On Friday, 2 July the Colorado was ordered to proceed to Pearl
Harbor for fuel and thence to the Howland Island area in search of
Miss Earhart. At that time the unit was temporarily ashore at the
Fleet Air Base, trying to complete two 100-hour and one carbuerator
check, when, as they say in the newspapers, the story broke.
the work accomplished in so far as time allowed was satisfactory
except for the carburetor. No new gaskets for this type of carburetor
could be found at the Base and it was necessary to replace the
old ones. That was not satisfactory and it eventually became
necessary to shift to a spare carburetor.
a matter of fact no spares whatever could be found at the Base
for the 03U-3’s. And from the experience gained by the Colorado unit
while at that Base it would seem advisable to keep on hand there
a limited number of spares for all ship based planes. Pearl Harbor
being an outlying base at which it is not uncommon for ships
and ship’s planes to visit on occasion, it would greatly facilitate
checking and repairs, not only in emergencies such as occurred
in the case of the Colorado, but also in the normal routine
operations. For example, due to a bent net recovery hook it would
have been particularly desirable to have replaced the pontoon
on one of the planes prior to the extended operations attending
the Earhart search. The Fleet Air Base did not have a spare pontoon
and time did not permit repair of the hook. Items such as this
are constantly cropping up due to the exigencies of the Service.
And to the operating personnel it is highly desirable to be able
to obtain a few spares when operating away from home bases in
order to reduce the use of baling wire to a minimum.
planes returned to the ship at ten o’clock Saturday (3 July)
morning and what with the Colorado alongside a fuel dock
and the wind directly from astern, it required a nice piece of
sailing to get the planes under the hook. The ship was underway
at one that afternoon.
the entire period of the Colorado’s search weather
conditions were excellent. Ceiling was unlimited, with a visibility
of thirty miles, thin scattered clouds at 2000, wind northeast
to east, 13 to 15 knots … somewhat stronger and more easterly
at 1000 feet. Sea was calm to moderate with moderate northeasterly
swells and very few white caps. Wind streaks were well defined
and of course here and there the inevitable tropical rain squall.
These however, were generally so widely scattered and so small
as not to impede the conduct of the search appreciably. Visibility
and state of the sea as has been noted, were such that it is
believed an object on the water even as small as a rubber boat
could have been seen a distance of at least five miles and probably
further. Indeed in every instance when the planes were on their
return leg the ship was sighted at a distance in excess of thirty
every flight planes scouted at an altitude of 1000 feet and an
interval of three miles. Radio communication was excellent even
at extreme scouting distances and signal strength never got below
three. During these operations the planes averaged 21.2 hours
flying time and covered a distance of about 1900 miles per plane.
An accompanying sketch of a chart of the search area shows tracks
of planes and ship.
search with aircraft got underway at 1430 Wednesday 7 July, when
the planes were catapulted with orders to search to the southward
a distance of eighty to ninety miles to locate and inspect a
spot marked on the chart as “Reef & Sandbank”. This, according
to the Sailing Directions, was quite possibly Winslow Reef, shown
on the chart as being forty-five miles further south. These reefs
are close to Howland and Baker Islands and there was a chance
that Miss Earhart, finding herself short of fuel, might have
chosen a forced landing there. The exact locations of these reefs
are not known and, indeed, there seems to be some doubt as to
their existence. Several ships have, at various times, reported
passing over the Latitude and Longitude of Winslow Reef without
encountering any “Rocks and Shoals”, and without even seeing
any signs of anything but plain ocean. And that is exactly what
the planes found, both on this flight and that of the following
morning. After searching an area of ten miles square around the
charted position of the “Reef & Sandbank”, planes headed
WSW about twelve miles into an area covered by a large rain squall,
thinking the reef might have been trying to hide out, but found
nothing except more ocean. Incidentally the three planes crossed
the Line during this flight in Longitude 174 Deg – 36′ W.
following morning (Thursday) as the ship steamed south in Longitude
175 Deg – 30′ W the planes searched an area from
00 Deg – 50′
S to 1 Deg – 55′ S and from 174 Deg – 40′ W
to 175 Deg – 10′
W in a second attempt to locate these reefs. This area included
by a wide margin their charted and/or reported positions. Search
was so conducted that at least one of the planes would certainly
have passed any point in the area at a distance of not more than
a mile and a half. And in light of the subsequent finding of
Carondelet Reef there is no doubt in the minds of the pilots
and their observers that had a reef been there it certainly would
have been sighted. (As an example of the height of something
or other the Lex planes will probably find one or both
of the reefs without even looking). Anyhow the Senior Aviator
wants to go on record as saying that the mariners (?) who saw
and reported these reefs are probably the same ones who are constantly
reporting having seen sea serpents!!! Suffice to say the Colorado’s
“some of the Navy’s crack pilots” (we suppose the
news boys will want to take back that appellation of undoubted
distinction now that we didn’'t succeed in finding Amelia) did
not see any reefs, rocks, or shoals in that area, much less any
signs of a Lockheed.
the rest of Thursday, two additional flights were made searching
a seventy-mile front from a position in Lat. 2 Deg.– 00′ S Long.
l75 Deg – 10′ W along the course of the ship which steamed SSE
on 160 Deg True. This covered a large water area where it was
thought Miss Earhart might have been forced down. Here again
the condition of the weather, the state of the sea and the extremely
good visibility made it highly probable that the missing plane
would have been found had it been in that area. Due to repairs
necessary on the pontoon of 4-0-4 only two planes were used for
the first of these two flights.
0700 Friday morning the planes were catapulted to search M’Kean
and Gardner Islands, Carondelet Reef and the intervening sea
area. M’Kean Island was visited first and when first sighted
was about a half point to port, bearing out the statement in
Sailing Directions that the island’s actual position is somewhat
WNW of that shown on the chart. M’Kean did not require more than
a perfunctory examination to ascertain that the missing plane
had not landed here, and one circle of the island proved that
it was uninhabited except for myriads of birds. Signs of previous
habitation remained and the walls of several old buildings apparently
or some sort of adobe construction, were still standing. M’Kean
is perfectly flat and no bigger than about one square mile. Its
lagoon, like those of several of the smaller islands of the Phoenix
Group, is very shallow and almost dry. This island had no vegetation
whatsoever. As in all of these atoll formations coral extends
out from the shore line a distance of 100 to 150 yards and then
drops precipitously into water many fathoms deep. There is no
anchorage off any of these islands.
in the case of the subsequent search of the rest of the Phoenix
Islands one circle at fifty feet around M’Kean aroused the birds
to such an extent that further inspection had to be made from
an altitude of at least 400 feet.
M’Kean the planes proceeded to Gardner Island (sighting
the ship to starboard enroute) and made an aerial search of this
island which proved to be one of the biggest of the group. Gardner
is a typical example of your south sea atoll … a narrow
circular strip of land (about as wide as Coronado’s silver strand)
surrounding a large lagoon. Most of this island is covered with
tropical vegetation with, here and there, a grove of coconut
palms. Here signs of recent habitation were clearly visible but
repeated circling and zooming failed to elicit any answering
wave from possible inhabitants and it was finally taken for granted
that none were there.
the western end of the island a tramp steamer (of about 4000
tons) bore mute evidence of unlighted and poorly charted “Rocks
and Shoals”. She lay high and almost dry head onto the coral
beach with her back broken in two places.
lagoon at Gardner looked sufficiently deep and certainly large
enough so that a seaplane or even an airboat could have landed
or taken off in any direction with little if any difficulty.
Given a chance, it is believed that Miss Earhart could have landed
her plane in this lagoon and swam or waded ashore. In fact, on
any of these islands it is not hard to believe that a forced
landing could have been accomplished with no more damage than
a good barrier crash or a good wetting.
Gardner, the planes headed southeast for Carondelet Reef, sighting
its occasional breakers a good ten miles away. No part of the
reef is above water and, although it could be plainly seen from
the air, the water over it must have been at least ten to twenty
feet in depth. Finding nothing here the planes returned to the
1430 that afternoon planes were again catapulted and headed some
seventy miles to the eastward to search Hull Island. In appearance,
Hull is much the same as Gardner, somewhat smaller perhaps, nevertheless,
similar in shape and formation, the same lagoon, with the same
vegetation and identical groves of coconut palms. The one difference … Hull was inhabited.
the planes approached the island toward its southern end natives
could be seen cloistered around a large shack erected on high
stilts and otherwise fabricated in what appeared to be the conventional
native fashion. (Page W. Somerset Maugham for further details
of construction). When the planes zoomed the beach, the natives,
dressed in their traditional loin clothes, turned out en masse
to wave and yell (anyhow they looked as if they were yelling)
and to wonder at such strange birds. After a circle of the island,
during which other (and smaller) native shacks were noted, the
again zoomed. This time as many of the natives as possible were
on the roof of their “civic center” and all of them entirely
naked waving their loin cloths! It is not known whether this
is their especial form of welcome for oceanic flyers, but it
was later learned that none of them had ever seen an airplane.
the lagoon was spotted with coral reefs that looked from the
air to be near or on the surface, an examination disclosed a
safe landing area at the southern end closest to the village.
The Senior Aviator then decided upon landing his plane for the
express purpose of making inquiries, and after a preliminary
the plane sat down on the calm waters of the lagoon. (This lagoon
was subsequently re-named after the Senior Aviator by members
of the Second Ward … hydrographers please note). Almost immediately
after the landing an outrigger canoe pushed off from the beach
with what later proved to be three native boys and the white
of south sea island legends to the contrary, it took those natives
exactly forty-five minutes to paddle three-quarters of a mile.
But the wait supplied the Senior Aviator and his Cadet observer
with sufficient time to take stock of their surroundings.
was noted that the reefs which from the air appeared to be close
to the surface were, in reality, at least four to six feet or
more deep. A little sailing afforded a chance to pass over several
of these and it was finally decided to turn and taxi down wind,
closer in to the beach, and to the approaching canoe. This we
did and settled down to wait, meantime limbering up the only
“shooting iron” (a Very pistol) which the plane boasted … just
in case. (The Senior Aviator has probably been reading too many stories
of the aforementioned W. Somerset Maugham.
the canoe came nearer, the reason for its breath-taking speed
was readily apparent … the natives were using small round
poles as paddles. Then within hailing distance we received a
hearty wave and a cordial “Cheerio” from the resident manager.
He was a man of about medium height, deeply tanned, and dressed
as may have been expected, in white duck trousers, white shirt
and a straw hat, which he removed to wave at us. His appearance
led one to believe that his nationality was German, due, no doubt,
to his closely cropped hair and rotund face, but his accent proclaimed
told him we were searching for a plane which we believed may
have been forced down somewhere in the Phoenix Islands, that
the plane had left Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island a week
past and had not heard of since, and we wondered whether he’d
seen or heard of it. He replied that he hadn’t and added that
he possessed a radio receiver but heard nothing on it. He was
ignorant of the flight but evinced quizzical surprise when told
it was being made by Amelia Earhart. He then asked where we had
come from and was considerably startled we told him “Honolulu”.
We hastily explained, however, that our ship was some fifty or
sixty miles to the westward, awaiting our return.
informing him that we expected to search the rest of the islands,
we took off, rendezvoused with the other planes, and returned
to the ship.
the following morning (Saturday) the unit was ordered to search
four of the five remaining islands. Heading southeast from the
ship, we soon picked up Sydney but upon dropping down for an
inspection of that island could discover nothing which indicated
that the missing flyers had landed there. The lagoon was sufficiently
large to warrant a safe landing but several circles of the island
disclosed no signs of life and a landing would have been useless.
There were signs of recent habitation and small shacks could
be seen among the groves of coconut palms, but repeated zooms
failed to arouse any answering wave and the planes headed northeast
for Phoenix Island.
heavy rain squalls were encountered enroute but were negotiated
without difficulty. Phoenix proved to be nothing but a blemish
on an otherwise blue ocean. It was absolutely flat, bare and
colorless and a disappointment in that it did not harbor the
missing flyers. Its lagoon was nothing more than a shallow stagnant
pool of rusty water and the only indication that the island had
ever been visited by man was the stone cairn on the east beach.
It was not deemed necessary to spend any more time in that vicinity
and we departed for Enderbury.
although a bit larger, was much the same as Phoenix. Here and
there were what appeared to be oases with a few surrounding palm
trees … no signs of habitation were evident and an inspection
did not disclose the object of our search.
required merely a cursory examination of Birnie Island (the smallest
of the group) to prove that Miss Earhart had not landed here.
Birnie, except for its size, might just as well have been another
M’Kean and after two or three turns about the island the planes
headed west for the ship.
Island, the Northernmost of the Phoenix Group, was searched that
afternoon. It held the Colorado’s only remaining
hopes of finding Miss Earhart and her missing navigator. Search
here, however, proved as fruitless as that of the other islands
and hopes of locating the unfortunate flyers were virtually abandoned.
the beginning , after a careful study of the situation it had
been considered most likely that Miss Earhart was down on one
of the islands of this group. Numerous reports were received
that the plane’s radio had been heard. Some of these reports
proved to be spurious. Others coming from more reliable sources,
though not definitely confirmed, could not be entirely ignored.
The plane’s designers insisted however, that had a carrier wave
been broadcast the plane must have been in a position capable
of turning up one of its engines, i.e. somewhere on dry land.
since Miss Earhart had not landed at Howland or Baker, the only
other possibility of a safe landing was on one of the islands
of the Phoenix Group,unless, of course, she had fallen far short
of her goal and was forced down in the Gilbert Islands, some
four hundred and fifty miles to the westward. Canton proved to
be the biggest of the Phoenix group, but showed little difference
in appearance from the others. It took approximately fifteen
minutes for the planes to make one circle, and, although one
end was covered by a heavy rain squall, a careful search was
made of the island and its lagoon. Vegetation is sparse and not
more than half a dozen palm trees exist on the entire island.
At the Western end there still remained the shacks and various
constructions of the eclipse expedition. The broad blue expanse
of the lagoon was broken at regular intervals by transverse coral
reefs and, except for these, the water appeared to be fathoms
deep. At either end (eastern and western) an area of open water
could be found sufficiently large for operations of any size
seaplane or air boat. No signs of contemporary habitation were
completed the Colorado’'s search with aircraft,
and after recovering her planes, the ship headed north towards
the rendezvous for fueling the plane guard destroyers. Search
operations were turned over to the Lexington which, with
her numerous planes, could cover vast stretches of the ocean
over an area in which there was a chance Miss Earhart might have
been down. And it is to be hoped that in the very near future
newspapers will ring with the headline, “AMELIA FOUND”.