenario, made famous by Vincent V. Loomis in his 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story after Fred Goerner laid its foundation in The Search for Amelia Earhart.
1983: Amelia Earhart: Her last flight, is published by a South African firm. A collector’s item, Knaggs’ book is worth the price for researchers interested in learning more about details of Vincent V. Loomis’ work in the Marshalls, and offers new evidence never revealed elsewhere.
June 1985: Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, by Vincent V. Loomis and Jeffrey Ethell, is published by Random House, a huge mainstream outfit, and recounts the aforementioned investigations by Vincent V. Loomis. The book’s most glowing review came from Jeffrey Hart, writing in William F. Buckley’s National Review. After gushing that Loomis “interviewed the surviving Japanese who were involved and he photographed the hitherto unknown Japanese military and diplomatic documents,” Hart writes, “The mystery is a mystery no longer.” Neither the U.S. government or the entire establishment media got Hart’s memo.
April 1, 1987: Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, by Thomas E. Devine, is published by Renaissance House Publishers (Frederick, Colo.). Eyewitness is Devine’s first-person account of his Earhart-related experiences in the summer of 1944, which included his personal inspection of Electra NR 16020, Earhart’s plane discovered at Aslito Field and his return to Saipan in 1963 with Fred Goerner, when he located the gravesite of a white man and woman who had “come from the sky” before the war, according to an unidentified Okinawan’s account to him in 1945.
July 1988: Witness to the Execution: The Odyssey of Amelia Earhart, by T.C. “Buddy” Brennan is published by the same Renaissance House that released Eyewitness a year earlier. During three trips to the Marshalls and Saipan in the early 1980s, Houston real-estate executive Buddy Brennan interviews several Marshallese and Saipan natives with knowledge of the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan. One alleged eyewitness. Mrs. Nievas Cabrera Blas, claims to have seen a white woman shot and buried near her home just prior to the American invasion in 1944. Brennan’s excavation produces a rag that he claims is the blindfold worn by Amelia Earhart, an impossible-to-prove theory.
March 16, 1992: at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, announces that the Amelia Earhart mystery “is solved.” The “evidence” Gillespie presents includes a battered piece of aluminum, a weathered size 9 shoe sole labeled “Cat’s Paw Rubber Co., USA,” a small brass eyelet and another unlabeled heel the group found on Nikumaroro during TIGHAR’s highly publicized second trip there in October 1991. These items, elaborately displayed and labeled in a glass case, all came from Earhart or her Electra, according to Gillespie. All this material is later thoroughly and scientifically debunked, and nothing that Gillespie and TIGHAR have brought back from Nikumaroro in 11 trips has ever been forensically linked to the fliers.
1993 to present: Australian aircraft engineer David Billings, working in Papua New Guinea, has an interest in locating World War aircraft wrecks there. In 1993 he reads of the possibility that Earhart’s Electra aircraft might have been seen by some Australian army soldiers while on patrol in the jungle on New Britain Island in 1945. After contacting the actual veterans, he learns that they have a “patrol map” from their wartime patrol, during which they saw the aircraft wreck. In 1994, one of the veterans, Donald Angwin, preparing the map for Billings to view, finds some writing on the map which came into view after Angwin removed some old tape on the border.
Billings finds a reference written as “600 H/P S3H1 C/N1055” which together form identifiers for Earhart’s Electra aircraft by identifying the horsepower rating of the engines, the Pratt & Whitney designation for the engines she used and, last of all, the actual Electra aircraft serial number, expressed as a Construction Number: “1055.”
These letter and number codes matches Amelia Earhart’s Electra NR 16020. The letters and numbers given as a reference on the map border are believed to be the same “string of letters and numbers” seen by the patrol warrant officer on a small metal tag that he removed from the engine mount tubing of one engine at the crash site. This written evidence and the description of the wreckage given by the veterans gives rise to the New Britain theory, the theory that Earhart had carried out her contingency plan to return to the Gilbert Islands. The theory posits that on finding the Gilberts, Earhart took stock of her fuel remaining and then attempted to make Rabaul on New Britain. According to Billings, Amelia’s choice was simple: crash-land on the Gilberts or continue on with the possibility of safe landing or the same crash-landing later in the day. The wreck seen in 1945 is some 45 miles from Rabaul. (Courtesy of David Billings.) We will have much more on the New Britain theory in a forthcoming post.
Sept. 13, 1994: Fred Goerner dies at age 69 in San Francisco.
June 13, 1996: Vincent V. Loomis dies at age 75 in Pensacola, Fla.
May 2001: The infamous “Weishien Telegram” a speed letter sent from the liberated Japanese internment camp at Weishien, China, on Aug. 28, 1945, once believed to have been sent from Amelia Earhart to George Putnam, is proven to have originated with Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal by researcher Ron Bright. Putnam had agreed to look after Kamal’s aging mother when Kamal left for China, thus the “Love to Mother” close that, misunderstood as coming from Amelia, created sensational speculation. Bright’s findings are initially published in the May 2001 edition of TIGHAR Tracks newsletter.
Sept. 1, 2002: With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, by Mike Campbell with Thomas E. Devine, is published by a small Ohio company. With Our Own Eyes presents the eyewitness accounts of the 26 former GIs who served during the Saipan Invasion, and came forward to advise Thomas Devine of their own experiences on Saipan that indicated the presence and death of Amelia and Fred on the Japanese-controlled island in the prewar years.
Sept. 16, 2003: Thomas E. Devine dies at age 88 in West Haven, Conn.
April 2005: Legerdemain: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by David K. Bowman is published by AuthorHouse. Legerdemain is notable in that it brings together, for the first time, many of the strangest and most obscure Earhart tales, clearly demonstrating the extent to which the Earhart case has been stigmatized by fantasists since its earliest days. Legerdemain is republished in June 2007 by Saga Books of Canada, and in e-book format by Vaga Books in March 2014.
2011 to January 2015: Dick Spink, of Bow, Washington, travels five times to Mili Atoll’s Barre Island area, where many believe Earhart crash-landed her plane on July 2, 1937. Working with Australian Martin Daly and groups of locals armed with metal detectors on the tiny Endriken (Marshallese for “little”) Islands, about a mile east of Barre, the group’s discoveries included a small aluminum plate and a circular metal dust cover from a landing-gear airwheel assembly that appeared to be consistent with an Electra 10E. According to Spink, Daly found both the plate and the circular metal dust cover in the same area during different searches. The artifacts have no serial numbers, thus they cannot be attached solely to the Earhart Electra.
Summer 2012: TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie meets and is photographed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to embarking on trip number 10 to Nikumaroro. Discerning observers know this photo is compelling evidence that the U.S. government continues to be actively engaged in the business of disinformation in the Earhart case, and at this point was dropping all pretense that the “official” Navy-Coast Guard 1937 verdict has any validity whatsoever.
June 2012: Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, by Mike Campbell, is published by Sunbury Press (Mechanicsburg, Penn.). Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last presents many new findings, eyewitness accounts and analysis, and never-before-published revelations from many unimpeachable sources including famed U.S. generals and iconic newsman and Earhart researcher Fred Goerner’s files that reveal the truth about her death on Saipan, as well as the sacred cow status of this matter within the American establishment. The book is blacked out by the mainstream media.
April 2013: The Earhart Enigma: Retracing Amelia’s Last Flight, by Dave Horner, is published by Pelican Publishing Co., Gretna, La. The Earhart Enigma presents another comprehensive and compelling case for the Marshalls-Saipan scenarios in a different literary style than Truth at Last, and is an important addition to the small but growing collection of works that present aspects of the truth about Amelia’s tragic loss.
March 2016: Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Second Edition, is published by Sunbury Press. The new edition adds two chapters, a new foreword, rarely seen photos, and the most recent discoveries and analysis to the mountain of overwhelming witness testimony and documentation presented in the first edition.
This is a project long overdue, but better late than never. I don’t claim that this timeline is comprehensive or complete; indeed, some knowledgeable observers might disagree with certain of my decisions to exclude or include incidents or events in this timeline. If so, please let me know in the comments section or via direct email.
The reason for this Earhart timeline is simple: I want to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand the Earhart saga in real terms by offering them a guide to the true history of Earhart research, not the fabricated crap that TIGHAR, Elgen Long and all the rest of the despicable establishment protectorate have shoved down our throats for so long, distorting the facts and misleading all but the well informed.
Without further delay, we begin this two-part timeline with Amelia Earhart’s last message to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca:
July 2, 1937, 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time: Amelia Earhart transmits her last official message: WE ARE ON THE LINE 157-337, WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE, WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE ON 6210 KCS. WAIT LISTENING ON 6210 KCS.” After about a minute’s pause, she adds, “WE ARE RUNNING ON LINE NORTH AND SOUTH.” The message was received on 3105 at signal strength 5. “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” former Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts tells author Elgen Long in 1973.
July 2-7, 1937: So-called “post-loss” radio signals, possibly originating from the Earhart Electra, begin about 6 p.m., July 2, Howland Island Time, and continue intermittently. The signals are heard by Navy, Coast Guard, Pan American Airlines, ships, amateurs and professional hams on the West Coast and as far away as Florida. These signals lead many to believe that Amelia survived on land (transmission unlikely from water) within the fuel range of her Electra. Nevertheless, the Coast Guard discounts the signals as “hoaxes” and none are ever accorded official approbation. We may never know if any were legitimate.
July 3, 1937: As reported by Vincent V. Loomis in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, sometime in the afternoon, native Marshallese eyewitnesses Mrs. Clement and Jororo watch Amelia Earhart crash-land her twin-engine Electra on the shallow reef a few hundred yards offshore Barre Island, located in the northwest part of Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands.
July 7, 1937: The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search for the lost fliers in the central Pacific. On July 7 the battleship USS Colorado arrives and searches the Phoenix Islands, 350 miles southeast of Howland. On July 9, three Vought O3U-3 Corsair float planes are launched from the battleship’s three catapult rails to make an aerial inspection of three locations: McKean Island, Gardner Island (now the infamous Nikumaroro), and Carondelet Reef. Nothing unusual is seen during the flyovers of these islands; neither Amelia Earhart nor her Electra was ever on Nikumaroro, contrary to the incessant propaganda efforts by our establishment media.
July 11, 1937: The carrier USS Lexington and three ships of Destroyer Squadron Two take charge. Lexington, with 63 aircraft, begins a week of air operations covering 150,000 square miles, finding nothing. In Lexington Group Commander J.S. Dowell’s “Report of Earhart Search,” filed July 20, 1937, Dowell writes that “the plane landed on water or an uncharted reef within 120 miles of the most probable landing point, 23 miles northwest of Howland Island.”
July 13, 1937: Several American newspapers publish an International News Service (INS) story with headlines similar to this one, found on Page 1 of the Bethlehem (Penn.) Globe- Times: “Tokio Hears Jap Fishing Boat Picked up Amelia.” The story cites “vague and unconfirmed” rumors that the fliers had “been rescued by a Japanese fishing boat without a radio,” is never followed up, and is squelched in Japan with a later retraction.July 13-14, 1937: The Japanese survey ship Koshu arrives at Jaluit on July 13 and departs on July 14 for the island of Mili Mili, where it picks up Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
Between July 15-18, 1937: Sixteen-year-old Japanese-born medical corpsman Bilimon Amaron is called aboard Koshu to treat an American man accompanied by a white female pilot for minor head and knee wounds. A twin-engine silver airplane with a broken wing is attached to the stern of the ship. Amaron later identifies photos of Earhart and Noonan as the fliers he treated.
July 19, 1937: Koshu departs Jaluit, probably for Saipan, with unknown possible stops in transit, on the same day the Japanese government officially ceased its search for Earhart. Earhart and Noonan are flown to Kwajalein, and later to Saipan.
July 19, 1937: The U.S. Navy-Coast Guard ocean search for Amelia Earhart ends. Besides more than 167,000 square miles covered by the planes launched from Lexington and Colorado, the Itasca, Swan, and surface vessels of DESRON 2—the destroyers Lamson, Drayton, and Cushing – as well as Lexington herself, searched nearly 95,000 square miles of ocean. The grand total for all ships, 262,281 square miles, is the equivalent of a 500-mile square. Not a trace of an oil slick or a particle of debris is found.
Summer 1937, Tanapag Harbor, Saipan: Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 11, witnesses a twin-engine silver airplane “belly land” in the waters off the closed Japanese military area of Tanapag. She later sees two American fliers, a man and a woman, and the woman is dressed as a man, with her hair cut short. Josephine later identifies the photos as those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
October 16, 1937: An article in the Australian newspaper Smith’s Weekly, “U.S.A. Does Australia a Secret Service,” suggests that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her Electra provided the U.S. military the opportunity to search the Marshall and Phoenix Islands for a suspected Japanese military buildup. Some later point to this as the genesis of the Earhart “spy mission” theory.
April 1943: RKO Motion Pictures releases the feature film, Flight For Freedom, starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray. The film is often blamed for inspiring the “conspiracy theory” that the fliers were taken to Saipan or landed there as part of a U.S. government plot. The facts, as attested to dozens of native and GI eyewitnesses, tell us that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were indeed on Saipan, where they met their tragic deaths. But Flight for Freedom has no relationship to actual events, and it seems obvious that this film is produced for disinformation purposes.
January 1944: Marshalls Islands native Elieu Jibambam, a schoolteacher with a reputation for integrity, tells Navy personnel on Majuro that a Japanese trader named “Ajima” told him a remarkable story. A “white woman” flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap Atolls, was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and taken to Jaluit or Majuro, and later to Kwajalein or Saipan, Ajima told Elieu. Associated Press reporter Eugene Burns writes a story about Elieu’s revelations that appears in newspapers across America in March 1944. Other GIs find artifacts and other information from natives suggesting an Earhart connection in the Marshalls. Thus the Marshall Islands landing scenario, more commonly known as the Marshall Islands landing theory, is born.
July 6-9, 1944, Saipan: Sgt. Thomas E. Devine, of the 244th Army Postal Unit, views Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E on three occasions, the final time in flames, torched by American forces at the off-limits Aslito Field. Several other U.S. military personnel also see the plane before and after its burning.
July 6-9, 1944, Saipan: Marine Pfc. Earskin J. Nabers, a 20-year-old code clerk in the H&S Communication Platoon of the 8th Marines (2nd Marine Division) on Saipan, receives and decodes three messages relating to the discovery, plans to fly and plans to destroy Amelia Earhart’s Electra at Aslito Field. Nabers, as well as other U.S. military personnel, witnesses the burning of NR 16020 at Aslito Field.
July 1944, Saipan: Marine Pfc. Robert E. Wallack, 18, a machine gunner with the independent 29th Marine Regiment, finds Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown safe in Garapan. Wallack describes the contents as “official-looking papers all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight.” Wallack turns over the briefcase to a “naval officer on the beach,” and never sees it again. Wallack is interviewed by Connie Chung on CBS’s Eye to Eye in 1994 and appears in the 2007 National Geographic production, Undercover History: Amelia Earhart.
Late July-early August, 1944, Saipan: Privates Billy Burks and Everett Henson Jr., under orders from Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold, excavate and remove skeletal remains of two individuals from a gravesite outside a native Chamorro cemetery south of Garapan that may have been the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. The disposition of the remains is unknown.
August 1945: Days before Sgt. Thomas E. Devine left Saipan to return to the states and his discharge from the Army, an Okinawan woman shows him the gravesite of a “white man and woman who had come from the sky” and were killed by the Japanese. Devine goes to his own grave believing this is the true Earhart-Noonan gravesite.
July 24, 1949: In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, says: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing at sea. She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall islands, under Japanese control.”
Early 1960: Daughter of the Sky: The Story of Amelia Earhart, by Paul Briand Jr., is published by Duell, Sloan and Pearce (New York). The final chapter presents the account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 11 years old in 1937, as told to Navy dentist Casimir R. Sheft on Saipan in the 1946, when Josephine was his dental assistant. Josephine’s account is the spark that ignites the modern search for Amelia Earhart.
June 15, 1960: KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner arrives at Saipan for the first of four visits to investigate Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s eyewitness account. With the help of the islands three Catholic priests, he interviews about 200 native witnesses and identifies 13 who strongly corroborated the account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama.
July 1, 1960: Chronicling Goerner’s interviews, San Mateo (Calif.) Times reporter Linwood Day’s series of stories reaches a climax as the Times runs, in a 100-point headline, “Amelia Earhart Mystery is Solved.” Day’s story, “Famed Aviatrix Died on Saipan,” is ignored by all major newspapers in American, though a number of smaller newspapers did run it.
October 1960: ONI Special Agent Thomas M. Blake visits Devine at his West Haven, Connecticut home, a few months after Devine told the story of his 1945 gravesite experience to the New Haven Register. Devine cooperates with Blake, and gives the ONI all he can to help the agency locate the gravesite the Okinawan woman revealed to him.
December 8-22, 1960: The Office of Naval Intelligence conducts an investigation into Thomas Devine’s Saipan gravesite information. The original document, henceforth the ONI Report, is dated December 23, 1960; ONI Special Agent Joseph M. Patton was its official author.
January 1963: Devine is summoned to the ONI’s Hartford, Connecticut office to read the classified ONI Report’s disturbing verdict: “The information advanced by DEVINE . . . is inaccurate and cannot be supported by this investigation.” Devine describes the findings as “neither favorable nor fair . . . incredible and negative about my information,” and devotes a chapter in Eyewitness, “An Incredible Report,” to a comprehensive rebuttal of the ONI’s findings.
December 1963: Thomas E. Devine returns to Saipan with Fred Goerner and locates the gravesite shown to him by an unidentified Okinawan woman in August 1945. Unfortunately for Devine and history, he decides not reveal its location to Goerner because he didn’t trust him. For various reasons, not least of which was the overwhelming official resistance to his many letters requesting permission to dig, Devine never again sets foot on Saipan, an outcome he never dreamed might happen in 1963.
March 1965: According to Fred Goerner, a week before his meeting with Gen. Wallace M. Greene at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Va., Nimitz tells him in a phone conversation, “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.” The admiral’s revelation appeared to be monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman and became well known to most observers of the Earhart case.
Spring 1966: The Search for Amelia Earhart, by Fred Goerner, is published by Doubleday and Co. (New York), sells 400,000 copies and stays on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. Search, which chronicles Goerner’s four Saipan visits and other investigative activities from 1960 to 1965, is the only bestseller ever published that presents aspects of the truth in the Earhart disappearance.
Sept. 16, 1966: Time magazine pans The Search for Amelia Earhart in a scathing, unbylined review it titles “Sinister Conspiracy?” Time calls Search a book that “barely hangs together,” and the review signals the government’s longstanding position relative to the Earhart case – one of absolute denial of the facts that reveal the fliers’ presence and deaths on Saipan. From that day until now, the truth in the Earhart disappearance remains a sacred cow in Washington, and by extension, the entire U.S. government-media establishment. The few books that present credible accounts of the Earhart disappearance are suppressed by the mainstream media, including Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
To be continued in our next post.
At the conclusion of the opening segment of Fred Goerner’s 1984 retrospective essay “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” Amelia, Fred Noonan and their Lockheed Electra 10E had vanished after presumably crossing the International Date Line, “flying into yesterday,” in this case, July 2, 1937. Their last radio message, sent at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time, was received at signal strength 5 of 5, and was so loud that Itasca‘s Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts told Elgen Long in 1973, “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing.”
Soon the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and three Navy Mahan-class destroyers, Lamson, Cushing and Drayton, were steaming from the west coast of the United States to the vicinity of Howland Island to join the battleship USS Colorado, the seaplane tender USS Swan and Coast Guard Cutter Itasca in the search for the missing fliers. Without further explanation, here is:
Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Part II
It was clear it would take at least 10 days for Lexington and accompanying destroyers to reach the scene, and there was considerable grumbling in Navy circles and in the U.S. Congress about “spending millions of dollars and disrupting Navy training schedules to search for a couple of stunt fliers.”
Rear Adm. William Sinon, USN, (Ret.) recalls, “The Lexington squadrons were not all fully qualified, and squadrons from the carriers Saratoga and Ranger were directed to supply detachments.” As a result Lexington went to sea with planes of four varieties from three different carriers.
In the first days following the disappearance, many sources reported radio distress signals received from what was believed to be the downed Earhart plane. Two Los Angeles amateur radio operators, Carl Pierson and Walter McMenamy, who had aided Amelia on other pioneering flights, claimed to have heard two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.
At about the same time, HMS Achilles of the New Zealand Division, the flagship cruiser of Rear Adm. E.R. Drummond, O.B., M.V.O., R.N., reported hearing broken signals from KHAQQ. Achilles was then southeast of Howland Island proceeding from Tutuila, American Samoa to Pearl Harbor on a goodwill visit to American ports.
The following night, July 4, several amateur (ham) operators in the San Francisco area reported hearing broken Earhart signals on 3105 kilocycles. It was, they said, a rippling carrier wave that faded in and out.
By the evening of July 5, Carl Pierson and Walter McMenamy, the Los Angeles amateurs, had moved to a sensitive receiver in Santa Paula, California, where there was less interference, and they reported hearing “bit and pieces from Earhart and Noonan at 5:40 and 5:44 a.m., but nothing distinct.”
On July 6 in Los Angeles, Paul Mantz, who had been a technical advisor for Earhart’s first attempt at the around-the-world flight, dropped a small bombshell among the press. He said he had learned from Lockheed aircraft sources that Amelia’s Electra was incapable of broadcast from the surface of the water. Mantz went on to assure the reporters, though, that he was sure the plane could float indefinitely because of the huge — now empty — gasoline tanks for which he had installed emergency cut-off valves to keep them watertight.
The statement was a disaster. Immediately the messages so far received were totally discounted, labeled the work of hoaxers, charlatans, damnable lying publicity seekers. The truth was that Mantz did not know the state of Earhart’s radio equipment, nor did most of the people at Lockheed Aircraft. Mantz had been dropped from the flight team after the Honolulu crackup. He was not even in California when the second attempt at the world flight began. In later years he would complain that he had been so isolated from Amelia that the only conversation he had been able to have with her was through a fence at Lockheed.
The only man who knew for sure about the Electra’s radio gear did not come forward in 1937, and no one in the press was enterprising enough to find him. His name is Joseph Gurr, and he lives today  in Los Altos, Calif., retired after a long career as chief flight dispatcher for United Airlines.
Gurr, a former U.S. Navy radio operator, had been assigned the sole task of adapting a Bendix-built U.S. Navy high-frequency direction finder for the world flight and making sure the rest of the equipment would function properly. He had built a new V-type antenna into the belly of the aircraft, discarding the old reel-type trailing antenna, and he had constructed a new top-side antenna that could be used in a forced landing as long as the storage batteries and transmitter remained above water.
For 45 years there have been rumors that Amelia Earhart foolishly left her morse code key behind at various stops on the world flight simply because she hated to use it. Again, no truth. Joseph Gurr has the key in his California home. He had rigged the system so she and Noonan would not need a key.
Could signals from the downed Electra in the vicinity of Howland Island be heard in the United States? Gurr believed it possible in 1937, and still feels the same way today. “Signals can skip great distances and play some crazy tricks,” he says. “Sometimes a signal can’t be heard a block away but will be received clearly a thousand miles distant.”
[Editor’s note: Some experts, most notably Paul Rafford, a former Pan American flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, have strongly disagreed with Gurr’s estimate of the ability of the downed Electra to transmit such distances. See Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages for more.]
Gurr did call Amelia’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, and told him the messages could be bona fide. Putnam was spending every moment at the San Francisco Coast Guard radio station trying to follow the search.
On July 5, 1937, most newspapers carried a brief story alluding to possible signals from the Earhart plane being received by high-frequency direction finders belonging to Pan American Airways at Honolulu and on Midway and Wake Islands. The bearings from those signals indicated the plane might be down in an area several hundred miles southeast of Howland in the vicinity of the Phoenix Islands.
The story was quickly discounted by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard for security reasons. One of the most important aspects of military intelligence communications was strategic direction finding, particularly in the high-frequency range. Since the early 1930’s, the American Navy had been working toward development of a reasonably portable yet accurate HF/DF. The complete failure of the DF at Howland clearly indicated they had not yet succeeded.
America did not want the rest of the world, particularly Japan, knowing U.S. capabilities in that arena. The disguise covered weakness. The U.S. Navy would later learn as World War II approached that England, Germany and even Japan were more advanced in direction finding development; indeed, it would be discovered that Japan had a string of DF stations in the Marshall Islands to the north of Earhart’s flight path in 1937. The Japanese could track her plane better than the Americans.
Pan American Airways and U.S. Navy Communications were still relying on the two-ton Adcock DF, which was of British origin. The Navy and Pan Am had become partners in the Pacific. Pan Am was a civilian reason for developments on Pacific islands that could and did have military application.
So the Navy quashed the story of Pan Am’s DF bearings on possible Earhart signals, and later Navy intelligence officers picked up the records of those bearings at Pan Am communications headquarters in Alameda, California. They would remain sequestered until the early 1970’s.
George Palmer Putnam, however, had seen the reports, and when the Navy DF on Howland Island reported on July 6 that it had gotten a bearing on KHAQQ which could either be southeast or northwest, he begged the Navy to instruct USS Colorado to begin its search to the southeast of Howland extending to a group of eight small coral atolls known as the Phoenix Islands. He urged that a particular effort be made to locate several small coral reefs plotted on the hydrographic charts as being approximately 165 miles southeast of Howland.
The 14th Naval District at Honolulu agreed, as did Capt. Wilhelm Friedell, Commanding Officer of Colorado. He rendezvoused with Warner Thompson and Itasca at 0600 the morning of July 7, and the Navy took charge of the search.
By mid-morning Colorado steered a course for the general area of the reefs. At 2:30 p.m., Friedell turned the catapults into the wind and three young pilots, Lieutenants John Lambrecht, William Short and Leonard Fox were launched in their three 03U-3 observation, open-cockpit biplanes.
At 500 feet they swept an area 10 miles square around the charted positions of the reefs, and when nothing was found they flew west-southwest a dozen miles into an area covered by a large rain squall. Still nothing but open ocean. They returned to the ship just after 5 .p.m., landing alongside in the water to be winched aboard.
After debriefing his fliers, Capt. Friedell came to the conclusion that the charted reefs didn’t exist after all, and a decision was made to begin the search of the Phoenix Islands themselves the following day. Friedell made a note for his report that it was not the most comfortable thing in the world to be prowling about in waters where reefs might be in uncertain locations. He decided also to post extra lookouts that night and to use the ship’s searchlight in case they might be passing Earhart and Noonan in the dark.
In the following days, Colorado aviators averaged four flights of three planes each day. They searched Enderbury, Phoenix, Birnie, Sydney, McKean, Gardner and Hull Islands, and then finally Canton, the northernmost island in the Phoenix Group. All were uninhabited save Hull, where Lambrecht landed in the lagoon and was greeted by a British Resident Commissioner and a boatload of natives who had paddled out to get a close view of this wonder. No one had seen or heard of Amelia Earhart; in fact, no one even knew who she was.
Friedell and his crew left the Phoenix Islands with a sense of relief. It is evident from their reports that they hadn’t expected to find the Electra anyway, and it would be good to be out in open, reasonably charted waters again.
Perhaps they would not have felt as comfortable had they known the missing reefs would be charted again in the years to come. In 1943: 1 degree 51 minutes south, 174 degrees 30 minutes west; 1944: 1 degree 36 minutes 30 seconds south, 174 degrees 57 minutes west; 1945: Zero degrees 46 minutes south, 174 degrees 43 minutes west — a sandbar reported; 1954: Zero degrees 56 minutes 18 seconds south, 174 degrees 51 minutes west.
To this writing, none of the reefs or the sandbar have been investigated at close range. Could the Electra still be wedged on one of the reefs or buried in the sandbar? There are those who believe it, and I think it may be possible.
Friedell and his men might have contemplated another search of the area had they known that amateur radio operators in Northern California had picked up two more messages the night of July 7.
Frank Freitas of Yreka received “plane on reef . . . 200 miles south . . . Howland . . . both OK.”
Arthur Monsees of San Francisco heard “SOS. . . KHAQQ . . . east . . . Howland . . . lights tonight . . . can’t hold.”
When Lambrecht and Short, two of Colorado‘s pilots, were several years ago shown the new hydrographic chartings for the area between Howland Island and the Phoenix Islands, they both agreed the rain squalls the afternoon of July 7, 1937, may have been a nasty trick of fate.
An item which recently surfaced in long-classified U.S. Navy files gives further support to the reefs theory. Earhart and Noonan had not planned to arrive over Howland Island just at the time their fuel would be exhausted. The plan called for a minimum four-hour reserve. Amelia had been given a copy of a highly classified, registered document titled “U.S. Naval Pacific Air Pilot.” It was provided by Capt. William Satterlee Pye, USN, who later became a vice admiral and a prominent figure in the Pearl Harbor controversy.
“Pacific Air Pilot” was the result of years of survey by the U.S. Navy. It contained climate conditions and prevailing winds for most of the Pacific Ocean areas, along with descriptions of all islands that possibly could be used for emergency landings. There were four such islands in the Phoenix Group: Canton, Gardner, McKean and Enderbury. None was inhabited and none had man-made landing fields, but each had sufficient clear and level area for a safe landing by the Electra.
If Amelia and Fred could not find Howland, one of the Phoenix Islands would provide the closest alternate. Canton Island, 20 times the size of Howland, would be their best bet.
At 7 a.m. July 12, 1937, Colorado, met and refueled the destroyers leading the aircraft carrier USS Lexington to the search scene. Fueling completed, Colorado was detached from the search and ordered to return to the west coast of America.
During the search, Colorado‘s planes had flown more than 21 hours each and covered within radius of visibility an area of more than 25,000 square miles. Capt. Wilhelm Friedell wrote in the last paragraph of his final report: “The Colorado has covered the known land area within 450 miles of Howland Island, and definitely ascertained that the Earhart plane is not on land within the region unless on an unknown, uncharted and unsighted reef.”
[Editors’ note: To my knowledge, no Earhart researchers have ever supported Goerner’s reef/sandbar theory. This is clearly an area where Goerner flew solo, with scant evidence to support his speculations. Goerner knew about Thomas E. Devine’s eyewitness claim that he observed the Electra three times on Saipan during the 1944 invasion, but his well-known contempt for Devine clearly prevented him from accepting even the possibility that Devine’s account might have been accurate.]
USS Lexington with 60 aircraft began its search to the north and northwest of Howland Island on July 13. Ocean currents in the area were generally to the northwest and the reasoning was that a drifting plane could now be as much as four to 500 miles from the place of emergency landing.
On the same date, July 13, 1937, a brief item in a leading Japanese newspaper indicated that Earhart and Noonan had been picked up by a Japanese “fishing boat.” There was never a follow-up to the article.
Japan was seriously concerned regarding U.S. intentions where the Earhart search was concerned. Japan had occupied the Marshall, Caroline and Mariana Islands during World War I, and had maintained control of the area under a League of Nations mandate after the war.
Beginning in 1934, Japan had virtually sealed off the islands to the rest of the world. Speculation had it that Japan was building airfields, fuel depots and expanded harbor and communications facilities in preparation for a Pacific war.
The Marshall Islands lie only 550 miles north and west of Howland Island, and the construction of an American airfield on Howland was most disconcerting to the Japanese. They had repeatedly sent surveillance vessels to the island to determine from offshore the extent and progress of the construction.
[Editor’s note: The distance from Mili Atoll in the Marshalls to Howland Island is 871 statute miles.]
On July 5, 1937, Tsuneo Hayama, second secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., visited the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and informed Joseph W. Ballentine that Japan would conduct its own search for Amelia Earhart around and south of the Marshall Islands. He added that Japan had warships and radio stations in the Marshalls and a considerable number of fishing boats that could range to the east and west of Howland Island.
Ballentine replied that the U.S. Navy had a message believed to have come from Earhart that placed the drifting plane 200 or more miles north of Howland Island.
Hayama telephoned Ballantine the following day, July 6, to say that the Japanese Naval Attaché of the Japanese Embassy had been informed that the Japanese Naval Department had instructed the survey ship Koshu to participate in the search for Earhart and that Japanese radio stations in the Marshalls had been given orders to be on continuous watch for Earhart signals.
On the following day, July 7, 1937, Japan began its full-scale invasion of the China mainland. Major units of the Imperial Japanese Navy were committed to that invasion, and the prospect of planes of the American carrier Lexington flying over the Marshalls in search of Earhart was frightening. The League of Nations mandate Japan held over the Marshalls stipulated that there were to be no military facilities or fortification of any kind.
On July 11, Hayama was back at the U.S. State Department again. This time he retracted his statement of July 5 about “warships” being in the Marshalls, but reiterated that the Japanese had been and were continuing to conduct their own search in the vicinity of the Marshalls.
By July 18, 1937, the Lexington planes were searching areas almost touching the Marshalls, and over the years there have been allegations that some of Lexington’s pilots made detours for photographic runs over selected Japanese held islands. Lexington‘s official log and search report do not support such contentions, nor do the recollections of officers who participated in the search.
Adm. Felix B. Stump, USN, (Ret.), who was navigator for Lexington in 1937 and who later became head of Air America (the CIA’s airline), told me in a personal conversation, “We did not violate Japanese air space over the Marshalls. Although, now, I wish we had.”
After July 18’s air search, Lexington set a course for San Diego, Calif., and destroyers Drayton, Lamson and Cushing headed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The largest air-sea rescue operation in history was over. Lexington‘s planes had covered 151,556 square miles of ocean without any trace of Earhart or Noonan or wreckage from their plane.
The radio messages believed to be coming from Earhart had ended with those of the night of July 7. It was all over. “Two civilian fliers lost at sea.” That was to be the epitaph. (End of Part II)
Even casual observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, then retired but still bound by classified information laws, to Fred Goerner in late March 1965, just before the radio newsman left San Francisco to interview Marine Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene at his Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Va. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.
Only the most cynical accused Goerner of fabricating Nimitz’s statement, while some ignored it completely, but we’ve had only Goerner’s word that Nimitz shared this blockbuster secret with him. However, another iconic World War II hero, Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1944 to 1947, actually put a similar statement in writing — not once, but in two letters he wrote in response to the indefatigable Goerner, still hot on the Earhart case.
These letters, first reported in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, are reproduced here for the first time. Vandegrift’s first letter, of May 10, 1971, was typed in all upper case, while his second, of Aug. 10 1971, was handwritten, but otherwise they are unedited. I do not have Goerner’s initial letter to Vandegrift, which prompted his response.
10 May 1971
Frederick Allan Goerner
Twenty-Four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118
My Dear Mr. Goerner,
In reply to your letter of 6 April, relative to the rumors in reference to the way Miss Earhart met her death, I’m sorry I can’t help you in any way.
I heard the rumor during the South Pacific campaign, particularly the one in Saipan, but when I tried to investigate I found nothing to substantiate the charges made. I have no doubt that Miss Earhart met her death in that area because that has been substantiated. But how and why I have no information. I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help.
General USMC (Ret.)
9 June 1971
General, USMC (Ret.)
720 ELDORADO Lane
DELRAY BEACH, Florida 33444
Dear General Vandegrift
I was most grateful to receive your recent communication containing response to my questions concerning the fate of Miss Amelia Earhart.
As I wish to quote from your comments, I want to make absolutely sure that the implications of those comments is clearly defined and no false conclusions are reached.
You mentioned that you had received information which alleged that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan, and you added, “I have no doubt Miss Earhart met her death in that area because that has been substantiated. But how and why I have no information.”
Did you mean that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan and had died on Saipan, but it was not determined how and why she died?
If that is the correct interpretation, it would be most helpful to know how it was substantiated that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan and had met her death there. Were her remains recovered or was documentation to that fact uncovered?
I thank you very much for your gracious attention to this letter. I shall look forward to your comments with tremendous interest.
With respect and admiration, I am,
Frederick Allan Goerner
24 Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California
P.S. For your convenience, I am enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
720 Eldorado Lane
Delray Beach, Florida
10 August 1971
24 Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, Calif.
Dear Mr. Goerner:
Please pardon my delay in answering your letter of June. In the meantime, I have been in the hospital and have not felt too well since my return.
In writing to you, I did not realize that you wanted to quote my remarks about Miss Earhart and I would rather that you would not.
General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan. That is the total knowledge that I have of this incident.
Having known General Watson many years, I naturally accept this information as being correct. General Watson I’m sorry to say, died some years ago and therefore cannot be contacted.
I am sorry if my remarks misled you but I cannot add anything more to this report.
General, USMC (Ret.)
Vandegrift’s Aug. 10, 1971 letter was written in longhand by an unknown party, possibly his second wife, Kathryn Henson Vandegrift, who was still alive at the time. The general must have been ill at the time, as his signature was shaky and bore no resemblance to the rest of the document; he died two years later. Like Nimitz and Gen. Graves Erskine, two other major flag officers who revealed the truth to Goerner in clandestine ways, the general must have wanted to encourage Goerner, though he was still sworn to silence in the top-secret case.
Vandegrift’s claimed source for his information, former Lt. Gen. Thomas E. “Terrible Tommy” Watson, died in 1966, and this could be why Vandegrift shared the truth with Goerner as he did. The letter could be technically considered hearsay, and he probably assumed it would afford him a level of protection against any ramifications if his disclosure became known.
With a distinguished career that culminated in his selection as the Marine Corps’ first four-star general, who could possibly question Vandegrift’s credibility? He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands in 1942, honors that conferred upon its bearer the gravest moral responsibilities. Undeniably, in that bygone era, long before the modern-day corruption that has stained even our esteemed Marine Corps, the word of a Medal of Honor recipient who also led the world’s greatest fighting force was as good as gold. Moreover, Vandegrift had nothing tangible to gain from telling Goerner the truth, and he had no self-interested reason to do so.
Vandegrift’s claim that his “total knowledge” about Earhart’s death on Saipan was limited to the brief statement he attributed to Watson could not have been true. A three-star general in July 1944, Vandegrift had been commandant of the Marine Corps since Jan. 1 of that year. Watson, as commander of the 2nd Marine Division on Saipan—wherein Lt. Col. Wallace E. Greene performed as operations officer—was at the tip of the spear in the top-secret operation to destroy the Electra, charged with its successful execution by a chain of command that included Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal and beyond to the commander-in-chief.
In the highly unlikely event that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s orders to destroy the Electra had not passed through Vandegrift, he would have been fully briefed by Watson about the operation immediately upon their next meeting, if not sooner. Goerner’s reply to Vandegrift’s August 1971 contained two pointed questions:
●Did General Watson communicate to you HOW it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart had met her death on Saipan?
●Did General Watson indicate whether or not the human remains of Miss Earhart or her navigator had been recovered?7
Goerner’s query was returned undated, with “No” handwritten after each question, signed again by Vandegrift in a trembling hand. Goerner’s file on Vandegrift ends with a brief November 1971 note to Goerner, thanking him for sending a copy of The Search for Amelia Earhart, wishing him “every success in the publication and sale of this book,” and promising to have it read to him as soon as he returned from the hospital. Vandegrift died on May 8, 1973.