Fred Goerner’s 1991 letter to Life magazine’s Barnes: Hooven created Nikumaroro theory, not Gillespie
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 curator 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 degrees 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 again 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. 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 Gillespie 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 which 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, and probably 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 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 big 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 room 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 Honor 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 1970s 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) [sic]. 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 1960s.
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 will 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 Rafford’s revised 2008 edition of Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared, he revised 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 attempt to combine the best elements of both pieces, which is then followed by Bill Prymak’s analysis. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
“THE CASE FOR THE AMELIA EARHART MIAMI PLANE CHANGE”
By Paul Rafford Jr.
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 achievement. 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 Michaelfelder would lengthen the fixed antenna and Bob Thibert would install a loop.
I made two telephone calls to Thibert 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 NR 16020 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. Thibert’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, distinctive loop, had been previously installed? 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 50 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 to 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.
In the opening sentence of my critique about Ric Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Recovery (TIGHAR) in the final chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, I wrote the following: “Nobody in the history of Earhart investigations has made so much from so little as Ric Gillespie.” With this new phony claim from the TIGHAR chief, Gillespie appears more determined than ever to prove the validity of that statement.
The 26-year assault against common sense, logic and worst of all, the truth, which has been the hallmark of Gillespie’s Earhart-Nikumaroro fundraising campaign since a USA Today headline screamed, “A piece for Earhart puzzle on Jan. 4, 1991, continued its seemingly unceasing refrain Oct. 28. All of a sudden, we were knee deep into another super media-hype prelude to what Gillespie ostentatiously labels “Niku VIII,” but which is, more accurately, TIGHAR’s eleventh trip to the long-picked-over island of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner, in the Central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain.
As a result, I’ve been derailed from my track of highlighting Paul Rafford Jr.’s estimable and controversial theories about Amelia Earhart’s last flight, and forced to confront the latest affront to the truth in the Earhart case by Gillespie, unarguably among the greatest obstacles to public enlightenment in the history of Earhart research, perhaps second only to the U.S. government itself, which has been actively suppressing the truth since 1937.
This new outrage, which Australian researcher David Billings warned me was coming, began with Discovery News’ mistitled story of Oct. 28, “Amelia Earhart Plane Fragment Identified” by way of Rossella Lorenzi’s mendacious pen. “A fragment of Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft has been identified to a high degree of certainty for the first time ever since her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937,” Lorenzi’s story began. “According to researchers at The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 77 years ago, the aluminum sheet is a patch of metal installed on the Electra during the aviator’s eight-day stay in Miami, which was the fourth stop on her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.”
I need not repeat all the sordid details of the current iteration of this charade, or the disgusting phenomenon itself. Gillespie’s money-grubbing Nikumaroro boondoggles are well known to readers of this blog as well as anyone else with even a passing interest in the Earhart case. They also know his brainchild, TIGHAR, is the most inaptly named organization in modern aviation investigative history, and has never recovered and restored any aircraft, at least to this writer’s knowledge. For those few visitors who may be new and need more information to clarify all this, please see “June 2: Gillespie and TIGHAR — Again and Rossella Lorenzi, TIGHAR’s best friend” (Oct. 24, 2013).
Last year Gillespie was reported to be seeking $3 million to finance the high-tech submersible search operations off Nikumaroro, of which an unknown percentage goes to Gillespie’s “non-profit” organization and finances the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. But Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald reports that Gillespie’s new goal is a more modest $387,000 “to take an underwater vessel to Nikumaroro to get a closer look at that anomaly.”
(As an aside and something I shouldn’t have to say, neither I nor anyone else I respect who’s involved with Earhart research has ever been motivated by the remotest dreams of financial gain. My love and devotion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance is well known to those who have read Truth at Last and frequent this site, which had been as popular as a toxic waste dump before we broke all-time page-visit records Oct. 30. Clearly, many more discerning readers than usual, sick of reading Gillespie’s nonsense, went looking for an alternative – which, of course, would be the Marshall Islands, Saipan and the TRUTH. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide what you think motivates Ric Gillespie in his Earhart work.)
Lorenzi, along with the Miami Herald’s Garvin (see his Oct. 28 “Piece of metal may offer clue to disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s plane” for an example of just how truly bad the media adulation of Gillespie can get) has risen to threaten all time-supremacy of the media hacks who shill for Gillespie. The AP’s Richard Pyle’s sendoff love letter to Gillespie in 2007 just before TIGHAR’s departure for NIKU V, “Search team hopes high tech will solve Amelia Earhart mystery” still ranks as the most oppressively biased of all the pro-TIGHAR propaganda in this writer’s memory.
But Lorenzi has been diligently practicing her agitprop, and she isn’t far behind Pyle. Playing the faithful stenographer, deeper in her story she loyally reported the latest and most egregious Gillespie whopper, as she quoted him saying, “This is the first time an artifact found on Nikumaroro has been shown to have a direct link to Amelia Earhart” in touting his fourth-hand piece of old aluminum found in 1991 as the closest thing to aviation’s Holy Grail ever found.
Not yet content, Lorenzi gleefully rubbed salt in the wound by adding, “In 10 archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro, Gillespie and his team uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.” The unwashed are expected to assume that Lorenzi’s so-called “castaway presence” is Amelia Earhart, but she declined to mention that none of the assorted crap dragged out of the Nikumaroro ground has ever been linked to Amelia or Fred Noonan. Lorenzi also conveniently forgot to mention the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station, with real, living Americans, that was operating on the island from 1944 to 1946, or the hundreds of Gilbertese settlers who also lived there from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Details, details, details.
Once Lorenzi’s story hit the wires, nearly everyone in the mainstream horde broke their necks jumping on the TIGHAR bandwagon, among them ABC, NBC and CBS News, CNN, the Associated Press and on down the line to the major websites and newspapers in cities big and small. Even Joseph Farah’s normally conservative World Net Daily joined the party, which became a full-court press of TIGHAR propaganda worthy of the finest Joseph Goebbels production. I even heard it on news breaks between The Savage Nation on my local Jacksonville AM station. Everyone was gleefully announcing that a piece of the Earhart plane had been found, thanks to Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, and we could all sleep better that night. For a while it was like the Second Coming, and I simply couldn’t take it.
But, as it turned out, these arrogant media types had stepped in it big time, proving yet again that investigative journalism has long been a dead art, replaced by political operatives who pretend to be journalists and have no hangups about ethics or honesty. Almost as quickly as Gillespie’s claim had been circulated throughout the media biosphere, one man stepped forward to pour ice water all over the TIGHAR parade.
Gary LaPook, an experienced celestial navigator, attorney, former airline pilot and member of the Stratus Project and Amelia Earhart Society, recalled this piece of aluminum from bygone days, and knew it possessed a characteristic that unequivocally rules it out as coming from the Earhart Electra. On Oct. 29, a day after Lorenzi’s proclamations were published, LaPook sent the below report to the AES online forum:
Aluminum used in manufacturing aircraft is known as “Alclad” and has specification “24 ST” and the aluminum sheets are marked. You can see on the surface of Ric’s piece of aluminum the “D” in the word “ALCLAD.” All the photos of Earhart’s plane and, other planes from 1937, show that the aluminum is marked “24 ST” and is was not marked “ALCLAD.” We know that the marking was changed by World War 2 but Ric claims that it is uncertain when the changeover was made and that some 1937 aluminum might have had the “ALCLAD” marking instead of the “24 ST” marking. Obviously, if Ric were to admit that this marking only happened after 1937 then his new fund raising piece is a scam. When confronted with all the photos of Earhart’s plane under construction showing “24 ST” he explains it away by saying the “patch” was applied in Miami and that Miami had a different batch of aluminum with the new marking.
O.K. Since Ric is proffering this aluminum as evidence of Earhart’s plane being on Nikumaro then he has the burden of proof that it was made in 1937 and not in WW2. He always tries to turn this around and demands that others disprove that it was 1937 aluminum but it is his piece of evidence so he has the burden of authenticating it. If 1937 aluminum was marked “ALCLAD” then why hasn’t Ric been able to come up with even one photo of it from 1937 to substantiate his claim?
LaPook sent a web link to a site that discussed aluminum markings from the 1930s: https://aluminummarkings.wordpress.com, as well the TIGHAR artifact that showed the “AD” of “ALCLAD,” adding that Gillespie even named the photo “AD on skin.”
“Before you send any money to TIGHAR ask Mr. Gillespie to produce a piece of 1937 aluminum bearing the markings “ALCLAD,” LaPook wrote on TIGHAR’s Facebook Page. “He claims that his “patch” was installed on Earhart’s plane in 1937 but it clearly shows the “AD” in ALCLAD that wasn’t used until 1941. . . . Aluminum was not marked with the word “ALCLAD” until 1941 so the “AD” on Mr. Gillespie’s piece of aluminum disqualifies it as coming from Earhart’s plane. It is Mr. Gillespie’s burden to prove that this marking was used in 1937 and he has never been able to find any such proof or to produce an authentic piece of 1937 aluminum with this marking on it. Demand that he do so before you send him any of your money.” LaPook said these posts were gone from the TIGHAR Facebook page the next morning.
LaPook told Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald and Bruce Burns of the Kansas City Star about this, and it forced Garvin to write another story, “Investigators search for Amelia Earhart’s ghost in old Miami Herald” Oct. 30, and its title did nothing to indicate the grave nature that message’s effect might have on Gillespie’s fund-raising efforts. In his story, Garvin saved the most important fact – the “money quote,” so to speak, for the end of the story:
The most important evidence, however, is the linkage of Gillespie’s scrap to Earhart’s plane through study of the photo. And it’s on that point that LaPook and other his other critics insist most adamantly he’s wrong. They says [sic] telltale evidence on Gillespie’s scrap of wreckage prove it wasn’t manufactured until several years after Earhart crashed. The scrap bears a visible stamp of an A and a letter D — probably part of the label 24ST Alclad, the type of aluminum its [sic] made from.
But, LaPook says, Alcoa Inc., the company that manufactured the aluminum, didn’t start stamping it with the 24ST Alclad designation until 1941. Before that, it used the abbreviation ALC. “There are hundreds of photos of aluminum pieces stamped ALC,” LaPook said. “It’s just beyond doubt.”
Ron Bright of the AES, a former TIGHAR member who knows Gillespie and keeps much closer tabs on developments at TIGHAR than this writer, shared some perspective on the origin of the object of this controversy, the rectangular piece of aluminum found on Nikumaroro in 1991. This itself begs the question: Why did Gillespie wait 13 years to come out with his claims about the provenance of the aluminum sheet?
“At this time in 1991, Ric claimed that the piece fit exactly the underbelly of the Electra that suffered the damage at the March 1937 ground loop,” Bright wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “He said the airplane skin revealed that the type of aluminum, the thickness, and the size and style of the rivet ‘matched perfectly with an area on the underside of the Electra.’ The rivet pattern ‘was close,’ he wrote, and the repair at Burbank would account for the differences. The manufacturer’s label on the artifact (D?) established that it was a grade of aluminum authorized only for repairs [see “News Alert” from TIGHAR, July 2007].
“So in July 2007 this was the origin and analysis of the piece,” Bright continued. “Then came along that pesky Miami ‘patch’ that now he thinks fits the aluminum piece. How it got on to Niku is another fascinating story.”
Further confusing the matter, “In TIGHAR Tracks of 2001,” Bright wrote, “he [Gillespie] indicated that the damage to the piece ‘is consistent with being torn from the aircraft by powerful surf action. The piece has no finished edges and was literally blown out of a larger section of aluminum sheet from the inside out with such force the heads popped off the rivets. The artifact was found on the islands southwestern shore in the debris washed up by a violent storm.’ You have to say that TIGHAR can spin the bottle many ways!”
Woody Rogers, another AES member, was slightly more succinct in summarizing his views on the evolution of this particular piece of aluminum as it advanced through various stages of significance in TIGHAR’s collection of alleged Earhart artifacts. “I have the photo series from 1991 showing the controversy about this piece of skin, including the retired Lockheed Engineer that said that piece didn’t come from anywhere on an Electra,” Rogers wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “A few months later Ric moved the patch location to the rear of the bottom fuselage that had been extensively patched. The engineer pointed out that the repair patches were drilled in the same location where the original holes in the stringers [a strip of wood or metal to which the skin of an aircraft is fastened] were drilled.
“Unfortunately,” Rogers continued, “I’m on the road in Pennsylvania and will be traveling for a few months so I don’t access to any of my research, so this is from memory. So now we have three locations that this piece of aluminum supposedly can from. IMO, it’s just another bottle of snake oil for public consumption so Ric can garner more donations to pay himself his outsized salary. It’s beyond me why people financially support this guy.”
There was another bit of good news for the home team during this latest episode of TIGHAR media mania. The Kansas City Star contacted me and asked for my thoughts, a stunning surprise and the first time any establishment newspaper has asked my opinion since Donna McGuire, of the same Kansas City Star interviewed me over 11 years ago not long after With Our Own Eyes was published. On Aug. 3, 2003 “Chasing Amelia,” McGuire’s six-page cover story for the Sunday Star Magazine discussed the ideas of the late Thomas E. Devine and David Billings, who believes Amelia turned around and landed in the jungle of New Britain, an island off the coast of Papua New, Guinea.
Brian Burns story, “Has the key to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific been found in Kansas?” was a far more even treatment of Gillespie’s ideas than the pro-TIGHAR puffery the Miami Herald pushed on its helpless readers. Besides presenting Gary LaPook’s information in a way that laymen could quickly understand, Burns talked to Lou Foudray, curator of the Earhart Birthplace Museum, who was quite kind to Gillespie, and myself, who, after watching this spectacle for 26 years now, was in no mood for such political niceties.
I vented to Burns as long as he could stand it – about 10 minutes — and in his story he tried to be fair, considering that his assignment was to feature Gillespie. “Others, like Florida researcher Mike Campbell, denounced the latest news as one more example of the wide-eyed treatment Gillespie routinely has received from a media establishment eager to play up his Earhart disappearance scenarios at the expense of others,” Burns wrote. “Every time he goes over there, he grabs whatever he can find and then tries to link it up to Earhart,” said Campbell, author of ‘Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last.’”
Later in his story, Burns returned to this writer, and gave the truth a rare public airing:
Gillespie’s fundraising efforts, meanwhile, bother Campbell, who believes that Earhart and Noonan never landed on Nikumaroro but died in Japanese captivity on Saipan after first landing in the Marshall Islands. President Franklin Roosevelt, upon learning of their imprisonment, declined to intervene, he said.
“Today the media establishment is still protecting Roosevelt,” he said. If stories spread of Roosevelt’s refusal to help Earhart, Campbell said, “his legacy would be ashes.”
Burns promised that the title of Truth at Last, as well as my FDR quote would be in his story when it reached his editor’s desk, and so it was. He even called me the next day to make sure my quotes were accurate, a gesture of professional courtesy I had never experienced from a newspaper. I was amazed that this unnamed editor, who I later learned was Donna McGuire, who had interviewed me for a story in 2003 following publication of With Our Own Eyes, let my indictment of FDR stand, and thanked Burns for his efforts. Although its coverage of the Earhart situation was greatly welcomed, this was an anomaly, a one-off phenomena that tells us only that the Kansas City Star does not share the establishment’s aversion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance, and will treat the story unencumbered by political considerations. The sad, inescapable truth is that this policy, once taken for granted, is so rarely found in today’s ultra-politicized “news rooms.”
Will any in the media print retractions or apologize for their massive, irresponsible blunder? Of course not. They’ve never admitted error in their coverage of the Earhart story; it’s rare enough when they print a retraction about anything else. Where Earhart is concerned, nothing is off limits and the truth remains a sacred cow and an orphan. But word will get around about this, and perhaps they won’t be quite as fast to pull the trigger when Gillespie issues his next grand proclamation. How many times must a TIGHAR cry wolf before he’s ignored? Who knows, but why should we think the limit has been reached now?
They’ll be back as soon as Gillespie comes up with another sellable (note I didn’t say “plausible”) reason to go back to his ocean-bound piggy bank, telling us all once again to pay attention, the answers to the “Earhart Mystery” are within reach, just over the horizon. If the TIGHAR boss can just get the funds he needs, he’ll soon find aviation’s Holy Grail.
Despite the recent revelations that exposed Gillespie’s aluminum sheet as a pretender, don’t be surprised if he continues to push the same story despite all evidence to the contrary. The rest of the media, based on their past complicity in their shameless promotion of Gillespie’s agenda, may well simply ignore the facts and continue to push falsehoods down the throats of an ignorant, basically unconcerned public. Failing that, who knows what he might next come up? With Gillespie, it’s always something.
Well, Amelia, another year has passed since Amy Otis Earhart brought you into this world in your grandparents’ Atchison, Kansas home on July 24, 1897, eons ago, in a much simpler and, some would say, far better America. Because you were so unexpectedly taken from us sometime after you turned 40, you’ll be forever young to those who remember and celebrate your life.
I’m sure you can read these comments or receive this message somehow, and I’m certain you’re in a place where the free flow of all information is enjoyed by all, and where no secrets exist. I’ll bet there’s plenty you’d like to tell us, but the rules up there prevent it.
Admittedly, it’s a stretch to think you might still be with us at 117 if a few things had gone differently for you and Fred Noonan, and had you reached that exclusive club, you’d surely be a contender for world’s-oldest-person honors. But considering the amazing feats you managed in your brief life that earned you nicknames like Lady Lindy and the First Lady of Flight, an equally lofty and hard-earned title 77 years later doesn’t seem impossible, does it? After all, Amy was an impressive 93 and lived the majority of her years before penicillin was discovered, and your sister, Muriel, made it all the way to the venerable age of 98 before she cashed in, so I’d say the odds were about even money that you could have been your family’s first centenarian.
Of course, wishing you a Happy Birthday is just something the living do to make ourselves feel better; where you are, every day is far better than any grand birthday bash we could imagine, and birthdays there must be quite passé. For your devotees down here, though, at least for those who know the truth about what’s been going on for so long, it absolutely is another unhappy birthday, because nothing of substance has changed in the past year, and what little news we have ranges from the mundane to the depressing.
The big lie that your disappearance remains a great mystery continues to dominate nearly all references to you, often followed by another well-publicized whopper from TIGHAR that they’re just about to find your Electra on Nikumaroro, if only they can raise the money for the next search, ad nauseam. Such unrelenting rigmarole must bore you, but this and other ridiculous claims are what has passed in our despicable media for “Earhart research” since Time magazine trashed Fred Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1966.
You’ve likely heard that a young woman, Amelia Rose Earhart, a pilot and former Denver TV weatherperson who happens to have your first and last names but isn’t otherwise related, completed a relatively risk-free world flight July 11 following a route that roughly approximated your own. At least three others have already done this, all Americans: Geraldine “Jerrie” Fredritz Mock in 1964, Ann Pellegreno in 1967 and Linda Finch in 1997, so there was nothing notable in Amelia Rose’s flight, especially considering that she had the latest GPS navigational technology to ensure her safe journey.
Her motivation was to honor your memory, said Amelia Rose, who was the featured speaker at the annual festival held in your name at Atchison last week. I don’t attend these pretentious galas, and unless and until event organizers find the courage to come to terms with the truth of your untimely and completely unnecessary demise on Saipan, I never will. Last week she must have been making the rounds of the TV talk shows, as someone on FOX News announced she would be on soon, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.
If Amelia Rose actually cared a whit about your legacy, she’d learn the truth that so many insist on avoiding but is available to all. She would then use her public platform to stand up and call attention to this great American travesty and cover-up – rivaled only by the Warren Commission’s “lone gunman” verdict in the John F. Kennedy assassination in its mendacity, but unlike the JFK hit, completely ignored in the popular culture – and demand that our government stop the lies about her namesake’s true fate.
Unfortunately and all too predictably, based on what I know about this grandstanding pretender, Amelia Rose has never uttered a word that had any relationship to the truth about what happened to you 77 years ago.
Facts are stubborn things
Amelia Rose’s supporters say she doesn’t know about all the investigations and research that tell us that you and Fred Noonan landed at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937, were picked up by the Japanese and taken to Jaluit, Roi-Namur and finally Saipan, where you suffered wretched deaths. This gruesome scenario, as well as the fact that our fearless leader at the time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, refused to lift a finger to help you, much less inform the public that you were the first POWs of the yet-undeclared war to come, continue to be denied by the corrupt U.S. government and suppressed by our media big and small. But facts are stubborn things, and they don’t cease to exist because the local PTA, the Atchison Chamber of Commerce or Amelia Rose Earhart wishes it were so.
Many hundreds of books celebrate your remarkable life, but only a handful dare to reveal the facts surrounding your miserable demise at the hands of barbarians on that godforsaken island of Saipan. Now that the Japanese are among our best friends and allies in the Pacific Rim, we don’t want to offend their delicate sensibilities with public discussions of their World War II barbarities, do we?
Speaking of which, you might know Iris Chang, author of the 1997 bestseller The Rape of Nanking, which exposed the long-suppressed Japanese atrocities against the Chinese in December 1937, only months after your disappearance. Despite the book’s notoriety and widespread acceptance of its findings, the Japanese ambassador refused to apologize for his nation’s war crimes when Chang confronted him on British TV in 1998. In 1999 she told Salon.com that she “wasn’t welcome” in Japan, and she committed suicide in 2004.
We’re still not sure why Chang perpetrated the ultimate atrocity against herself, but it’s been said that the years of research into such horrific subject matter disturbed her greatly. The parallels are obvious, but the depravities the Japanese committed against the Chinese, despite the overwhelming numbers of the murdered, don’t rankle Westerners nearly as much as the mere consideration of what befell you and Fred on Saipan. Chang may have been unpopular in Japan, but her work was celebrated by the U.S. media, which avoids anything or anyone that hints at the truth about you like the plague.
Amelia Rose may not know the sordid details, but she’s heard the story and has shown no inclination to learn about the truth, falsely marginalized as an “unsubstantiated fringe theory” for many decades by our trusted media. So at best, Amelia Rose is among the willfully ignorant about you; this strain of ignorance is just another form of cowardice, another excuse to avoid the truth, and of course it’s dishonesty in spades.
How can I say this so blithely? At last year’s Amelia Earhart Festival, an Earhart researcher engaged Amelia Rose, on hand to collect another dubious honor, in a conversation that began well but abruptly turned to ashes when he brought up the subject of your death on Saipan. Amelia Rose, upon hearing this, flew from this man as if he had leprosy. Almost a year earlier, she ignored my email missives that not only politely informed her of the truth, but offered her a free copy of my book, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
So Amelia Rose Earhart, rather than being a special person, is just one of many hundreds of similar mainline media lemmings who assiduously avoid the truth. Those who aren’t part of the solution are part of the problem, and excuse me if I repeat myself, but they are cowards as well.
So the lies continue without surcease, and 99.99 percent of the public continues to hear, read and without reservation buys the myth that your disappearance remains among the “greatest aviation mysteries of the 20th century.” A few of us know better, and are doing our best to rectify this appalling situation, but we aren’t having much success. Few will admit it, but the word has long been out that it’s not acceptable to talk about what really happened to you. Nobody wants to hear it, so it’s fallen to outsiders like this writer to do justice to your story. We’re called conspiracy theorists and wing nuts, and are strenuously shunned.
So Amelia, that’s how it looks to at least one of us down here on your 117th birthday. Sadly, you and Fred Noonan are as far from realizing Fred Goerner’s “justice of truth” as ever, and there’s nothing coming from our government that gives us the slightest glimmer of hope. But the difficulty of this mission doesn’t deter those of us who truly believe in the worthiness of the cause. And so we continue.