Tag Archives: Truk Overfly Theory

Reconsidering the Earhart “Truk overfly” theory

I received an email from Guam researcher Tony Gochar (see p. 263-264 Truth at Last) recently that I wasn’t expecting, about something that’s been sitting in plain sight for so long without being addressed that I had taken it for granted.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

Most readers of this blog are familiar with the so-called “Truk overflight” theory, by which Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, instead of flying east toward Howland Island, first headed north to Truk Lagoon, now part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia.  During World War II, Truk was Japan’s main base in the South Pacific theater, a heavily fortified base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, serving as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet.

The long-theorized Truk overflight was initially described by Fred Goerner in the final chapter of The Search for Amelia Earhart:

When Amelia and Fred took off from Lae, New Guinea, they did not fly directly toward Howland Island.  They headed north to Truk in the Central Carolines.  Their mission was unofficial but vital to the U.S. military: observe the number of airfields and extent of Japan’s fleet servicing facilities in the Truk complex, and prove the advantages of fields for land planes on U.S. held islands on the equator.

Flight strategy had been carefully developed during the around-the-world trip.  A point-to-point speed of not more than 150 miles per hour had been maintained throughout.

This graphic appeared in the September 1966 issue of True magazine’s condensation of Fred Goerner’s recently published The Search for Amelia Earhart, with this cutline: “Double line shows Earhart’s announced course to Howland Island.  Author believes she flew first to Truk instead to study secret Japanese base, then got lost and landed in Mili Atoll.  Captured by the Japanese, she was taken along dotted line to other bases.  Ship below Howland is U.S. Coast Guard’s Itasca, Earhart’s assigned contact. 

In 1937, U.S. intelligence would have been extremely interested in the status of this naval base, once known to Allied forces as Japan’s “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” and Amelia might have been asked to observe and possibly even take some photos with her small, hand-held Kodak camera.  The Electra would have arrived over Truk at about 7 p.m. local time, with plenty of daylight left, or so I believed the basic theory held.  Of course, we have no proof that Amelia attempted to perform such a mission, but her actions during the final flight suggest something very strange was afoot, and she had two meetings with top U.S. officials during April 1937, according to Margot DeCarie, her personal secretary. (See Truth at Last for more.)

For more background on the Truk overfly theory, please see my post from Dec. 14, 2015,Bill Prymak analyzes Earhart-as-spy theories and Jan. 2, 2019, Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?

Tony Gochar’s recent message, which he began with, “Just a few thoughts about the Richards Memo,” went immediately to an entirely different subject:

One of the basic thoughts I had about Earhart going to Truk to take pictures was daylight.  Google Earth Pro has a feature called sunlight slider.  You can locate where you are interested in daylight –Truk, pick a date (the year should not make a difference), and slide a scale which will give a time of day and the amount of sunlight at the location. 

This part of the world does not have those long summer days.  At 7:00 p.m. you can see almost total darkness at Truk on July 2.  The other concern I had was weather.  The best I could come up with is the attached Monthly Weather Review.  It doesn’t cover the area of Truk, but it would if a big storm was heading across the Western Pacific.  For Earhart to go to Truk is not something I take seriously.

For the other comments about Japanese radio intelligence I have a few sources.  They had the capability to RDF (radio direction finding) her flight.  They had the capability to listen to her broadcasts.  Since I did that very kind of work in the USAF I am very certain they followed her track.  I can’t describe the details of what I did, but I would have certainly listened for her.  The U.S. radio direction finding stations in the Pacific followed her.  I will provide details in a later email.

As we have discussed many times some of these documents are still classified and who knows when they will be declassified. 

I’ve doubted little, if anything, that the experienced, detail-oriented Gochar has told me, but as a non-tech type, I found the Google Earth Pro “Sunlight Slider” a bit user-unfriendly.  But William Trail, a retired Army officer, aviator and longtime contributor to this blog, soon found and sent the Sunrise and sunset times in Puluwat Atoll, Chuuk, Micronesia, which confirmed Gochar’s claim that the Sunset Slider revealed darkness at Truk on July 2 at 7 p.m.  

Sunrise, sunset and twilight end, on July 2 at Puluwat Atoll, Chuuk, among other readings on the Sunrise-sunset.org site, are 5:50:52 a.m., 6:23:31 p.m., and 6:46:14 p.m. respectively, which makes it dark indeed at 7 p.m. on July 2 of any year.  Further, the World Time Zone Map shows that Lae, New Guinea and Chuuk Lagoon, formerly Truk Atoll and now part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia, are in the same time zone.

As seen in the map above, found on the now-defunct Mystery of Amelia Earhart website, created by William H. Stewart, a career military-historical cartographer and foreign-service officer in the U.S. State Department and former senior economist for the Northern Marianas, the distance from Lae to Truk is 888 nautical miles, or 1,022 statute miles, (another source says it’s 1,620 kilometers, 1,006 miles per a-kilometers-to-miles converter), but who’s quibbling?  The total distance from Lae to Truck to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 miles when flying direct from Lae, and indeed pushes the range limits of the Electra, said to be 4,000 miles in the absence of headwinds, though that was certainly possible.

After receiving Gochar’s message, the Truk overfly theory, as I had conceived it, was suddenly on its deathbed, at least in my own mind.  But before administering Last Rites, I decided to check a few more numbers, just to be sure.  I was surprised to see that for a flight leaving Lae at 10 am, it would have to average 114 mph for a nine-hour trip that arrives at 7 p.m.  Why had this 7 p.m. arrival time been stuck in my mind in such a sacrosanct way?  I don’t know, perhaps many online conversations on the Amelia Earhart Society forum had implanted it, but I can’t find a solid reference for it, and I no longer have access to the AES website, which has been all but defunct for years.

Far more likely, the Earhart Electra would have been maintained at an average speed of 135 mph, or even 150 mph, over the trip to Truk, a speed that had been common throughout its world flight.  An average of 135 mph would have covered the 1,022 miles in 7.57 hours, and put the plane over the Japanese-held atoll about 5:30 p.m., with enough light to do whatever she might have been “asked” to do.  A higher average speed, of course, would have brought Earhart and Fred Noonan over Truk even earlier in the day. 

Daylight saving time regions: Northern hemisphere summer (blue); Southern hemisphere summer (orange); Formerly used daylight saving (light grey); Never used daylight saving (dark grey).  As the map indicates, daylight saving time has never been used in Papua New Guinea (dark grey area just above eastern tip of Australia.

Like Gochar, William Trail doesn’t put much stock in Fred Goerner’s 1966 theory.  I understand that it must remain a possibility until it can absolutely, positively be ruled out, but no, I’m not an advocate of the Truk overflight theory,Trail wrote in an Oct. 1 email.  Flying from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island by way of Truk for the purpose of taking aerial photos would have been a very long flight that would have taxed the capabilities of crew and aircraft to the max.  The potential for failure, and disaster, was great.  The odds for pulling it off and getting away with it were short.  There was very little room for any error, or anything to go wrong, and we know that “Murphy” always tags along on the manifest.  In my opinion, there was too just much risk for too little potential reward.”

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