Highlights From the Forum
July 13, 1998 Through July 19, 1998
I’ve only been on this forum for about a week now so don’t have too much knowledge of what has been discussed. Your question about why any native on Gardner would just come up and discuss ANYTHING is strange to me, as none of them ever discussed a thing to any of us on the station as long as I was there. As I mentioned, they couldn’t speak English so the only one we had any conversations with was the radio operator at the village. The natives never came to the station without being invited so there was never much socializing. They were very friendly and the kids were a lot of fun. They seemed to respect us a great deal.
Just before I was shipped out the natives built a large meeting hut right in our back yard so-to-speak. They also built us an out-rigger canoe. My buddy, Bob Begotka, and I, decided to take the out-rigger for a sail one moon-lit night and we sailed it all the way down to the village and couldn’t get it back. We left it there and walked back. The CO had a fit as he was under the impression that the out-rigger was built just for him and that my buddy and I stole it. A short time later we were sent to Hawai'i for rehab and got re-assigned to Majuro.
I saw the mention of Loomis/Ethell book yesterday; it so happens I just finished reading it for the first time. Interesting stuff and doesn’t appear far-out to me, but I wanted to ask your opinion of the Nauru overflight – is that claim generally accepted now? I don’t see that it upsets the TIGHAR theory in any way.
Also his comments re: AE’s confusion between 7500 kc and 750.0 meters (400 kc) struck me because I had just been wondering about that last week. My dad is a ham and they all seem to convert in their heads instantaneously at will, but I sure can’t.
I’ll go along with the 7500 kc versus 750.0 meters as reasonable speculation. I can’t come up with a better guess as to why she should ask for such an apparently inappropriate frequency.
The Nauru overflight, however, seems highly unlikely to me. The speculation that she took a big unnecessary dogleg in her route to Howland seems based entirely upon a message received while Earhart was in Lae which described a new light at Nauru. The reasoning goes, why would they tell her about the light if she wasn’t planning to go there?
As always, it helps to know the whole story and put the message in its proper context.
According to the Chater Report (which was not available to Loomis),
On June 30th the following message was sent to the Chief Wireless Inspector, Rabaul - Mr. Twycross
So what is really happening here? Lae queries Rabaul on Earhart’s behalf and asks for the weather at places close to her route of flight (Rabaul, either Nauru or Ocean Island, and Tarawa). Only Nauru replies. They don’t have any information about Earhart’s route except that she's flying to Howland. Being as helpful as possible, they include information about the lights on the island. I don’t see anything here that indicates that Earhart has any intention of going to Nauru. There’s no airfield there. It’s way out of the way. She has the USS Ontario on station at her halfway point specifically to give her a checkpoint. She didn’t even specifically ask for weather information for Nauru. Ocean Island would have been just as good. She certainly didn’t ask anything about lights. Nobody on Nauru later claimed to have heard a plane fly over.
There is also the point that, had she taken a big pointless detour up to Nauru, she could not possibly have arrived in the vicinity of Howland when we know she did. Take Earhart’s known fuel, the airplane’s known performance, her known progress reports, the weather as far as we know it, and her known arrival time in the Howland area, and it all works out very nicely. Everything seems to have been going great until radio reception problems made it impossible for them to fine tune their navigation at the very end of the flight.
The Loomis/Ethell book does what most Earhart books, and especially the conspiracy books, do. It takes documented fact out of context and gives it an unwarranted interpretation.
Just finished an interesting morning at Parker Pen. Very helpful folks there; everyone wanted to get a look at the pen in Fred’s pocket. As these were the same people who repair all the Parker pens they were very helpful. The consensus was that the pen is a "Vacumatic" (apparently spelled several ways) and I will prepare a report on the models of pens available at that time, as well as the measurements. Look for it next week.
Vacumatic huh? A guy who drives a Terraplane might well write with a Vacumatic. I only hope that someday the 1990s will seem as cool as the 1930s. I’ll look forward to your report.
Our life on that Island was extremely monotonous. Our watches were 4 on 8 off for the most part. I managed to relieve my monotony by developing and printing photographs. I had one of the tents that we stayed in while we built the base and used it as a dark room. Only good at night of course. I developed and printed pictures that the guys took and I even made an enlarger out of the base camera. Sopko was good enough to let me do that as he had an interest in photography also.
While I was there I learned how to operate a D-6 and D-8 bulldozer. While on Canton I even learned how to run a landing barge. During the day it was too hot do do anything outside so most of the time we stayed in the rec. hall and played poker or played ping-pong. I got very good at ping-pong. Once in a while a couple of us would make up 5 gal. of ice cream out of powdered milk and put it in the reefer until frozed. We would go into the reefer and eat the ice cream right out of the 5 gal. tin. Once in a while we would get the pharmacist mate to donate a bit of pure grain alcohol which we would poor into the top of a coke. That makes one potent drink! The routine would be disrupted by the CO getting everyone fully armed with every gun available and going down to the beach at night because he thought he saw some lights out in the ocean and of course it must have been a Jap sub! After a couple of times of that routine I go wise and left all the amo behind except one clip in the rifle. That made a whole lot lighter load to carry!
My father had sent me an all-band radio which I left set up in the Loran shack so we all could listen to music from Australia and from Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. The only radio contact we had was by morse code to Canton. I managed to spend a lot of time writing home and to a number of girls that wrote me. It was an exciting day on Saturday when the PBY came flying in. It landed in the lagoon. Once I had to go back to Canton to have some dental work done, which gave me the opportunity to fly in the PBY. That was my first flight in a plane and it is one I shall remember all my life. There is nothing like taking off and landing on water! Once every 6 months a ship would lay off shore and off load fresh food, beer, coke and cigarettes; plus other supplies that were needed to maintain the base operation. You know, as I look back on this experience it didn’t seem like a paradise at the time but now I guess it really was. At least the island was one of the best in the chain. Canton was a coral reef, Baker was the same and I guess Atafu wasn’t bad but none of them had a lagoon like Gardner. Also I don’t believe any of them had natives. The natives came up from the village at Christmas time with gifts for all. That was quite an event!. They were good a making all sorts of things out of shells and palms.
There are so many experiences and events that have escaped my memory but once a year the Coast Guard Loran units at Canton; Baker, Atafu and Gardner get together a talk over old times out there in the vast Pacific Islands and many things are remembered by one person that have been forgotten by others. Our next reunion is this October in Kentucky. It’s a different place every year. Wow, you’re going to get sick of hearing all my recollections so had better close and if you have any questions please don't hesitate to write.
Even worse about the Nauru light story is that the original radio messagehad a typo: the light was at 560 foot elevation, not 5600 feet! I double-checked that with the sailing directions of 1937, which described the light position and height. So... if AE was expecting a light sourcewell above 1 mile's elevation, she would have been sorely disappointed. Based upon my reconstructions of her flight, using probabilistic Monte-Carlo simulations, her detour to Nauru would have seriously disrupted her ability to sustain her later reports of distance from Howland the next morning.
I have been looking at the wreck photo in the last issue of TIGHAR Tracks and would like to add some comments:
Looks to me like the skins of the belly are still intact enough for the nose section to remain with the immensely strong centersection. The thing to understand about the Lockheed 10 is that it's built around an incredibly massive “main beam” which spans from engine to engine and looks like a spare part for the Brooklyn Bridge. The belly skins in the centersection are .040 inch thick, whereas the rest of the airplane is made from .032 and .025 Alclad. It has been said of the Electra that everything else on the airplane is just a fairing around the centersection.
Now imagine this thing gets pounded by heavy surf. The tail and outer wing panels are probably the first to go. Water rolls into and through the cabin with tremendous force and literally blows it apart. As the airplane is swept across the surface of the reef-flat, maybe the right engine snags and is ripped from its mounts. What is left – the indestructible center section and the dangling nose section – are washed up into the treeline. How did the left engine survive alomost undamaged? How does a tornado destroy one car and leave the one parked beside it untouched? Something like this is a study in chaos theory.
Mind you, I ain’t a-sayin’ that the Wreck Photo is Amelia’s airplane on Niku. I just haven’t seen anything yet that says it can’t be.
This is a reposting of a message I sent on May 15, regarding the PAA Archives in Miami, as requested by a forum member. Hope it helps!
What follows are notes and comments from a visit to the University of Miami Special Archives Collection, containing the Pan American Air archives. Facts will be in regular print, quotes from documents in quotations, and my comments/speculations in square brackets [ ].
First, the PAA archives is the largest collection that the Special Collection at UofM has, well over 600 boxes (typical size: xerox box size containing 10 reams of paper). There is an index to the archives, usually listing the contents of each box by folder, which contains some indication of their contents. PAA had some internal filing system, but I could not decipher it nor did I find a filing manual. Most of the material is not well organized [actually poorly organized and filed, but that is not the fault of the staff at UofM – they kept things as they received them], and is scattered among all the boxes. Material ranges in dates from 1927 through the 1980s. [Another researcher there said that these were the material from the PAA PR department, which may explain why I did not see a lot of internal memoranda or organizational stuff].
Be prepared to spend time and money at Miami. I spent nearly three full days examining 77 boxes. It costs $5/day to enter the Richter Library, $20/week. The UofM is a private institution, and can get away with charging entrance fees. Parking just outside the library [nowhere else to park, apparently] is $0.50/hour. Hours of operation are 9AM to 4PM. The staff is extremely friendly, helpful, and willing to go out of its way to work with you. The staff was one of the best I have encountered. Copying charges are $0.15/page, and they reference the files for you.
My purpose was to scout the PAA material for information regarding Fred Noonan, particularly dates of employment, age, middle name, etc. During my perusal of material, it became clear that I may well have pulled wrong material and not have pulled the right material, due to the changing PAA organizational structure early on. My recommendations are to first do a casual search through the archives, then dig deeper once the researcher has a better feeling for what to search for.
Specific facts regarding FJN:
The first mention of FJN is in the PAAWays magazine, the internal newsletter for employees. In the issue dated Oct. 8, 1930, Noonan was transferred from Miami to Port au Prince to become Field Manager there. [Field Manager is a step below the Station Manager, and as best as I could decipher, the position was strictly one of ground personnel, preparing paperwork, meteorological forecasts, helping passengers, mail, luggage, making sure the field was in shape, etc.] Port au Prince station began on 9 Jan 29.
June, 1932: “Friends of Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Noonan [sic] are glad to welcome them recently when they came to Miami for a vacation. After a long stay in the islands, they were glad to get back to the States for a while. Mr. Noonan is Airport Manager at Port au Prince”.
March, 1933: W. G. Eldridge assigned Airport Manager at Port au Prince. [Hmm?what happened to Noonan?]
April, 1934: “Asst. Airport Manager Fred J. Noonan made an inspection trip to Santiago, Cuba during April.” [Hmm?he got demoted it seems]
May/June, 1934: “Former Navy ace, Al Williams, sent a box of corn cob pipes to Fred J. Noonan after his trip from Miami to Port au Prince”
March 22-23, 1935: Noonan was navigator of PAA Clipper, NR823M over the Atlantic, test flight
[In what follows, unless noted, Noonan is navigator]
March 27: Navigator on flight to Acapulco
The last entry I could find for Noonan being a part of PAA: December 7, 1936.
Musick and FJN were assigned temporarily to Alameda base in early 1935, although they might be returned to company duty at Miami later [dated May/June, 1935??]
[There are a few anecdotes about Noonan and Musick. Musick was always worried about Fred’s inability to show up before events, and the first words out of his mouth were Has anyone seen Fred? It got so bad, that Musick roomed with FJN so that he could keep better tabs on him. A great story was told that one of the Clippers was ready to leave, but FJN was nowhere to be found. A taxi rushes onto the dock, FJN gets out, and while walking to the plane, walks off the dock, becoming drenched. When asked, FJN said there was a shadow that looked like the dock. Rafford was an employee of PAA, as was Donohue, and they wrote a book on AE and FN that is probably one of the worst around. Rafford states that PAA fired FJN because of alcoholism, and that he carried a huge briefcase with him aboard, and often went back to the lavatory with his suitcase. The obvious implication is that it was filled with alcohol. Other old-timers mentioned that FJN was full of cheer, but that his alcohol habits did not affect his work.]
A PAA old-time navigator/officer, Canady, suggested in a speech in the [50s] that implies that FJN resigned from PAA to accompany AE.
There are numerous photos of FJN, almost all with the rest of the Clipper crew. One sole photograph not previously seen before was of him working over the navigational bench plotting up fixes. There is a manual nearby, but I could not readily determine what it was. I have ordered a copy of this photo, and will forward it to TIGHAR.
Noonan wrote a press release [upon arrival in Manila], and I marked it for copying but it somehow never got copied. I do not have a reference location for it. [Drats! I have a copy of another document that I did not ask for: box 118 Planes – Martin Clipper M-130, 1934-1965 which I think is the right reference.]
The S-42 Clippers did have RDFs aboard, and there is good information on the PAA RDFs at Honolulu, Wake, and Midway, along with the rest of their radio equipment. There is some general information about navigational procedures [copied], and a 7 page draft of “Making the Landfall” by FJN , dated 10/3/35 for Trans-Pacific Air Navigation [?]. In it, he refers to navigational accuracy of 10 minutes, but in this case it is in time relative to predicted fly-over of Matson ships relative to actual overflights. I will forward a copy of this document to TIGHAR for their reference. There exists the original log books of the four original clippers, along with two books of Eddie Musick’s scrapbooks, which contain mostly newspaper clippings. I found a photo of the first Mrs. Noonan in one of them.
I did not find any information as to FJN’s middle initial, his age, place of birth, when employed by PAA, etc. I did not find the original PAA station logs for AE’s disappearance, but did find a press release stating that the secretary for Angus kept the carbons for herself, and Joe Klass and Joseph Gervais [sigh] did get copies.
The biggest mistake I made was not looking in the Alaska Division, which was re-organized into the Pacific Division early in 1935, and may contain more information on Noonan and his re-assignment to Alameda. This mistake was caused by not understanding enough of the early PAA organizational structures, and is provided to future researchers.
The big question I have is how did a member of the ground personnel in Port au Prince, which was clearly a low-level airport, suddenly find himself within 9 months of navigating the class act of the company? [We suspect that FJN had good navigational skills from his time as a mariner, yet that was at least five years previously and probably a good deal more. Once navigator, it was clear that he was instructing others on the job. I found no information as to classroom training.]
PAA’s flight structure was such that each pilot/officer was knowledgeable and cross-trained in all aspects of flying, including navigation. Navigators were only used on the Clippers, and as time progressed, that function usually was taken up by a junior officer, and not a devoted navigator. [Based upon the level of navigational fixes needed, any one of the four or five officers could perform that routine duty, typically once every two hours or so. I suspect PAA went to this system to save on personnel costs. Nevertheless, FJN was quite active in cross-Pacific navigation until December, 1936.] Noonan’s time aboard ship was noted as unusual: he never took a rest period, whereas all other crew members did. [This suggests to me a strong dedication to his work, and somewhat of an unwillingness to let others do his work.]
In my opinion there very well could have been a plane wreck in the dense vegetation on the island at the time I was there. As I recall the area that we actually saw while going to and from the village was quite dense and overgrown. I don’t believe any on the station would have heard anything about any plane crash or anything else about it due to the restrictive nature of our existence at the time. I can remember a time when a couple of us were going down to the lagoon for a swim and it was almost dark. We had to go right past Sopko’s hut to get to the dock where we went swimming. This one evening as we went past the hut we heard Sopko shout “Halt, who goes there?”, well we wondered who in hell he thought was going there!! That was the kind of crap we were subjected to all the time out there so you see there wasn’t much room for exploring.
Keep in touch
No, this is not about a 1956 movie starring Glenn Ford or somebody. This is a 1960 San Diego Tribune interview with a former Coast Guard carpenter’s mate who helped disassemble the Loran station on Gardner Island in 1946. We learned of the article in 1989 and it was our first introduction to the Legend of the Bones which only became documented fact last summer with the discovery of the Gallagher Papers in Tarawa.
Kilts was long gone by the time we found out about his story. Fortunately the reporter, Lew Scarr, reproduced what appears to be a verbatim account of what Kilts said. This, of course, is an anecdote told some 13 years after the event. Some of the details are not true. Gallagher was not Irish, but his nickname among his fellow British Colonial Service officers was “Irish.” He did not die of pneumonia in a small boat enroute to Fiji. He died of peritonitis from a burst appendix immediately upon returning to Gardner from Fiji in September 1941 and his grave still stands on the island. Other details of Kilts’ story are true and some others may be true. It's a classic problem of folklore interpretation and I would appreciate the input of anyone who has experience in this field or from the veterans of the wartime Pacific who have experience with stories told by indigenous people.
Here is The Floyd Kilts Story:
A native tried to tell me about it, but I couldn’t understand all of it so I got an interpreter. It seems that in the latter part of 1938 there were 23 island people, all men, and an Irish magistrate planting coconut trees on Gardner for the government of New Zealand. They were about through and the native was walking along one end of the island. There in the brush about five feet from the shoreline he saw a skeleton.
It is particularly interesting to compare this story to the “real” story as told in the Gallagher Papers which can be found on the TIGHAR website in the TIGHAR Tracks section in TIGHAR Tracks Volume 13, #1/2 under The Tarawa File.
|Back to Highlights Archive list.|