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.
In my Oct. 26 post, we saw Fred Goerner’s rather moderately toned March 1, 1990 letter to TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie, in which he gently warned the TIGHAR boss that the media would not long tolerate his false claims about Amelia Earhart’s alleged July 1937 landing on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro). Of course Goerner, who died in 1994, couldn’t imagine the depths that our media would eventually plumb in their enthusiasm and commitment to disseminating anything that continues to keep the public stupid about the Earhart disappearance.
Fourteen years after Time magazine ripped The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” and urged its readers not to waste their time on “conspiracy” theories about Japan’s pre-war atrocities, Goerner still didn’t fully comprehend the media’s deceitful Earhart agenda. But in his letter to Life magazine’s Ed Barnes, he adamantly insisted that Life should table any notions they had about promoting Gillespie’s Nikumaroro fantasies.
The below letter is most instructive, especially for those unfamiliar with the true history of Earhart research, and clearly illuminates the salient details of the Nikumaroro fallacy. The fact that Goerner was ignored by Life leaves no doubt about how far the media, in this case one of the pre-eminent news magazines of the day, will go to support the bogus over the true in the Earhart case. Whatever Barnes thought of Goerner’s letter — and I’ve seen nothing hinting at that — Life published Gillespie’s self-aggrandizing propaganda piece in its April 1992 edition, countering the TIGHAR falsehoods only with a small, easily overlooked boxed insert that quoted a few experts who exposed Gillespie’s claims as pure kaka. Here’s Goerner’s letter, as relevant today as it was in 1991:
FREDERICK ALLAN GOERNER
Twenty-four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118
October 11, 1991
Mr. Ed Barnes
New York, N.Y. 10020
Dear Mr. Barnes,
It is with some trepidation that I provide this information to you.
I stand behind the evidence I am presenting to you herewith, but I make it clear that I prefer not to be brought into what I consider to be the bogus claims of Dr. [sic] Gillespie, Ms. Thrasher and the organization known as TIGHAR: The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery.
You may use my name only if it is absolutely needed for verisimilitude.
First, I believe it is important for you to know that the McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands theory is not the property of or the result of the work of Gillespie and TIGHAR [all bolded emphasis mine, capitalization emphasis Goerner’s throughout].
The work is the result of the efforts of Professor Frederick Hooven of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Hooven conducted a series of computer studies on the Earhart matter at Dartmouth, and I urged him in 1982 to write a paper regarding his conclusions that I might present to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., at the time I was participating in an Earhart symposium at NASM in 1982.
Professor Hooven did so prepare the paper, and I presented it to Ms . Claudia Oakes, who was then Associate cuator at NASM and who had arranged the symposium. A copy of Hooven ‘s work is herewith attached.
I should here inform you that Frederick Hooven, among many, many impressive accomplishments, was the inventor of a low frequency air direction finder that was used for several decades aboard commercial and military aircraft. Hooven and the then U.S. Army Air Corps allowed one of those (then new) direction finders to be installed aboard Earhart’s plane, and Hooven met directly with Amelia Earhart. Because of pressures from her friend, Eugene Vidal, and a division of Bendix Radio, Earhart removed the Hooven device and replaced it with an older null-type, high frequency direction finding device then used by the U.S. Navy.
As you will note, Professor Hooven’s 1982 conclusions have been taken without attribution by TIGHAR. The very odd thing is that Hooven reached a conclusion before his death in 1985 (see attached obit) that NEITHER Gardner (Nikumaroro) or McKean could have been the landing places of the Earhart plane. His thinking was based upon a thorough research we conducted regarding the histories of both of these islands.
The initial Hooven research (represented by the paper presented to NASM) reached Gillespie and TIGHAR in this manner.
A gentleman named Hardon McDonald Wade, Jr., of Atlanta, Georgia became deeply interested in the Earhart mystery. He contacted me and learned about the Hooven paper. I wrote to Claudia Oakes at NASM on his behalf, and he was given a copy of Hooven’s work. Shortly thereafter Mr. Wade began to try to raise funds for an expedition to McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) Islands. He, too, presented the Hooven material without attribution.
Mr. Wade formed a partnership with a Mr. Thomas Willi of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and the two of them continued to attempt to raise funds. Finally, it was announced in the press (see attached item) that Wade and Willi had failed in their efforts to raise sufficient funds for the venture.
There was acrimony between Wade and Willi. According to Wade, he, Wade, “Kicked Willi out of the nest because he was trying to claim my work as his own.” This despite the fact the material belonged to Hooven.
Mr. Willi then formed a relationship with a gentleman named Thomas Gannon and they took the Hooven material without attribution to Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR.
Dr. Gillespie telephoned to me in the spring of 1989 and told me of plans for a soon to be accomplished visit to both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands.
I in turn told him it was NOT ethical to use Hooven’s material without attribution, and I also told Gillespie that Hooven and I had long since reached the conclusion that McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) could not have been a landing place for the Earhart plane. I explained in detail the facts we had learned about both of the islands.
Mr. Gillespie admitted that he was aware of Hooven’s connection to the material, but he did not explain why he was not crediting Hooven other than to say that he, Gillespie, and TIGHAR had conducted additional research which firmed the conjecture about McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro).
I further pointed out to Gillespie that the chart in TIGHAR ‘s prospectus which showed the Pan Am direction finder bearings intersecting in the vicinity of McKean and Gardner Islands were identical to those of Hooven with the exception that one 201 degrees bearing from Wake Island and the 157 degrees bearing from Howland Island had been erased. He stated this was done because the material “was not relevant to the McKean/Gardner Island scenario. “
I told Gillespie that it was TOTALLY relevant because high frequency direction finder bearings circa 1937 were not considered to be accurate to within five degrees. The 201 degrees bearing showed that inaccuracy and the 157 dgrees bearing taken from Howland Island showed the direction finder operator could not tell from which side of the loop he was receiving the signal. It could be 157 and it could be 337. It was unethical of TIGHAR not to make that clear.
I detailed the following information Professor Hooven and I had developed to Gillespie in 1989 both by telephone and letter.
We had personally contacted the three pilots from U.S.S. COLORADO who had overflown McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island in July, 1937, one week after the Earhart disappearance.
No sign of life or wreckage was seen on either of the tiny islands (McKean is less than 1 mile long and 1 mile wide. Gardner (Nikumaroro) is only 3.8 miles long and 1.1 miles wide at its broadest end.
Captain John Lambrecht, USN (Ret.), (who was the senior Navy aviator aboard COLORADO in 1937 and overflew both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) one week after the disappearance, sent me his reports and they indicated “signs of recent habitation” had been observed on Gardner (Nikumaroro). Captain Lambrecht told me the “signs of recent habitation” were the crumbling walls of what appeared to have been buildings.
Gillespie and TIGHAR have chosen to interpret “signs of recent habitation” (despite Lambrecht’s explanation) as “an Earhart survival camp.”
In October, 1937 (see Maude statement and pages from OF ISLANDS AND MEN), three months after the Earhart disappearance, Henry E. Maude and a team of British surveyors landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) and conducted a full investigation of the island and lagoon. Nothing was found that would link Earhart and Noonan to the island. The same was true at McKean Island.
In 1938, a joint New Zealand and British team (known as NZPAS, New Zealand Pacific Air Survey), headed by E.A. Gibson, M.W. Hay, R.A. Wimbish, Jim Henderon and Jack Faton, landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) conducted a full survey. They surveyed for an airfield, and they cleared obstructions in the lagoon.
The survey, the brainchild of sir Ralph Cochrane and E.A. Gibson, had twin purposes: To prepare the islands for defense purposes in the event of a Pacific War. To claim the islands for Britain for possible later use for trans-Pacific commercial aviation [sic]. I obtained the information from the New Zealand National Archives and from Mr. Ian Driscoll the author of the book AIRLINE published in New Zealand.
The 1938 NZPAS survey found nothing that would indicate Earhart and Noonan had ever been on Gardner (Nikumaroro).
In 1939 Henry Maude returned to Gardner (Nikumaroro) with the first contingent of Gilbert Islands settlers. Gardner was then continually inhabited until 1964. A village was built on the island on the area which had been surveyed for the airfield. Thousands of coconut palms were planted. Even a post office was established. During all of this activity, nothing that would connect Earhart and Noonan to the island was found and nothing was reported.
In 1939, the U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. BUSHNELL surveyed Gardner Island for U.S. defense purposes. This survey also included aerial photos and mosaics of the island. Nothing concerning Earhart or Noonan was found or reported.
In 1943, the U.S. Coast Guard built a Loran navigation station on Gardner. Vehicles, construction equipment and building materials were brought ashore. This facility operated until well after the end of World War II. It is unclear the exact date the Coast Guard departed, but it appears to have been in 1947. Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found. Coast Guard personnel, who served on Gardner during that period, report that every inch of the island was explored agin and again because there was little else to do save the evening movie. Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found or reported.
Though Gardner was abandoned by its Gilbert Islands settlers in 1964, the island was surveyed in the 1960s and again in the 1970s with respect to the operation of the Pacific Missile Testing Range and NASA operations. Gardner has also been visited by a Smithsonian Institution expedition interested in the bird population of the island. Gardner has also been visited by private yachts from time to time, including visitors who sailed down from Canton Island to the north.
It is because of the information listed above that Professor Hooven and I reached the conclusion that Gardner (Nikumaroro) could not have been the Earhart/Noonan landing place.
Despite knowing all of this, Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR spent more than $200,000 (by Gillespie’s statements to the media) on the 1989 visit to Gardner (Nikumaroro), and according to reports is spending more than $400,000 of contributors’ money on the current endeavor.
One may legitimately ask WHY and also ask can Gillespie and TIGHAR afford to come back empty handed?
After the 1989 trip, Gillespie tried to tell the media that a “battery” he had found COULD have come from the Earhart plane. Mary DeWitt, who was a member of the 1989 group, says there were old batteries all over the island. No surprise given the number of vehicles on the island over the years and the long occupation. Gillespie ceased to push the “battery.”
Then Mr. Gillespie attempted to convince the media that a cigarette lighter he had found on the beach belonged to Fred Noonan because Noonan was a smoker. When it was pointed out that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel carried such lighters during World War II, Gillespie ceased to push the “Noonan cigarette lighter.”
Then Mr. [sic] Gillespie attempted to float a bit of metal (with a serial number) as part of Earhart’s radio equipment. I have no idea what happened to that gambit other than Gillespie no longer mentioned it to the media.
Finally, last year Gillespie began to trumpet a piece of metal as having come from a navigation bookcase or cabinet aboard the Earhart plane. According to Ms. DeWitt, the bit of metal was found in the first hour ashore in 1989, and it was part of a catchment for rain in one of the buildings. It was not found by Gillespie but by the representative of the Kiribati government, who placed no significance upon it whatsoever.
It is clear to me that no one currently in the media has the background or possesses the information to challenge the incredible offerings of Gillespie and TIGHAR. There is a great lure to the Earhart mystery, and without either the information or the time to investigate, most reporters have simply reported Gillespie’s offerings because they make a good story.
Gillespie has hung most of his speculations upon a story which AP reported in 1961. It concerns one Floyd Kilts of San Diego, who stipulated he served briefly with the Coast Guard on Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. (See attached original AP offering.)
Because we (CBS) were involved in the Earhart investigation in 1961, we dug into Kilts ‘ contentions. Bill Dorais, one of our reporters, learned it was fourth- or fifth-hand hearsay. Kilts could not remember exactly who had told him or who had told the person who told him. It could not even be given the dignity of naming it a rumor. A motion picture had been screened at the Coast Guard facility (it was undoubtedly FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM which was thinly disguised Earhart fiction) which alleged Earhart might have gone down near Gardner. The FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM plot has Earhart heading for “Gull Island.” There is a Hull Island in the vicinity of Gardner (Nikumaroro), and that had begun conjecture about the Phoenix Islands.
Subsequent investigation indicated that NO FEMALE SKELETON wearing WOMEN’S SHOES was ever found on the beach at Gardner. The man stated by Kilts as the “white planter” was actually a gentleman named G.B. Gallagher (see Maude material) who directed the settlement and who died on Gardner Island (and is buried there) in 1941.
The Suva, Fiji governmental history archivist replied that NO skeleton was ever reported found on a Gardner Island beach, and in 1968, while filming the documentary THE BATTLE FOR TARAWA, I spoke with the Deputy Director of the Gilbert, Ellice and Phoenix Islands government at Tarawa, Mr. P.G. Roberts. He said there was a legend among the Gilbert Islands people that the skeleton of a Polynesian man was found at Gardner, but this was definitely pre-1937.
The TIGHAR claim that the woman’s skeleton had women’s shoes of “Amelia Earhart’s size” is total fiction (see Maude letter.) Such a find would have been broadcast throughout the Pacific. It would have been a sensation.
You should ask Gillepie and TIGHAR where the evidence is that shoes of Earhart’s size were found. The truth is Earhart DID NOT WEAR WOMEN’S SHOE WHEN SHE WAS FLYING. She wore men’s low-heel brogans, see photos taken the morning before the final takeoff from Lae, New Guinea July 2, 1937.
We at CBS dismissed Kilts ‘ story in 1961, and I mentioned it derisively in my 1966 book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART. For Gillespie and TIGHAR to spend such large amounts of tax-free donated funds upon such evidence beggars the wildest kind of fiction.
I am herewith attaching copies of letters from Henry Made to Dr. [sic] Gillespie and to me. I am also sending a copy of a letter from me to Maude in whch the specific questions are asked.
Professor Maude is a former Fellow at the Pacific History Center at the Australia National University at Canberra. He and his wife, Honor, are the leading scholars in the world with respect to the Central Pacific Islands and in particular Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. It was Professor Maude who led the expedition there in October 1937.
I do not know what Gillespie will do when he does not find the plane at Gardner on the current visit there. Will he dig up some pitiful remains? There are plenty there: Polynesians, Gilbertese, Gallagher are buried there and maybe more. He does not have permission to invade those graves, but he must bring something back. Knowing what I do about the past gambits of Gillespie and TIGHAR, I would not put ANYTHING past him. Certainly he will come back with more bits of metal or perhaps the soles of some shoes which “may have belonged to Noonan.” It is not beyond my belief that Gillespie will attempt to salt the mine in some way.
I am going to reserve the information concerning Earhart’s and Noonan’s dental charts until I see what develops. I will not be a party to any chicanery or attempts to prolong this nonsense.
It should be obvious to you that I have no vested interest in any of this. My book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART has been out of print since 1970, and I have not attempted to insinuate my name into the media where this subject is concerned since that time. I have answered questions posed to me by members of the media, and I will continue to do so. For instance, I am providing this same material to my friend, Bill German, who is Executive Editor of the San Francisco CHRONICLE newspaper.
It is possible that I will one day write another book which details the incredible array of characters who have struggled to make capital of the Earhart disappearance in the last twenty years, including the yo-yos who have tried to claim that she was until 1984 alive and well and living in New Jersey. Wow! Barnum lives.
By the way, the recent claim of a photo showing Earhart and Noonan in Japanese custody is baloney as well. I immediately recognized the photo as one taken in Honolulu in March, 1937, at the time Earhart cracked up her plane on the first attempted flight around-the-world. I am also herewith enclosing the story from Florida about how and when the photo was taken. By the way, Joseph Gervais and Rollin Reineck, who attempted to float the “in captivity” photo are the same gentlemen who claim Earhart was living in New Jersey until 1984 under the name Irene Bolam. Irene Bolam, by the way, sued Gervais in 1970 and collected an out-of-court settlement.
I have been informed that Gervais and Reineck have tried to counter TIGHAR publicity with the bogus photograph because they are trying to sell an Earhart script in Hollywood. It’s one batch of crap battling another pile of same.
Beware, Mr. Barnes, this is a real journalistic tar baby.
As Professor Maude puts it, “In Australia, we call it bull.”
Goerner was not a racist, but he was a bit of an old-school reporter, so if you’re not real clear on what he meant by calling the Earhart story “a real journalistic tar baby” in closing his letter to Barnes, it’s understandable. Webster’s New World defines the term “tar baby” as “a difficult, abstract problem that worsens as one attempts to handle it,” which certainly captures the essence of the Earhart story.
Goerner’s letter, written in good faith with the best of intentions, was obviously ignored en masse by Life magazine’s decision makers, if not by Barnes himself. The Gillespie-penned piece published by Life did much to launch Gillespie to international recognition as the world’s most visible Earhart “expert,” despite the fact that he’s never found anything that would justify such a claim. The charade and pretense continue to this day. This and many other incidents offer us clear evidence that the government-media establishment was and continues to be actively involved in misinforming the American public about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. No other conclusion is possible.
Most knowledgeable observers agree that the late Fred Goerner was the greatest Earhart researcher ever. Some I’ve known with a preference for the bizarre and sensational, the “lunatic fringe” of the Earhart community, as Goerner was wont to say, have placed Joe Gervais on this mythical throne, though their numbers are few and growing fewer by the day.
I’ve always thought it most unfortunate that Goerner didn’t live long enough to witness the phony Nikumaroro “hypothesis” promoted by TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie attain the complete media dominance it has attained over the past 20 years or so.
Perhaps if the former KCBS radio newsman had not succumbed to cancer and died at age 69 in 1994, the man who wrote the most important book about the Earhart disappearance, The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) and nearly broke through the stone wall that the Washington establishment erected around the truth since the earliest days, could have made a difference in the way the American public thinks about the Earhart case.
A healthy, vibrant Goerner could have put pressure on the media to be more honest and forthcoming about the sophistry emanating from the TIGHAR camp in its constant attempts to justify the ridiculous travesty that the Nikumaroro canard has become.
The TIGHAR website is replete with all manner of Earhart research material, and even contains two letters from Goerner. Neither of these is the below missive from Goerner to Gillespie, written shortly after Gillespie’s return from TIGHAR’s first trip to Nikumaroro in 1989. The TIGHAR cash cow was still in its infancy, and another year would pass before the infamous falsehood Gillespie uttered at the Washington Press Club, telling the world via CNN that the “Earhart mystery is solved.” This March 1992 farce gained Gillespie instant fame and renown as the world’s greatest Earhart authority — for what amounted to absolutely no reason whatsoever.
This is the first of two Goerner-to-Gillespie letters in my possession, the second coming two years later, shortly after the TIGHAR boss was featured in an article he wrote himself in Life magazine’s April 1992 edition. A photo of Gillespie on Nikumaroro in his tropical search outfit, complete with pith helmet, hard at work and immersed in the quest for Amelia Earhart, may have sent an already-ill Goerner to his local emergency in search of a cure for severe nausea.
I will leave the rest of the meaningful conclusions to those who can discern them, and get on with the business of presenting the letter from Goerner to Gillespie, dated March 1, 1990.
Richard E. Gillespie Executive Director TIGHAR
1121 Arundel Drive
Wilmington, Delaware 19808
Dear Mr. Gillespie:
Please forgive the brief delay in answering your letter of February 8, 1990.
The questions you posed have required me to research my files which are quite voluminous. I have more than 75,000 documents and letters and notes in my Earhart file alone.
When I wrote to Mr. Gerth and spoke with you by telephone last year, I was writing and speaking strictly from memory without reference to any documents. As my involvement with the Earhart matter is thirty years old this year, my memory is far from totally trustworthy.
To properly answer you I have dug into a lot of material, much of which I have not perused for a decade or more.
With respect to the Floyd Kilts business: One of our KCBS investigative reporters, Bill Dorais, who was deeply interested in the Earhart story, dug into Kilts ‘ claims. Dorais concluded that it was third-hand information at best and totally suspect.
Bill became convinced that Kilts had seen FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM in which the female pilot character was supposed to land at “Gull Island” and because Hull Island was a part of the Phoenix Islands, speculation was rife that the Earhart plane had come down on one of the Phoenix Islands.
Bill wrote to the Central Archives of Fiji and The Western Pacific High Commission for information, and the archivist, named Tuiniceva, replied that “No skeleton has ever been reported found on Gardner Island.” Bill finally decided (as did I) that Kilts’ story was the result of a corruption of varied events, difficulty in translation, vivid imagination and the traditional exaggeration of the story over the years.
I learned more in November, 1968, at the time I took a film crew to Tarawa in the Gilberts to do a documentary on the 25th anniversary the World War II U.S. invasion of Tarawa. I was accompanied by General David Shoup, USMC, Ret. , who was awarded the Medal of Hour for his valor at Tarawa, and five U.S. combat correspondents, who had been part of the Tarawa invasion. The film, TARAWA D+25 was aired in 1969.
During our stay at Tarawa in 1968, I had some long conversations with a Mr. Roberts, who was a top assistant to the British High Commissioner. Roberts was sort of an unofficial historian for the Gilbert Islands Colony.
I tried out the Kilts’ story on Roberts, and he gathered together several of the older Gilbertese, who had been a part of the colonizing activities at Gardner shortly after the Earhart disappearance. After much conversation and deep-thinking, it was decided that there was a legend about the remains of a Polynesian man being found on Gardner, what year or specific circumstance unknown. They were firm, however, that the skeleton of a woman had NEVER been found. There was, too, a strange story of a woman’s “high-heel shoes” turning up at some point on Gardner. This was a matter of some hilarity.
Roberts said he was absolutely certain the remains of a woman had never been found because it would have been a matter of considerable import to everyone. He added that the Polynesian man story was plausible because Polynesians from Niue occupied Gardner Island sometime around the turn-of-the-century.
Roberts told me that if I had further interest I should seek out a man named [Henry Evans] Harry Maude, who headed an expedition to Gardner late in 1937. He said Maude was the most knowledgeable man in the world about the Gilbert and Phoenix Islands, and he was considered a world-class historian. Roberts also told me a quite sensational story about the travail of the crew of NORWICH CITY, but I have never found time or motivation to pursue the matter.
I did not search for Maude, but recently I have been told that Maude has authored several books about the islands, and he is a Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra. If I were you, I would contact Maude for a full story on Gardner.
Finally, Roberts told me that if Earhart and Noonan had been on Gardner they could have survived very nicely as there were plenty of coconuts, crabs and birds which could be caught by simply walking up to them and grabbing them.
Several times in the 1970’s I visited the archives in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand. Basically I was searching for information about the cruiser HMS ACHILLES which was involved in the Earhart puzzle in 1937. I was also interested in why the British through the New Zealanders were so vitally interested in the Phoenix Islands and in particular Canton Island at a time when those interests collided with those of the United States.
If you are certain he was British, I have no information that would refute that conclusion. Also, I have no proof that Floyd Kilts was removing the Loran station on Gardner as opposed to constructing it. Bill Dorais got the idea he was involved in the construction.
By the way, U.S.S. PLANETREE was indeed a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. It was a 180-foot tender of the MESQUITE 180 (B) Class). Her visual call sign was WAGL-307 (bn CG-140). She was commissioned November 4, 1943. As of 1982, PLANETREE was still on active duty. She was the vessel which delivered the initial construction force to Gardner for the Loran station. For further information, I refer you to Robert Scheina, who is official historian for the U.S. Coast Guard. I’m sure he could get you all of the information about the Gardner Loran installation and the reports that were filed from that installation. He can also give you a complete biography of U.S.S. PLANETREE.
Again, with respect to the records found in the archives in Auckland and Wellington, I have neither the time or inclination to give you a full story of the competition between the U.S. and Britain over the islands, but I will give you some highlights of some of the material.
H.M.S. WELLINGTON visited Gardner in August, 1935 and accomplished a survey. In February, 1937, HMS LEITH, again visited Gardner, and a British flag was raised on the island and a large marker was constructed proclaiming Gardner as a British possession. Mr. Maude and his Gilbertese people arrived on Gardner sometime in October of 1937. This was separate from the activities which originated in New Zealand. The Gilbert Islands had a severe problem with excess population, and colonizing the Phoenix Islands appeared as a method of easing that situation.
In November, 1938, a joint New Zealand and British team, which was known by the acronym NZPAS (New Zealand Pacific Air Survey) landed on Gardner. The team was headed by E.A. Gibson, M.W. Hay, R.A. Wimbush, Jim Henderson and Jack Payton. They stayed on the island until January 30, 1939, and they conducted a full survey of Gardner which included setting the boundaries for a landing field and clearing obstructions in the lagoon for a seaplane landing area.
The effort was the brainchild of Sir Ralph Cochrane and E.A. Gibson, and it had twin purposes: To prepare the islands for possible use in the event of a war in the Pacific and to claim the islands for Britain for later use for trans-Pacific commercial aviation. The work was accomplished in considerable secrecy.
In 1939, the U.S. Navy ship BUSHNELL surveyed Gardner for defense and commercial purposes. The survey also included aerial photographs and mosaics of the island.
You of course know of the occupation of the island by the Coast Guard [LORAN station] during World War II and the fact the Gilbertese colony held on until the early 1960’s.
During all of this time, no official report was ever filed by anyone which would suggest that Earhart and Noonan landed on Gardner in July, 1937.
The above information was what finally dissuaded Fred Hooven from the Gardner conclusion.
By the way, despite our conversation of last year, nowhere have I seen you acknowledge that your recent efforts were motivated by the work of Fred Hooven. As you well know, the information did not originate with Mr. Willi or Mr. Wade. Though Fred Hooven has been dead for five years, responsible researchers have the obligation to identify their sources of information.
As I wrote to Mr . Gerth and as I discussed with you by phone last year, I knew the pilots Lambrecht, Short and Fox of U.S.S. COLORADO. They were not fledgling flyers. They were seasoned U.S. Navy aviators, and they would have liked nothing better than to find Earhart and Noonan.
To suggest that they saw signs that someone was living on Gardner and simply ignored them is an extreme insult to their memories. John Lambrecht assured me that they were totally convinced that Gardner and the other Phoenix Islands with the exception of Hull Island were uninhabited. His “signs of recent habitation” on Gardner were undoubtedly the markers left by HMS LEITH in March, 1937.
At the risk of making you angry, I feel I must say several things to you, Mr. Gillespie.
The temptation to get easy publicity is immense. Evidence your recent claims, along with those of Messrs. Willi and Gannon, about a battery, a cigarette lighter, bits of metal, etcetera that you found on Gardner that “possibly could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan or come from the Earhart plane.”
Given the number of people who lived on or visited Gardner since 1937, there must be a mass of debris there, and the more logical conclusion is that these items belonged to those people rather than Earhart and Noonan. There must be many old batteries there. The Coast Guard used them for many purposes . Anyone could have lost a cigarette lighter. And “a boxlike piece of metal with a serial number on it (that) may have enclosed radio equipment” is more logical to the Coast Guard. Metal was at a premium on Gardner where the natives were concerned for many purposes including catchments for rain. I’m sure the Coast Guard personnel gave the natives anything they could. That ‘s the way it was during WWII . Also remember that U.S. planes flew into Gardner during WWII to re-supply the Coast Guard station and to deliver mail.
Once you float “possibilities” to the media and there never is a follow-up, it catches up to you and credibility plummets. The hardest thing in the world is to come back from an expedition and tell the media and friends and members of your organization that nothing was found that could be identified as belonging to Earhart or Noonan or their plane. I know that because of personal experience.
The only thing that will write an end to the Earhart mystery is positive identification of their aircraft or their remains. That does not mean a piece of metal or some unidentified human remains. It means NUMBERS from the props, engines or instrument panel or remains that can be identified by dental charts.
If you return to Gardner, don’t bring back more “maybes” for publicity. If you bring something back, be absolutely positive you have clear identification before making the search for Earhart and Noonan more of joke than it already is.
As I discussed with you by phone and as I wrote to Mr. Gerth, Fred Hooven and I dismissed the possibility of Gardner or McKean because of the massive amount of information that made such a conclusion illogical. We arrived at the conclusion that the most logical places to search were the tiny reefs which lie between Howland Island and the Phoenix Islands. I have asked the U.S. Navy to search those bits of coral, and I’m hopeful they ill do just that some time in the not distant future.
You must remember, too, that the direction finders circa 1937 were not considered to be accurate at distance closer than 5 degrees. That information was given to me by captain August Detzer, USN, (Ret.), who in 1937 was head of OP-20-GX, the direction-finding division for Naval Intelligence Communications.
If you want further information, don’t hesitate to ask.
Good luck with your organization and any further searches. Simply remember to provide all information to your membership and investors, and use the media carefully. They will not remain tolerant of “maybes” forever.
24 Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, CA 94118
Note Goerner’s closing statement, in which he gently warned Gillespie that the media “will not remain tolerant of ‘maybes’ forever.” In 1990, four years before his death, Goerner simply had no way to foresee the depths of dishonest advocacy for TIGHAR to which the American media would eventually sink.
Even now, after 26 years of nothing more than “maybes,” as far as the media is concerned it’s as if TIGHAR’s falsehoods were birthed yesterday, and Gillespie had just stepped out of the National Press Club in 1992 after proclaiming that the “Earhart mystery is solved.”
Nothing demonstrates the artificial, contrived nature of the Nikumaroro scam better than the fact that merit or results have nothing to do with the media’s enthusiasm for it. Few if any are as disgusted by this absurd phenomenon as I am.
In his introduction to Paul Rafford Jr.’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change,” in the November 1997 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Bill Prymak quoted an unnamed, recently deceased “old-time researcher’s poignant reflection on the problems the Earhart case posed for inquiring minds.
“Fail to look under every rock, and you’ll never solve this bloody Earhart mystery,” Prymak began. “And so, patiently, deliberately, methodically, PAUL RAFFORD has plunged into this tangled, labyrinthine morass of inaccurate data, misleading information, speculation, ill-based rumors, all in an attempt to bring some sense to AE’s disappearance. The deep-six theory is too simplistic, leaving too many questions unanswered. In the following three articles, Paul explores some new (provocative?) territory.
In Paul’s revised 2008 edition of his book. Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared, Paul reprised his April 5, 1997 piece, “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change” and rewrote it in a more reader-friendly style. Following is my best attempt to combine the best elements of both pieces, which is then following Bill Prymak’s analysis.
“THE CASE FOR THE AMELIA EARHART MIAMI PLANE CHANGE”
by Paul Rafford Jr. (Extracted from Amelia Earhart’s Radio and Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, November 1997)
4th stop, Miami: 23 May to 1 June
A photo taken upon her arrival in Miami, shows the direction finding loop still installed and the short factory version of the fixed antenna in place. In 1940, John Ray was the flight instructor while I was the radio operator aboard Pan Am’s instrument training plane. Flying out of LaGuardia, we trained pilots in instrument approaches and letdowns. He told me that while moonlighting with his aviation radio service business in Miami, he had been contracted to remove Earhart’s trailing antenna.
In January 1990, I wrote and asked him to confirm what he had told me 50 years before. He immediately telephoned and repeated everything he had originally claimed: soon after her arrival in Miami, he had removed her trailing antenna. Seemingly unrelated at the time, Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie made the first round-trip commercial flight from New York to London and back from May 8 to May 14 in 1937 with a Lockheed Electra 10E. They flew over newsreels of the Hindenburg disaster of May 6th, and returned with photographs of the coronation of King George VI of May 12th.
It was declared the first commercial crossing of the Atlantic, and the two men won several awards including the Harmon Trophy because of the feat. To make the flight, the windows of the aircraft had been removed and the plane was modified to carry 1,200 gallons of fuel. The fixed antenna was mounted as far forward as possible to create the best transmission, but no trailing antenna nor D/F loop were installed.
Merrill and Lambie then flew the Daily Express to Miami for the May 24 reception to be greeted by the Mayor plus 10,000 fans, and received silver trophies for their acheivement. Earhart, Noonan, and Putnam met them at the event. In April 1992, I had a long telephone conversation with Bob Thibert after I heard that he had worked on Earhart’s plane during her layover in Miami. I had known Bob in the 1970s. when we both worked for Pan Am. He claimed that the morning before Earhart’s departure, Len Michaelfelder, his boss, handed him a new radio loop and told him to install and calibrate it on the Electra, post-haste. However, newsreels of the Electra taken just after it arrived in Miami from Burbank show a loop already mounted on it.
Thibert was quite surprised when I told him that pictures of the Electra taken during its arrival at Miami clearly show that it already had a direction finding loop. So I asked him if he had seen any evidence that one might have been previously installed on the roof, such as filled-in bolt holes. He claimed he hadn’t. Later in the 1990s, I talked with both John Ray and Bob Thibert. To my surprise, neither of them knew that the other had worked on Earhart’s plane.
The previous day, at Earhart’s request, Michaelfelder had modified the fixed antenna specifically to maximize transmissions on 6210 kHz. Although it was reported that he lengthened the antenna, he actually had shortened the antenna wire and moved the mast back several feet, bringing the lead-in down the right side of the fuselage. This arrangement was supposed to maximize transmission on 6210 kHz. 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. Although John was an instrument flight instructor for Pan Am, he was also moonlighting an aeronautical radio service business.
Meanwhile, the sister ship to Earhart’s Electra, the Daily Express, had just arrived in Miami after a well-publicized round trip between New York and London. The two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics. They then prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra. The Daily Express, however, had no trailing antenna. When queried, Earhart explained to the press corps that she had the antenna removed to save weight and the bother of reeling it out and in. But she did need a direction finding loop and this is how Bob Thibert found himself installing one the day before her departure. Later, the calibration curve he left in the cockpit would be Harry Balfour’s prime reference when he checked the loop at Lae.
During Earhart’s visit with Pan Am officials in Miami, she had a discussion with Charlie Winter, our local radio engineer. During World War II, he gave me the details. Now that she had dispensed with the trailing antenna, he suggested they replace the 500 kHz crystal and coils in her #3 transmitting channel with a Pan Am direction-finding frequency. This would allow our long distance direction finders to follow her progress across the Pacific.
To his surprise, she immediately cut him off with, “I don’t need that! I’ve got a navigator to tell me where I am.” Period. End discussion. Charlie was flabbergasted! He couldn’t believe she would turn down such an offer without further consideration. Looking back, perhaps we can come up with at least one explanation as to why Amelia was so opposed to Charlie’s suggestion. Could it be that she didn’t want her whereabouts known while crossing the Pacific? In order to explain just what did happen during Earhart’s Miami transit I propose the following scenario.
There was more than one Electra involved when Earhart departed on her second attempt to circle the globe. After the original plane was rebuilt, she flew it to Miami. There, John Ray removed the trailing antenna. She then flew it to an unknown destination, dropped it off, and returned to Miami in plane #2 [the Daily Express]. Jim Donahue [author of The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection (1987)] claimed that Earhart left Miami in the Electra at least once during her layover.
However, some modifications were needed. Radio antenna-wise, the Daily Express was a bare bones model 10E. It carried no d/f loop or trailing antenna and its fixed antenna was the standard, short factory model. Legend has it that Earhart couldn’t be bothered with the problems involved with carrying a trailing antenna. However, I believe the reason she had her trailing antenna removed from plane #1 was because plane #2 [the Daily Express] would be delivered without one.
Removing it from plane #1 after her arrival in Miami would explain to the press and close observers why she had one when she arrived but not when she left Miami. She had to cover up the fact that she had switched planes. This is also why John Ray was contracted to remove the trailing antenna on #1, but Pan Am mechanics worked on the Daily Express. Had any of the three mechanics worked on both planes they would have immediately recognized the difference.
Although Earhart could dispense with the trailing antenna, she did need a loop and a more efficient fixed antenna. This is where Pan Am came into the picture. Radio mechanic Lynn Michaelfeller would lengthen the fixed antenna and Bob Thiebert would install a loop.
I made two telephone calls to Thiebert in April, 1992. We had both worked at Miami in 1970, when he was Superintendent of Pan Am’s radio/electronic overhaul shops and I was in charge of communications for Central America. … He said the job was top priority as the plane was leaving the first thing the following morning. He had to install a loop on it posthaste.
He went into detail about how he had worked alone doing both the metal and electrical work. I asked Bob the obvious question: during the installation had he seen any evidence of where previous loops might have been mounted? He said, “No,” and was quite surprised when I told him that at one time or another there had been at least two other loops mounted on Earhart’s plane. Bob had found only virgin skin where loops are mounted. He was also quite surprised when I told him that John Ray had removed the trailing antenna after the plane moved in Miami. He didn’t know John Ray, or know that anyone else but Pan Am mechanics had worked on the plane.
Although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, the aforementioned TIGHAR Tracks article [Page 16 of the September 1995 issue of TIGHAR Tracks shows pictures of Earhart’s Electra parked at Burbank, Calif., and then taking off from Miami at the start of her round-the-world flight.] lends additional credence to the Miami plane change theory. In the last paragraph of page 16 the author claims: “The most apparent change made to NR16020 during the eight day stay in Florida was the replacement of the starboard rear window with a patch of aluminum skin. Again, legend has often described this feature as a removable hatch but the photographic record indicates otherwise. The opening first appears in 1937, and is present as a window in every known shot of the airplane’s starboard side until Miami, when it becomes shiny metal which grows gradually duller in photos taken at progressive stops in the world flight.”
The author implies that the starboard rear window was replaced by a patch of aluminum in Miami. However, I suggest that the plane is actually #2 [Daily Express], and the rear window was modified before the plane left Burbank. (Editor’s note: See photo of Amelia with Nilla Putnam, above.)
The Daily Express was preferable to Earhart’s original Electra for a round-the-world flight because it had approximately 100 gallons greater fuel capacity and hadn’t been through a bad crackup. Meanwhile, stripped of its trailing antenna and repainted, plane #1 would no longer be recognized as having belonged to Earhart. However, there was a discrepancy between the length of the fixed antennas on the two airplanes. Plane #1 arrived in Miami with the short, factory version. Its mast was mounted about midway between nose and tail. By contrast, the mast on the Daily Express was mounted over the cockpit in order to provide the maximum length of antenna wire possible. However, in order to make room for the new loop, it was necessary to move the mast several feet back toward the tail. The end result was that the length of the fixed antenna on plane #2 was longer than the factory version, but shorter than the original Daily Express version.
However, even though the longer fixed antenna of plane #2 would put out a better radio signal than #1, the radiated power was only 5 watts on 6210 kHz. and one-half watt on 3105 kHz. Thiebert’s work was documented by the New York Times.
We can only guess why Earhart would secretly swap planes and do it in Miami instead of Burbank. Was it done at Miami because it would be easier to cover up? What was different about the Daily Express that switching it for the original Electra was so important? Did the powers-that-be feel it was better to switch to a new plane rather than risk flying the original, patched-up airframe around the world? Or, as proponents of the conspiracy theory would be quick to claim, was the Daily Express equipped with special aerial reconnaissance equipment?
As Professor Francis Holbrook wrote me some years ago in connection with the Earhart mystery, “Once you have answered one question about it you discover you’d raised ten more.
(End of Paul Rafford’s “The Case for the Amelia Earhart Miami Plane Change.”)
“Did Amelia Earhart Really Change Airplanes?”
By: Bill Prymak, AES Newsletter, November 1998
Several serious researchers over the years have bandied about the possibility that AE, for some secretive covert reason, switched planes “somewhere along the route.” Strong anecdotal evidence backs these folks, but I have recently come across another way to identify her airplane as it flew some 22,000 miles from Oakland to Lae, New Guinea. I call it a “signature.”
Aluminum aircraft skin production in the mid-1930s was a new, burgeoning science, and the process produced various different tones and shades, even from sheet-to-sheet off the same lot. So, each tone or shade becomes a unique signature, and if we study the rear half of the left vertical rudder below the horizontal stabilizer as illustrated on the blow-up below you will find that the same dark shade consistently repeats itself on every photo I have ever seen as the plane wends its way around the world.
I have only included in this NEWSLETTER five photos showing this unique signature, and I would certainly like to expand my file on this issue. If anybody out there has a photo of AE’s airplane with the above signature clearly shown, please send a clear copy to me. It’ll be deeply appreciated. (End of Prymak analysis.)
The quality of the photos of the Electra displayed in the photocopy and electronic copy of Bill’s article isn’t good enough to reproduce here, but at the bottom of the piece are five photos of the Electra and its dark signature, reportedly taken during the world flight. Three locations are identified: Caripito, Venezuela; Karachi, Pakistan; and Lae, New Guinea. It seems inarguable that this is the same Electra that left Burbank, Calif.
Although Prymak’s “dark signature” appears to be the key to dismissing Rafford’s plane change theory, nagging questions remain. Why did Bob Thibert recall seeing only “virgin skin” on the Electra’s roof where two other devices, the Hooven Radio Compass, a domed direction finder, and the Bendix Radio Direction Finder, with its unmistakable, disctinctive loop? How can this be a case of old age or faded memory, when Bob Thibert was simply confirming an incident he told Paul Rafford about more than 5o years previously? Could Thibert have actually installed a new d/f loop in the Daily Express, which then left Miami for parts unknown, instead of carrying Earhart and Noonan on to the next leg of their doomed world flight?
What is known about the fate of the Daily Express? Precious little is available on the Internet, but two sources agree that the plane wound up in Russia. Paragon Agency Publisher Doug Westfall, who published Rafford’s Amelia Earhart’s Radio, writing on the Verkhoyansk, Siberia Trip Advisor, reported, “It was sold the the USSR in 1938, disassembled and reassembled, being used in WWII. It was last seen crashed on the tundra near Verkhoyansk about 10 years ago.”
The TIGHAR site, when not promoting Ric Gillespie’s erroneous Nikumaroro “hypothesis,” is often an excellent source of Earhart-related material, and in its Earhart Project Research Bulletin, “Detective Story,” of July 12, 2007, we find: “After its epic transatlantic flight, the Daily Express was sold to the Soviet Union and used in the search the lost transpolar aviator Sigismund Levinevski. The airplane’s ultimate fate is unknown.”
Once again, the reader should understand that I’m neither promoting nor dismissing Paul Rafford Jr.’s theory, but am presenting it for your information and entertainment. In the big picture, it makes no difference whether Amelia and Fred landed at Mili Atoll in the Daily Express or the original Earhart Electra.
One problem I have with Rafford’s proposed scenario, besides Prymak’s dark signature that appears to preclude its possibility, is that when Paul wrote that the “two airplanes were secretly swapped and the Daily Express was turned over to Pan Am’s mechanics” who then “prepared it for the world flight, never suspecting they were not working on Earhart’s original Electra,” he doesn’t tell us where, when or how the Daily Express was painted with “NR 16020” on and under the wings and tail. This operation would have been necessary if the Pan Am mechanics working on the Daily Express “never suspected” it wasn’t the Earhart bird.
In a recent email, Paul Rafford’s daughter, Lynn, told me her father still believes in the “possibility of a plane switch at Miami, but does not really know what could have happened to the plane that was switched out.” For now, that’s where we’ll have to leave it.