Tag Archives: Walter McMenamy

Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart: E.H. Dimity’s 1939 argument for new search, Part I

The author of today’s disputation, E.H. “Elmer” Dimity, was a parachute manufacturer during the late 1930s who knew Amelia and established an Amelia Earhart Foundation following her disappearance in hopes of organizing a new search.  Though not a well-known figure in Earhart lore, Dimity owned the only autographed souvenir envelope, or stamped flight cover, known to have survived Earhart’s 1937 round-the-world flight, because it actually didn’t accompany her in her Electra.

The Sept. 13, 1991 New York Times, Auctions Section, page 00015, in a brief titled Airmail, explains:

On March 17, 1937, when Earhart left Oakland, Calif., on her first attempt to circle the globe, the envelope was in one of the mail packages aboard her plane.  The plane’s landing gear gave way in Honolulu, and when the plane was sent back to Oakland for repairs, the mail was returned with it. Before Earhart left again on May 21, the damaged mail packages were re-wrapped under the direction of the Post Office.  It was then, Elmer Dimity reported later, that he removed the envelope as part of a joke he planned to play when Earhart returned.  He said he had hoped to meet her with the envelope in hand, saying the mail had arrived before she did.

Mr. Dimity sold the envelope in the 1960’s on behalf of the Amelia Earhart Foundation to a dealer,said Scott R. Trepel, a Christie’s consultant, who organized the auction house’s sale.  The collector who bought the envelope from that dealer is the unidentified seller of the Earhart memento, which is to be sold with an affidavit from Mr. Dimity. Christie’s estimates that the envelope will bring $20,000 to $30,000.

Close-up view of Amelia Earhart receiving the last package of flight covers from Nellie G. Donohoe, Oakland Postmaster.  At left is Paul Mantz, Earhart’s co-pilot as far as Honolulu. Behind Mrs. Donohoe is E. H. Dimity, ca. March 17, 1937.

In perhaps the best Earhart biography, The Sound of Wings (1989), author Mary Lovell discusses Dimity and his ineffective foundation briefly, but for now we turn our attention to his 1939 paper, “Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart,” which appeared in the August 1994 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.

“Grounds for a Possible Search for Amelia Earhart” (Part I of Two)
by E.H. Dimity, August 1939

Walter McMenamy was thoroughly familiar with Miss Earhart’s voice.  He knew it perfectly, could detect it when others heard but a jumble of sound. This was proven during earlier flights.  His familiarity with the Earhart voice began in January 1935, when Miss Earhart made her solo flight to the mainland.  During this flight, McMenamy was the only radio receiver in constant touch with her ship, working with station KFI in Los Angeles which was broadcasting to her plane. His work on this flight brought warm and written recognition from both the station and Miss Earhart.  His set, built for experimentation in a laboratory, was the only one which reported her position through this flight, bringing in the signals when the equipment of the station itself could not do so.

The hope that Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Capt. [sic] Fred Noonan may be found alive on some tiny island in the South Pacific is a thrilling hope, one that awakens sentiment in the American public who knew her as the heroine of the skies, and particularly strikes a sentimental chord in those who knew her before her disappearance.

There would be sadness in the thought, too, for she has been given up, long since. The hope would appear to be vain, born of wistful thinking.  But there are cold, indisputable facts which have never been made public, and which must demonstrate to anyone of open mind that no sufficient search was ever made for Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan, and that either they are now alive on land in the lonely, untraveled nowhere of their disappearance, or have died since, praying that they would be found.

It is the purpose of this brief memorandum to state these facts, in their order and without elaboration, and to let them argue the case for a new search.

The “Round-the-World Flight” cover made famous by Amelia Earhart.  All the originals save one disappeared with the Earhart plane on July 2, 1937.  (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.)

Before offering the evidence, however, it might be well to list those who believe that either Miss Earhart may be found alive, or that evidence to solve the mystery may be found, and that a new search should be made as soon as possible.

This group includes the following:

Amelia Earhart’s mother,  who has made an intimate study of the data and believes steadfastly that her daughter will be found.

Clarence A. Williams, pilot and navigator who charted Miss Earhart’s course around the world.

Paul Mantz, Miss Earhart’s flying instructor and friend, who accompanied her on her flight to Honolulu.

Margot DeCarie, Amelia Earhart’s secretary.

E.H. Dimity,  longtime friend of Miss Earhart, who took care of many details for her in planning her flights, and who once refused to let her pilot his plane because she was just learning to fly then.  Mr. Dimity established, and is the President of the Amelia Earhart Foundation [now defunct], in Oakland, Calif.

Walter McMenamy, radio expert who was in constant touch with her by air on her solo flight from Honolulu to the mainland, and who probably saved her life by quick thinking on that occasion, when she was flying off her course.  McMenamy also helped guide by radio the first Clipper ship flight to Honolulu.  He charted Miss Earhart’s radio course around the world, and heard her last signals.  [Editor’s note:  Pure speculation. See my April 30, 2014 post,Earhart’s ‘post-loss messages’: Real or fantasy?]

West Coast amateur radio operators Walter McMenamy (left) and Carl Pierson, circa 1937, claimed they heard radio signals sent by Amelia Earhart, including two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.

The reader, perhaps surprised at the suggestion that there may be good reasons for believing Miss Earhart still alive, no doubt will have many questions in his mind, which this memorandum will seek to answer.  Some of these questions are:

1.  Didn’t Navy and Coast Guard search the area where she might have gone down, completely and fruitlessly?

2.  If she landed on an island, how could Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan be alive now, without food or water?

3.  If they are still alive, why have they not been heard from?

The first important fact to be recorded was known to only a few at the time of Miss Earhart’s flight and disappearance, has never been made generally know to the public, and is of tremendous importance.  This fact is that Miss Earhart’s plane and radio equipment were such that the plane could broadcast only from the air or while on land.  The plane could not have broadcast from water. This is proven not only by the testimony of those who helped in the flight preparations, but by the Lockheed factory which made the plane, and by the radio experts who installed the equipment.  The radio transmitter had to be powered by the motor generator, which would be submerged and inactive in the water.

The importance of this fact is, briefly, that it can be proven beyond doubt that the Earhart plane DID broadcast radio signals many hours after it had to be down somewhere, and the plane must have been on land.

The third fact is that radio signals were received from the Earhart plane days after it had landed.  These signals were heard in various parts of the world, by several radio operators, including ships at sea, government stations, and her radio contact man, Walter McMenamy.  Proof of this is in official records and affidavits.  These signals, and the time they were heard, will be described later.

These facts can and will be proven, and they lead directly to the conclusion that the Earhart plane landed in a place not searched, and must be still there with its occupants alive or dead.  Their last radio signal had a decided ripple or sputter, which any radio expert recognizes immediately as evidence that the power was failing.

Immediately two questions arise.  First, what chance could they have for survival on a tiny, deserted island, with little food and no water? History provides an answer.  There are many cases on record where persons shipwrecked, stranded, and believed lost were found years later, alive, in this same area where the Earhart plane landed.  One party, without food, lived on fish, shellfish, and bird’s eggs, and captured rainwater for drinking.  A monotonous diet, but they survived and were rescued from an island which appeared to be incapable of sustaining life.

The second question is: If they were safe, why have they not been picked up, or heard from?  There is a single answer to this.  Their course took them over a sea area strewn with hundreds of islands, which had never been seen from the air, and parts of which have never been visited by civilized man.  Hundreds of miles from the steamer lanes, thousands from communication.  Many of the islands, on their course have never been charted, and appear on no map.

Amelia with Bendix Corporation representative Cyril Remmlein, and the now-infamous direction finding loop that may or may not have failed her during the final flight.  (Photo courtesy Albert Bresnik, taken from Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday, by Laurance Safford, Robert Payne and Cameron Warren.)

What could anyone do but wait, and pray for rescue?

To complete the story, let’s review the events of the disappearance and search point by point.

Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan had an excellent aircraft, a Lockheed Electra, powered with two 550-horsepower motors and equipped with the latest instruments devised.  They cruised at an average speed of 150 mph.  At no time during the flight, even when their gas supply was running low and they were lost, did they report any trouble of any kind, with the motor or otherwise.  No wreckage of the plane has ever been sighted or found, no evidence of an explosion or a sudden crash into the sea caused by faulty motors.

The two left Miami, Florida, on their flight around the world June 1, 1937.  The first leg of the trip to South America was completed without difficulty.  On their flight 1,900 miles across the South Atlantic to Africa, it was reported that the plane’s radio did not function properly, but the span was successfully accomplished.  The trip then took them across Africa and to India.  In the Bay of  Bengal, the plane encountered a monsoon which forced it close to the water, but their objective was won, and the fliers safely reached Lae, British New Guinea.

At Lae they drew breath for the most difficult leg of the trip, one never before attempted.  This was a 2,570- [exactly 2,556] mile flight from Lae to Howland Island, a distance greater than from Los Angeles to New York, over a lonely, poorly charted sea.  The navigation must be perfect, for they were aiming at a pinpoint in the ocean, tiny Howland Island less than two miles square and 20 feet above sea level at its highest point.  Their aim, at such a distance, must be flawless.

Few navigators would stake their lives, as Capt. Noonan did, on such a gamble.

Navigators say that even with the gentle prevailing winds that were blowing at the time, a drift of ten degrees off course in such a distance might easily occur, even with the most expert navigation.

If the plane did drift, from its last know bearing, it might have come down somewhere in a triangle stretching nearly 1,500 miles long and about 500 miles wide at its base.  This fateful triangle includes nearly a million square miles and hundreds of unexplored islands, and only a small part of it has ever been searched for the missing pair.

Miss Earhart and Capt. Noonan took off from Lae on the morning of July 1, Pacific Standard Time [10 a.m., July 2, Lae Time].  The first 500 miles of their flight took them over sea and islands fairly well known, where they could take bearings without difficulty. Shortly after 5 p.m., they reported they were 725 miles out, and directly on course.  Although regular broadcasts were heard from the plane hours later, this was the last position definitely reported, and our triangle starts from the 800-mile mark, for these reasons.

Radio room of USCG Cutter Tahoe, sister ship to Itasca, circa 1937.  Three radio logs were maintained during the flight, at positions 1 and 2 in the Itasca radio room, and one on Howland Island, where the Navy’s high-frequency direction finder had been set up.  Aboard Itasca, Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts supervised Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare and William L. Galten, all third-class radiomen, (meaning they were qualified and “rated” to perform their jobs).  Many years later, Galten told Paul Rafford Jr., a former Pan Am Radio flight officer, “That woman never intended to land on Howland Island!”

The last 1,000 miles of the flight were the most difficult.  There were no landmarks to aid in navigation, and the slightest drift off course could take them miles from their destination.

Stationed at Howland Island to aid the flight was the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, to keep in radio contact with the ship and to advise on weather.  Miss Earhart’s radio could transmit on two wave lengths, 3105 kilocycles and 6210 kilocycles.  There was only one thing wrong with the arrangements, and this mistake may be the cause, perhaps, for the disaster.

Although the Itasca had a radio direction finder which would show the course of signals it received, and thus make it possible to give bearings to a lost plane, the direction finder could not work on the Earhart wavelengths.

Miss Earhart, in the last desperate hours of her flight, asked the Itasca again and again to give her a report on her position.  Evidently she did not know the Itasca was not equipped with a direction finder which could aid her.

An ironic comment can be made here of the flight preparations at Lae.  During the earlier part of her trip, Miss Earhart’s plane was equipped with a trailing antenna.”  This wire trailing under the plane made it possible for the plane to broadcast on the regular ship wavelength of 500 meters (kc).  With the trailing antennae, she could have transmitted signals on that wavelength, and the Itasca direction finder, tuned to this frequency, could have reported her position in the air.  But, for mysterious reasons, Miss Earhart left the trailing antennae at Lae [most say Miami].  Then she canceled, irrevocably, her chance to learn from the Itasca or other ships where she was, lost in the skies seeking tiny Howland Island.  The Itasca direction finder could not help her

(End of Part I)

 

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Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Part II

At the conclusion of the opening segment of Fred Goerner’s 1984 retrospective essay “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” Amelia, Fred Noonan and their Lockheed Electra 10E had vanished after presumably crossing the International Date Line, “flying into yesterday,” in this case, July 2, 1937. Their last radio message, sent at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time, was received at signal strength 5 of 5, and was so loud that Itasca‘s Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts told Elgen Long in 1973, “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing.”

Soon the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and three Navy Mahan-class destroyers, Lamson, Cushing and Drayton, were steaming from the west coast of the United States to the vicinity of Howland Island to join the battleship USS Colorado, the seaplane tender USS Swan and Coast Guard Cutter Itasca in the search for the missing fliers. Without further explanation, here is:

Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Part II

It was clear it would take at least 10 days for Lexington and accompanying destroyers to reach the scene, and there was considerable grumbling in Navy circles and in the U.S. Congress about “spending millions of dollars and disrupting Navy training schedules to search for a couple of stunt fliers.”

Rear Adm. William Sinon, USN, (Ret.) recalls, “The Lexington squadrons were not all fully qualified, and squadrons from the carriers Saratoga and Ranger were directed to supply detachments.” As a result Lexington went to sea with planes of four varieties from three different carriers. 

In the first days following the disappearance, many sources reported radio distress signals received from what was believed to be the downed Earhart plane. Two Los Angeles amateur radio operators, Carl Pierson and Walter McMenamy, who had aided Amelia on other pioneering flights, claimed to have heard two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.

Walter McMenamy (left) and

West Coast amateur radio operators Walter McMenamy (left) and Carl Pierson, circa 1937, claimed they heard radio signals sent by Amelia Earhart, including two SOS calls followed by Earhart’s KHAQQ call letters.

At about the same time, HMS Achilles of the New Zealand Division, the flagship cruiser of Rear Adm. E.R. Drummond, O.B., M.V.O., R.N., reported hearing broken signals from KHAQQ.  Achilles was then southeast of Howland Island proceeding from Tutuila, American Samoa to Pearl Harbor on a goodwill visit to American ports.

The following night, July 4, several amateur (ham) operators in the San Francisco area reported hearing broken Earhart signals on 3105 kilocycles. It was, they said, a rippling carrier wave that faded in and out.

By the evening of July 5, Carl Pierson and Walter McMenamy, the Los Angeles amateurs, had moved to a sensitive receiver in Santa Paula, California, where there was less interference, and they reported hearing “bit and pieces from Earhart and Noonan at 5:40 and 5:44 a.m., but nothing distinct.”

 On July 6 in Los Angeles, Paul Mantz, who had been a technical advisor for Earhart’s first attempt at the around-the-world flight, dropped a small bombshell among the press. He said he had learned from Lockheed aircraft sources that Amelia’s Electra was incapable of broadcast from the surface of the water. Mantz went on to assure the reporters, though, that he was sure the plane could float indefinitely because of the huge — now empty — gasoline tanks for which he had installed emergency cut-off valves to keep them watertight.

The statement was a disaster. Immediately the messages so far received were totally discounted, labeled the work of hoaxers, charlatans, damnable lying publicity seekers. The truth was that Mantz did not know the state of Earhart’s radio equipment, nor did most of the people at Lockheed Aircraft. Mantz had been dropped from the flight team after the Honolulu crackup. He was not even in California when the second attempt at the world flight began. In later years he would complain that he had been so isolated from Amelia that the only conversation he had been able to have with her was through a fence at Lockheed.

The only man who knew for sure about the Electra’s radio gear did not come forward in 1937, and no one in the press was enterprising enough to find him. His name is Joseph Gurr, and he lives today [1984] in Los Altos, Calif., retired after a long career as chief flight dispatcher for United Airlines.

Gurr, a former U.S. Navy radio operator, had been assigned the sole task of adapting a Bendix-built U.S. Navy high-frequency direction finder for the world flight and making sure the rest of the equipment would function properly. He had built a new V-type antenna into the belly of the aircraft, discarding the old reel-type trailing antenna, and he had constructed a new top-side antenna that could be used in a forced landing as long as the storage batteries and transmitter remained above water.

For 45 years there have been rumors that Amelia Earhart foolishly left her morse code key behind at various stops on the world flight simply because she hated to use it. Again, no truth. Joseph Gurr has the key in his California home. He had rigged the system so she and Noonan would not need a key.

Could signals from the downed Electra in the vicinity of Howland Island be heard in the United States? Gurr believed it possible in 1937, and still feels the same way today. “Signals can skip great distances and play some crazy tricks,” he says. “Sometimes a signal can’t be heard a block away but will be received clearly a thousand miles distant.”

[Editor’s note: Some experts, most notably Paul Rafford, a former Pan American flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, have strongly disagreed with Gurr’s estimate of the ability of the downed Electra to transmit such distances. See Experts weigh in on Earhart’s “post-loss” messages for more.]

Gurr did call Amelia’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, and told him the messages could be bona fide. Putnam was spending every moment at the San Francisco Coast Guard radio station trying to follow the search.

Amelia with Josehph Gurr at Burbank, Calif., before her second world flight attempt in June 1937.

Amelia with Joseph Gurr at Burbank, Calif., before her second world flight attempt in June 1937.  Interviewed by Fred Goerner in 1984, Gurr said he had constructed a new top-side antenna on Earhart’s Electra that could be used in a forced landing as long as the storage batteries and transmitter remained above water. Other experts disagree.

On July 5, 1937, most newspapers carried a brief story alluding to possible signals from the Earhart plane being received by high-frequency direction finders belonging to Pan American Airways at Honolulu and on Midway and Wake Islands. The bearings from those signals indicated the plane might be down in an area several hundred miles southeast of Howland in the vicinity of the Phoenix Islands.

The story was quickly discounted by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard for security reasons. One of the most important aspects of military intelligence communications was strategic direction finding, particularly in the high-frequency range. Since the early 1930’s, the American Navy had been working toward development of a reasonably portable yet accurate HF/DF. The complete failure of the DF at Howland clearly indicated they had not yet succeeded.

America did not want the rest of the world, particularly Japan, knowing U.S. capabilities in that arena. The disguise covered weakness. The U.S. Navy would later learn as World War II approached that England, Germany and even Japan were more advanced in direction finding development; indeed, it would be discovered that Japan had a string of DF stations in the Marshall Islands to the north of Earhart’s flight path in 1937. The Japanese could track her plane better than the Americans.

Pan American Airways and U.S. Navy Communications were still relying on the two-ton Adcock DF, which was of British origin. The Navy and Pan Am had become partners in the Pacific. Pan Am was a civilian reason for developments on Pacific islands that could and did have military application.

So the Navy quashed the story of Pan Am’s DF bearings on possible Earhart signals, and later Navy intelligence officers picked up the records of those bearings at Pan Am communications headquarters in Alameda, California. They would remain sequestered until the early 1970’s.

George Palmer Putnam, however, had seen the reports, and when the Navy DF on Howland Island reported on July 6 that it had gotten a bearing on KHAQQ which could either be southeast or northwest, he begged the Navy to instruct USS Colorado to begin its search to the southeast of Howland extending to a group of eight small coral atolls known as the Phoenix Islands. He urged that a particular effort be made to locate several small coral reefs plotted on the hydrographic charts as being approximately 165 miles southeast of Howland.

The 14th Naval District at Honolulu agreed, as did Capt. Wilhelm Friedell, Commanding Officer of Colorado. He rendezvoused with Warner Thompson and Itasca at 0600 the morning of July 7, and the Navy took charge of the search.

Rear Adm. Wilhelm L. Friedell, who commanded the USS Colorado as a captain in 1937, presents the Navy Cross to Lt. Cdr. W.M. Thomas, on dec. 7, 1942. Friedell's Navy career spanned 45 years, from 1901 to 1946, when he retired as a rear admiral, upper half.

Rear Adm. Wilhelm L. Friedell, who commanded the USS Colorado during the Earhart search as a captain, presents the Navy Cross to Lt. Cmdr. W.M. Thomas, on Dec. 7, 1942. Friedell’s Navy career spanned 45 years, from 1901 to 1946, when he retired as a rear admiral, upper half.

By mid-morning Colorado steered a course for the general area of the reefs. At 2:30 p.m., Friedell turned the catapults into the wind and three young pilots, Lieutenants John Lambrecht, William Short and Leonard Fox were launched in their three 03U-3 observation, open-cockpit biplanes.

At 500 feet they swept an area 10 miles square around the charted positions of the reefs, and when nothing was found they flew west-southwest a dozen miles into an area covered by a large rain squall. Still nothing but open ocean.  They returned to the ship just after 5 .p.m., landing alongside in the water to be winched aboard.

After debriefing his fliers, Capt. Friedell came to the conclusion that the charted reefs didn’t exist after all, and a decision was made to begin the search of the Phoenix Islands themselves the following day. Friedell made a note for his report that it was not the most comfortable thing in the world to be prowling about in waters where reefs might be in uncertain locations. He decided also to post extra lookouts that night and to use the ship’s searchlight in case they might be passing Earhart and Noonan in the dark.

In the following days, Colorado aviators averaged four flights of three planes each day. They searched Enderbury, Phoenix, Birnie, Sydney, McKean, Gardner and Hull Islands, and then finally Canton, the northernmost island in the Phoenix Group. All were uninhabited save Hull, where Lambrecht landed in the lagoon and was greeted by a British Resident Commissioner and a boatload of natives who had paddled out to get a close view of this wonder. No one had seen or heard of Amelia Earhart; in fact, no one even knew who she was.

Friedell and his crew left the Phoenix Islands with a sense of relief. It is evident from their reports that they hadn’t expected to find the Electra anyway, and it would be good to be out in open, reasonably charted waters again.

Perhaps they would not have felt as comfortable had they known the missing reefs would be charted again in the years to come. In 1943: 1 degree 51 minutes south, 174 degrees 30 minutes west; 1944: 1 degree 36 minutes 30 seconds south, 174 degrees 57 minutes west; 1945: Zero degrees 46 minutes south, 174 degrees 43 minutes west — a sandbar reported; 1954: Zero degrees 56 minutes 18 seconds south, 174 degrees 51 minutes west.

To this writing, none of the reefs or the sandbar have been investigated at close range. Could the Electra still be wedged on one of the reefs or buried in the sandbar? There are those who believe it, and I think it may be possible.

Friedell and his men might have contemplated another search of the area had they known that amateur radio operators in Northern California had picked up two more messages the night of July 7.

Frank Freitas of Yreka received “plane on reef . . . 200 miles south . . . Howland . . . both OK.”

Arthur Monsees of San Francisco heard “SOS. . . KHAQQ . . . east . . . Howland . . . lights tonight . . . can’t hold.”

When Lambrecht and Short, two of Colorado‘s pilots, were several years ago shown the new hydrographic chartings for the area between Howland Island and the Phoenix Islands, they both agreed the rain squalls the afternoon of July 7, 1937, may have been a nasty trick of fate.

Joseph L. Ballantine, assistant chief of the Eastern Division, left, greets Japanese diplomat Saburo Kurusu (right) and Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburo Norma (center), upon their arrival in Washington just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joseph L. Ballantine, assistant chief of the U.S. State Department’s Division of Far Eastern Affairs, left, greets Japanese diplomat Saburo Kurusu, right, and Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburo Norma  upon their arrival in Washington just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

An item which recently surfaced in long-classified U.S. Navy files gives further support to the reefs theory. Earhart and Noonan had not planned to arrive over Howland Island just at the time their fuel would be exhausted. The plan called for a minimum four-hour reserve.  Amelia had been given a copy of a highly classified, registered document titled “U.S. Naval Pacific Air Pilot.” It was provided by Capt. William Satterlee Pye, USN, who later became a vice admiral and a prominent figure in the Pearl Harbor controversy.

“Pacific Air Pilot” was the result of years of survey by the U.S. Navy. It contained climate conditions and prevailing winds for most of the Pacific Ocean areas, along with descriptions of all islands that possibly could be used for emergency landings. There were four such islands in the Phoenix Group: Canton, Gardner, McKean and Enderbury. None was inhabited and none had man-made landing fields, but each had sufficient clear and level area for a safe landing by the Electra.

 If Amelia and Fred could not find Howland, one of the Phoenix Islands would provide the closest alternate. Canton Island, 20 times the size of Howland, would be their best bet.

At 7 a.m. July 12, 1937, Colorado, met and refueled the destroyers leading the aircraft carrier USS Lexington to the search scene. Fueling completed, Colorado was detached from the search and ordered to return to the west coast of America.

During the search, Colorado‘s planes had flown more than 21 hours each and covered within radius of visibility an area of more than 25,000 square miles. Capt. Wilhelm Friedell wrote in the last paragraph of his final report:  “The Colorado has covered the known land area within 450 miles of Howland Island, and definitely ascertained that the Earhart plane is not on land within the region unless on an unknown, uncharted and unsighted reef.”

[Editors’ note: To my knowledge, no Earhart researchers have ever supported Goerner’s reef/sandbar theory. This is clearly an area where Goerner flew solo, with scant evidence to support his speculations.  Goerner knew about Thomas E. Devine’s eyewitness claim that he observed the Electra three times on Saipan during the 1944 invasion, but his well-known contempt for Devine clearly prevented him from accepting even the possibility that Devine’s account might have been accurate.]

USS Lexington with 60 aircraft began its search to the north and northwest of Howland Island on July 13. Ocean currents in the area were generally to the northwest and the reasoning was that a drifting plane could now be as much as four to 500 miles from the place of emergency landing.

On the same date, July 13, 1937, a brief item in a leading Japanese newspaper indicated that Earhart and Noonan had been picked up by a Japanese “fishing boat.” There was never a follow-up to the article.

Japan was seriously concerned regarding U.S. intentions where the Earhart search was concerned. Japan had occupied the Marshall, Caroline and Mariana Islands during World War I, and had maintained control of the area under a League of Nations mandate after the war.    

Beginning in 1934, Japan had virtually sealed off the islands to the rest of the world. Speculation had it that Japan was building airfields, fuel depots and expanded harbor and communications facilities in preparation for a Pacific war.   

The Marshall Islands lie only 550 miles north and west of Howland Island, and the construction of an American airfield on Howland was most disconcerting to the Japanese. They had repeatedly sent surveillance vessels to the island to determine from offshore the extent and progress of the construction.

[Editor’s note:  The distance from Mili Atoll in the Marshalls to Howland Island is 871 statute miles.]

On July 5, 1937, Tsuneo Hayama, second secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., visited the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and informed Joseph W. Ballentine that Japan would conduct its own search for Amelia Earhart around and south of the Marshall Islands. He added that Japan had warships and radio stations in the Marshalls and a considerable number of fishing boats that could range to the east and west of Howland Island.

Ballentine replied that the U.S. Navy had a message believed to have come from Earhart that placed the drifting plane 200 or more miles north of Howland Island.

Hayama telephoned Ballantine the following day, July 6, to say that the Japanese Naval Attaché of the Japanese Embassy had been informed that the Japanese Naval Department had instructed the survey ship Koshu to participate in the search for Earhart and that Japanese radio stations in the Marshalls had been given orders to be on continuous watch for Earhart signals.

On the following day, July 7, 1937, Japan began its full-scale invasion of the China mainland. Major units of the Imperial Japanese Navy were committed to that invasion, and the prospect of planes of the American carrier Lexington flying over the Marshalls in search of Earhart was frightening. The League of Nations mandate Japan held over the Marshalls stipulated that there were to be no military facilities or fortification of any kind.

Adm. Felix B. Stump, a navigator for the carrier USS Lexington in 1937, told Fred Goerner, "We did not violate Japanese air space over the Marshalls. Although, now, I wish we had."

Adm. Felix B. Stump, a navigator for the carrier USS Lexington in 1937, told Fred Goerner, “We did not violate Japanese air space over the Marshalls. Although, now, I wish we had.”

On July 11, Hayama was back at the U.S. State Department again. This time he retracted his statement of July 5 about “warships” being in the Marshalls, but reiterated that the Japanese had been and were continuing to conduct their own search in the vicinity of the Marshalls.

By July 18, 1937, the Lexington planes were searching areas almost touching the Marshalls, and over the years there have been allegations that some of Lexington’s pilots made detours for photographic runs over selected Japanese held islands. Lexington‘s official log and search report do not support such contentions, nor do the recollections of officers who participated in the search.

Adm. Felix B. Stump, USN, (Ret.), who was navigator for Lexington in 1937 and who later became head of Air America (the CIA’s airline), told me in a personal conversation, “We did not violate Japanese air space over the Marshalls. Although, now, I wish we had.”

 After July 18’s air search, Lexington set a course for San Diego, Calif., and destroyers Drayton, Lamson and Cushing headed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The largest air-sea rescue operation in history was over. Lexington‘s planes had covered 151,556 square miles of ocean without any trace of Earhart or Noonan or wreckage from their plane.

The radio messages believed to be coming from Earhart had ended with those of the night of July 7. It was all over. “Two civilian fliers lost at sea.” That was to be the epitaph. (End of Part II)

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