Tag Archives: USCG Cutter Itasca

Goerner’s December 1961 letter to Leo Bellarts: “Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan”

Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner and retired Coast Guard Lt. Leo Bellarts, who as the chief radioman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, was on hand to hear Amelia Earhart’s last official messages on the morning of July 2, 1937, concluding with her last transmission at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time.  For Bellarts’ Nov. 28, 1961 letter to Goerner, posted Feb. 6, 2017, as well as the author’s reply, please click hereBellarts Dec. 15, 1961 response to Goerner, posted April 24, 2017, can be seen here.

Many of Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on SaipanGoerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66.  (Boldface mine throughout.)

KCBS
CBS Radio – A Division of Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
SHERATON – PALACE, SAN FRANCISCO 5, CALIFORNIA – YUKON 2-7000
                                                                                                               December 20, 1961

Mr. Leo G. Bellarts
1920 State Street
Everett, Washington

Dear Mr. Bellarts,

Thank you very much for your letter with enclosures of the 15th.  It was received with a good deal of interest by all of us who have been working on the Earhart story.

I’m sorry if I took on the proportions of a “quizmaster” to you.  I think it must be the reportorial instinct. I learned long ago that if you don’t ask the questions, you very seldom get the answers.

First, let me answer several of your questions.  As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between CBS and Mrs. Studer; in fact, I have never met her, and I found the article you mentioned slightly on the irritating side.  That article was the first time I was even aware of her existence.

Yet another look at Fred Goerner during his mid-1960s heydays at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Merla Zellerbach.)

Yet another look at Fred Goerner during his mid-1960s heyday at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Merla Zellerbach.)

As to George Palmer Putnam, I never had the opportunity to meet him.  He died in January, 1950.

The only members of Amelia’s family I know personally are her mother and sister who live in West Medford, Massachusetts.  The mother [Amy Otis Earhart] is now in her nineties, and her sister [Muriel Earhart Morrissey] teaches high school in West Medford.

I was glad to receive the information that Galten was a bona fide member of the Itasca’s crew; however, it leaves me even more at a loss to explain his remarks to the press to the effect that the Earhart [plane] was incapable was transmitting radio signals more than 50 to 75 miles, and that the seas were eight feet with fifteen feet between crests the day of the disappearance.  The Itasca Log indicates as you have that the sea was calm and smooth.

You might be interested in Galten’s address: 50 Solano Street, Brisbane, California.  

Galten has also stated that he actually copies the message, “30 minutes of gas remaining”; yet, your record of the messages and the July 5 transcript sent by the Itasca to ComFranDiv, San Francisco, indicates “but running low on gas.”

As you probably well know, there is a vast difference between 30 minutes of gas remaining and gas running low.  Every pilot who has flown the Pacific Area will tell you if you are unsure of your position, are having difficulty in contacting your homing station and are down to four or five hours of gas — the gas indeed is “running low.”

We know as a positive fact that the Lockheed had sufficient gas for twenty-four to twenty-six hours aloft.  The take-off time from Lae, New Guinea, was 10:30 a.m. at Lae, 12:30 p.m. at Howland.  It was possible for the plane to have stayed aloft until 2:30 p.m. Howland time the following day.  The July 2 transmission from the Itasca to San Francisco estimates 1200 maximum time [i.e. noon local time] aloft.

Why then the supposition that Earhart “went in” right after her last message at 0843?

It just isn’t true that Earhart and Noonan began their flight from Lae to Howland with just enough fuel to reach Howland and no more.  They were fully aware of the navigational hazards of the flight. The planning for that 2,556-mile flight is contained in Amelia’s notes which were shipped back to the United States from Lae.  She planned her ETA at Howland just after daybreak.  Daylight was absolutely necessary to locate that tiny speck.  She had figured her fuel consumption to give her at least six additional hours to make a landfall if Noonan’s navigational abilities did not bring the plane dead center to Howland.

The Lockheed Electra 10E, an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retract-able landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner, and powered by twin Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600-horsepower engines. The plane was 38 feet, seven inches long with a wingspan of fifty-five feet and a height of about ten feet. The Electra had an empty weight of 7,100 pounds, with a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage.

The Lockheed Electra 10E, an all-metal (aluminum), twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retract-able landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner, and powered by twin Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600-horsepower engines. The plane was 38 feet, seven inches long with a wingspan of 55 feet and a height of about ten feet. The Electra had an empty weight of 7,100 pounds, with a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage.

Is the supposition based on the fact that her voice sounded frantic when she radioed the last message, “We are 157-337, running north and south.  Wait listening on 6210”?  If she were “going in” at that time, why would she ask the ITASCA to wait on 6210? (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)

Your comment that she simply forgot to include the reference point in the final message seems to be negated by the fact the she included “running north and south.”  If Noonan had been able to give her a reference point, there would have been no reason for running north and south courses.  They would have known their exact position and in which direction to fly.

The variance in the two groups of messages sent to San Francisco by the ITASCA is not the result of “faulty press reports.” I’m going to have my copies of the Coast Guard Log photostated and sent along to you.  The amazing discrepancies are clear and incontestable.

Your quotes from TIME magazine are “faulty press reports.”  TIME is wrong that no position reports were received after Earhart’s departure from Lae. The Coast Guard Log indicated a check-in 785 miles out from Lae with a full position report.  TIME was also mistaken in the number of messages received by the ITASCA from the plane.  It varies from your own list.

Yes, I was aware that the COLORADO refueled the ITASCA.  This is indicated in the Navy’s official report of the search.  The Navy report indicates that the COLORADO, on a naval training cruise in the Honolulu vicinity with a group of reservists and University Presidents [sic] in observance when it was ordered to assist in the search and refuel [of] the ITASCA and the SWAN.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to another list of questions.  There is so much that appears to be unanswered in this entire vacation.  I think you are as interested in this as I am, or I wouldn’t bother you.

Was the signal strength of Earhart A3 S5 on all the messages from the 0615 “About two hundred miles out” to the final 0843 message? In your list A3 S5 is not listed for 0615,0645, 0742 and 0800.

Many radio operators have told us that in the South Pacific, particularly near the equator, a voice signal will come in from any distance so strongly that the person appears to be in the next room, then, a few minutes later, it cannot be raised at all even when the transmission station is only a few miles away.  Was this your experience while in the South Pacific?

Amelia’s official flight route from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island totaled 2,556 statute miles and had never been attempted before.  (Map courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

Did the ITASCA make any contact with Lae, New Guinea to set up radio frequencies before her final take-off?

Did the ITASCA contact Lae to determine the actual time of the take-off?

Was the ITASCA aware of the gas capacity and range of the plane?

If the ITASCA arranged frequencies with Earhart at Lae, or at least firmed them up, why didn’t the ITASCA know that Noonan could not use cw [sic, i.e., Morse Code] on 500 kcs because of a lack of a trailing antenna?

The “Organization of Radio Personnel” Photostat indicates that in the event of a casualty the ITASCA was to block out any other station attempting to communicate information.  What other station was near the ITASCA that might transmit information contrary to fact?  When the plane was lost, did the ITASCA block out any other transmission of information?

Do you know of the whereabouts of [RM2 Frank] Ciprianti [sic, Cipriani is correct], [RM3 Thomas] O’Hare, [RM3 Gilbert E.] Thompson, Lt. Cmdr. F.T. Kenner, Lt. (j.g.) W.I. Stanston or Ensign R.L. Mellen?

This is aside from the Earhart matter, but is certainly of interest.  What was the eventual fate of the ITASCA, ONTARIO, and SWAN?

In closing, Mr. Bellarts, let me say that we sincerely appreciate the opportunity the [sic] with you.  Let me assure you that we will keep your confidence, and will in no way quote you without your permission.

I, personally, have been working on this investigation for nearly two years.  It has nothing to do with any stamp that might be issued with her image, or some nebulous entry into a hall of fame.  This is a news story, and we intend to pursue every possible lead until a satisfactory conclusion is reached.  I [sic] happy to say we have the blessings of both Amelia’s mother and sister.  They have suspected for many years that the disappearance was not as cut and dried as portions of our military have indicated, but no one, including that military, has ever put together a concerted effort to tie together the loose ends.

I believe with all my heart that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan.  I saw the testimony gathered by the Monsignor and the Fathers.  I know the witnesses were telling the truth.  There was no reason for them to lie, and such a story could never have been invented by simple natives without the appearance of serious discrepancies.

However, I believe with you that Earhart and Noonan never flew their plane to Saipan.  They must have been brought to the island by the Japanese.

The search for Earhart has been a joke for years.  I think that’s because the military has dogmatically maintained that the pair went down close to Howland; yet, that contention appears to be based solely on the belief that the strength of signals before the last received transmission indicated the ship was probably within two hundred miles of the ITASCA.  Where did they fly on the four to five hours of gas we know remained?

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

A view of Howland Island that Amelia Earhart never enjoyed. The island, a property of the United States, remains uninhabited, but is popular among various wildlife that nest and forage there, especially goony birds and terns.  Note the outline of the original airstrip that was cleared in anticipation of Amelia’s landing.

Mr. Bellarts, if you know anything that has not been made public that will shed more light on this enigma, please give us the information. If not to CBS, to Amelia’s sister:

Mrs. Albert Morrissey
1 Vernon Street
West Medford. Mass.

No one, certainly not CBS, has the idea of castigating individuals, the Coast Guard, the Navy or the Air Force or even Japan for something that happened so long ago.  The important thing is to settle this matter once and for all, and bring a modicum of peace to the individuals involved.

Earhart and Noonan fought their battle against the elements.  If they later lost their lives to the aggrandizing philosophy of a nation bent on the conquest of the Pacific, the great victory is still theirs.  Their story should be told, and they should receive their nation’s gratitude and a decent burial.

Would you ask less for your own?

Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I’ll be looking forward to your next communication.

Sincerely,

Fred Goerner
CBS News
KCBS RADIO
San Francisco 5,
California (End of Goerner letter.)

I have more of the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, two of the most interesting people in the entire Earhart saga, and will post more at a future date.

Advertisements

Earhart was “within 200 miles when she crashed,” Leo Bellarts tells Fred Goerner in 1961 letter

Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between San Francisco radio newsman Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, the chief radioman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, who retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in 1946. My Feb. 6 post, Revisiting roots of the real search for Amelia,began with Bellarts’ November 1961 letter to Goerner, in which the nearly incredulous Bellarts asked, “why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan”?

Bellarts’ certainly that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan rested “peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland,” was based entirely on the increase in Earhart’s signal strength in her last transmission. “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” Bellarts told Elgen Long in a 1973 interview.

In his reply, Goerner brought Bellarts up to date on his findings during to Saipan visits, including “three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance [that] has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war.” The KCBS newsman also posed several new questions for Bellarts, many about the Electra’s radio transmission capabilities, as well as those of Itasca and the high-frequency direction finder supposedly set up on Howland Island. Bellarts’ response follows.

1920 State Street
Everett, Washington
15 December 1961

Mr. Frederick A. Goerner
News Department
KCBS Radio
San Francisco 5, California

Dear Mr. Goerner:

Your letter of November 30th arrived December 13th, and I wish to thank you for your reply to my letter. I also wish to thank you for the additional papers you forwarded with your letter. They were very interesting.

First, I will attempt to answer your questions. I have kept a scrapbook on the Earhart case and it contains much information. Therefore, I will not have to rely on a memory of twenty-odd years. Your letter and enclosures will be an interesting addition to my scrapbook.

This candid photo

This candid photo of Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts was taken aboard Itasca on July 2, 1937, hour unknown, according to Leo Bellarts’ son, David Bellarts. (Photo courtesy David Bellarts.)

In answer to your first question regarding people stating that the Earhart radio could not be heard more than 50 to 100 miles. In my opinion this is someone talking about something they know nothing about. This is completely false. I agree with the statement contained in “Facts About the Final Flight” that a 50-watt transmitter airborne will certainly transmit dependably to 500 miles under normal conditions. During nighttime hours, this distance could be multiplied several times under favorable skip conditions. I did not notice any skip conditions during her flight and believe that her signals were copied “ground wave” as they continually built up to the time of her final transmission when she was very loud and could be easily copied on the ship’s loudspeaker. THIS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN TRUE UNDER SKIP CONDITIONS. (Caps Bellarts’ throughout.)

At this point I wish to state that we were using a CGR-32-1 type receiver on Earhart’s frequency and by present day standards is a poor receiver. I am sure that if present day receivers were then available, we could have read her signals very much better and at an earlier hour.

As to the time and content of all messages changed in the July 5th messages from the contents of the July 2nd messages bewilders me. This point I was completely unaware of.  It appears that there was a bit of the “Press Reports” incorporated somewhere along the line. You may check the authentic receptions from the plane and draw your own conclusions.

In regard to the “30 minutes of gas remaining,” this will be answered in the listing of messages from the plane in the summation of her last messages.

The people stating that the Earhart radio was not functioning properly make such statements on pure guess work. Amelia never stated that our signals were too weak for a minimum, BUT “We received your signals but unable to get a minimum; please take bearing on us,” etc. No mention was made of weak signals or the reason she could not obtain a bearing: Too great a signal, too weak a signal, fading, night effect (which there were none), and other causes. As far as we knew on the ITASCA, Earhart encountered no equipment failure — at least she reported none. Actually, in this case, I believe that our signals were too strong.

In this undated photo from the mid-196s, Fred Goerner holds forth from his perch at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, at the height of his glory as the author of The Search for Amelia Earhart.

In this undated photo from the mid-196s, Fred Goerner holds forth from his perch at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, at the height of his notoriety as the author of The Search for Amelia Earhart. (Photo courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Earhart was not alerted to the fact a special D/F had been set up aboard the ITASCA because there was none! No D/F was aboard during her flight that would cover her frequency of 3105 or 6210 KCS. The only D/F was a standard low frequency finder capable of taking bearings of broadcast stations and frequencies below 500 KCS.

There was, however, a high frequency D/F installed on Howland Island for the express purpose of taking bearings on Earhart. This equipment was set up and in operation during her flight, completely aligned and in position. This equipment was NOT ship’s property but was borrowed in Honolulu through the efforts of the C.G. District Radio Electrician, Mr. Anthony. I believe this D/F was actually Navy property.

Lt. Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Force was aboard the ITASCA for two reasons that I know of.  Mr. Cooper was assigned the duty of surveying the airfield and placing the required markers, flags, etc.  He was also available for any technical assistance that Earhart might require after landing on Howland. Memory tells me he had two enlisted assistants.

Actually, the USS SWAN and USS ONTARIO were assigned as weather ships. The ITASCA never worked either ship and I must rely on my memory for that information because, as you say, there is nothing in the log regarding the ONTARIO. As for the reason the ONTARIO didn’t hear Earhart, it was very simple. The receivers aboard that ship could not receive on her frequency. The ONTARIO and the SWAN were small tugs and were one radioman ships, maintaining only schedules for weather through Navy radio Samoa or Honolulu. I was not familiar with their schedules. The equipment aboard the ONTARIO was low frequency rigs and could not operate on anything above 500 KCS for transmitting and could not receive above 3000 KCS. The SWAN was somewhat out of the picture, being stationed between Howland and Honolulu.

“Strength of Signal” certainly strengthened my conviction, and that of others who heard her last transmission, that she was very close to Howland Island. I started my radio career in the USCG in 1924, and believe that I can distinguish when a 50-watt transmitter is close aboard or not. Honestly, we in the radio room could actually hear her voice so near the breaking point that at any moment I expected her to go into an hysterical scream. Giving her plenty of leeway, she must have been within 200 miles when she crashed. Actually, I believe it was much less.

The 157-337 message regarding a position of the Earhart plane was taken as a sunline position, of course not complete. Actually, I believe that she became so upset that she failed to send the entire message which would have given the ITASCA something to go on in the search. As a result, we could only assume that she crashed somewhere before arriving at Howland. She certainly did not pass overhead at 1000 feet without seeing the large smokescreen the ITASCA was laying. I have a photo of that which also shows cloud formations.

I have no idea as to the assumptions of the LEXINGTON as to what Earhart’s speed was. As to the laying out of a search plan, I am sure that this was done as well as could be expected with the scarcity of information at hand.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven's Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia's failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven’s Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia’s failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan. 

Yes, I know Bill Galten but I’m afraid there is a misunderstanding as to his rate at the time of the Earhart search. Galten was a very good and reliable radioman THIRD CLASS. Galten actually relieved me for breakfast that fateful morning. He also maintained the radio log from 0718 to 1035 when I assumed radio log and actual watch. From the first time we heard Earhart, to the last time at 0843, I don’t believe that I was out of the radio room more than 15 minutes, having heard all of her transmissions. I don’t believe that I have seen Galten for over 20 years. However, I believe that he is now a Retired Chief Radioman.

Now, if I may, I would like to make a few comments on portions of your letter and also the enclosure which I appreciate receiving.

On the main matter for conjecture, as you say, “How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan?” To me, there is only one answer, if there is an answer. They may have reached Saipan but certainly NOT on the Electra she flew from Lae. The only possibility as far as I’m concerned is that they crashed very close to Howland Island and were fortunate (?) enough to land near a Japanese fishing boat or other Jap vessel which was in that vicinity.

To all known information, no Japanese vessels were anywhere near Howland during that time. Considering the strength of her signals, she was certainly not near enough to any island (except Baker) that she could have possibly landed on. It must have been a sea crash. The Marshalls, Gilberts or Phoenix groups are definitely ruled out in my book.  (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, neither Bellarts, Goerner or any other American researcher knew about Bilimon Amaron’s eyewitness account, nor those of any of the other Marshall Island witnesses to the crash-landing of the Electra off Barre Island, Mili Atoll.)

In quoting Time magazine of July 19, 1937, I would like to quote from an article regarding Earhart. “Several facts made it clear that much more than simple bad luck was involved. Before the hop off, when capable Navigator [sic] Noonan inspected what he supposed was an ultra-modem “flying laboratory,” he was dismayed to discover that there was nothing with which to take celestial bearings except an ordinary ship sextant. He remedied that by borrowing a modem bubble octant designed especially for airplane navigation. For estimating wind drift over the sea, he obtained two dozen aluminum powder bombs. For some reason, these bombs were left behind in a storehouse.

The Coast Guard Cutter ITASCA, which had-been dispatched from San Diego to Howland Island solely as a help to the flyers, would have been able to take directional bearings on the Earhart plane if the latter could have tuned its signals to a 500 KC frequency. The plane’s transmitter would have been able to send such signals if it had a trailing antenna. Miss Earhart considered all this too much bother; no trailing antenna was taken along.” The ITASCA was entirely unaware of this and, as a result, did not know that she was unable to transmit on 500 KCS.

As to why the LEXINGTON was called into the search, I will quote from the above-mentioned magazine again. “When word that the Earhart plane was lost reached the U.S., husband Putnam wired an appeal for a Navy search to President Roosevelt. But even before the message reached Washington, Secretary of the Navy [Claude A.] Swanson had ordered the Navy to start hunting.”

To add a little sidelight to the search, were you aware that the U.S. Battleship COLORADO served as an oil barge for the USCG cutter ITASCA?

Under a New York dateline, Dec. 4, 1961, there appeared a story about a “Mrs. Clara [Trenckman] Studer, Rome, Italy, who has spent months here studying records of Miss Earhart’s last flight” etc. This same article contains the following: “Mrs. Studer, a writer who collaborated on a book with Miss Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, and helped form the woman pilots’ organization the “Ninety-Nines,” said Miss Earhart’s name and fate “must be cleared” before 1965 when she is eligible for election in the Hall of Fame. Mrs. Studer and other friends of the flier also fear chances of an Amelia Earhart stamp being published next year have been hurt by the story that she was spying on Saipan.”

Clara Studer

Undated photo of Clara Studer, who edited The Ninety-Niner newsletter in the early 1930s, and in 1937 wrote Sky Storming Yankee: The Life of Glenn Curtiss.

(Editor’s note: An online search shows no evidence of any book that Clara Studer and George Putnam wrote together. Studer did author a 1937 book, Sky Storming Yankee: The Life Story of Glenn Curtiss, and in 1933, Studer was the New York-based editor of The Ninety- Niner newsletter. To see the Jan. 15, 1933 edition, please click here.)

Now that I have answered your questions to the best of my ability, may I ask just what connection has Mrs. with CBS, and also the connection, if there be one, between CBS and Mr. Putnam? If Miss Earhart’s name was to be cleared of the spy charge, wouldn’t it be a logical conclusion that an intense investigation be made just how Earhart and Noonan arrived at Saipan (if they did)? My conclusion remains the same; that is, the Electra and its passengers are on the bottom of the sea west of Howland Island, yet very near the island.

In closing, I would like to add that you are quite the “Quiz Master.” However, if there is any doubt in your mind, I see no reason why you should be otherwise. In addition, the enclosure “Facts about the Final Flight” contains several remarks that I would disagree with, but I have never doubted that she crashed very close to Howland Island.

I hope that I have cleared up some points regarding this case. If I can be of any further assistance, don’t hesitate to “start quizzing.” THE INFORMATION THAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU IS FOR YOUR INFORMATION ONLY AND I DO NOT WISH ANY PUBLICITY ON MY PART.

Sincerely,

Leo G. Bellarts

%d bloggers like this: