The 1937 Search

The Lexington Search

Background

The USS Lexington and accompanying destroyers had the advantage of meeting with COM14 staff and obtaining the most up-to-date information regarding Earhart’s disappearance, as well as the most time to prepare for a search with the most assets yet available. In the Earhart Search Report portion submitted by J. W. Dowell, Commander, Destroyer Squadron Two, is a lengthy document of known facts, probabilities based upon rumor or reasonable assumptions, conditions determined from the Sailing Directions or by experience, possibilities arising from rumor and reports, and a detailed discussion of courses of action open to Earhart at the end of her flight. In addition, the Lexington search group was constrained by fuel, possible weather considerations, and areas to search. While many of the documented facts presented in this report are now disputed, overall the judgment of the search plan was sound and reasonable. Since the Colorado search of the Phoenix Islands had concluded that the plane was not on any of these islands, eliminating the possibility of landfall of Earhart's plane and subsequent radio transmissions, the Lexington sought to search the area immediately westward of Howland, based upon 0.5 to 2 knot currents and the most probable area the plane or raft would be found. Use of the planes aboard the Lexington for water searches would be the most efficient, reserving the Swan and Itasca to search the Gilbert Islands themselves for any signs of wreckage. The Lexington had 62 planes of various varieties, and had settled on two basic search plans: using all 62 planes and another based upon 42 planes, leaving reserve planes for maintenance. Two of the destroyers would shadow the Lexington at 60 miles range both left and right of the carrier, whereas the third destroyer would be immediately behind the Lexington, all acting as plane guards. The planes would fly out at two mile separation to the 90 miles, then fly parallel to the base track, then head back in parallel to the base track of the Lexington. Use of 62 planes permitted an 80 mile by 180 mile area to be searched, whereas 42 planes would work a 60 by 180 mile area.

A short description is probably necessary to describe the command structure of the Lexington search group. Prior to WWII, the aircraft aboard carriers were to be mainly used as scouting forces for battleships, destroyers and cruisers, and thus carriers were not considered the capital ships they are today. The overall command of the destroyer group was the Commander, Destroyer Squadron 2 (COMDESRON2), Capt. J. S. Dowell, who carried his pennant aboard the Lexington, probably due to more spacious accommodations. Beneath him was nominally the Destroyer Squadron Divisions 3 (Drayton, flag, and Lamson) and Division 4 (Cushing, flag, and Perkins). The Commander of DESDIV3, CDR Webb Trammel, was aboard the Drayton, as was the commanding officer of the Drayton, CDR. R. G. Pennoyer. Similarly, COMDESDIV4, CDR. J. A. Logan, was aboard the Cushing, as was the commanding officer, CDR. E. T. Short. Dowell also had the Lexington under his control during this mission, and that ship was commanded by Capt. Leigh Noyes. The commanding officer of the whole search group did not actually have command of an individual ship, nor did the destroyer divisions.

Preparations

July 7
0752 The Lexington group was approaching Hawaii from California, and requested extensive stores to reprovision the ships due to their urgent departure from California. The CG San Francisco office relayed the results from discussions from personnel familiar with Fred Noonan's navigational abilities, and stated that he would correct course by infrequent fixes, planning to take a fix just before dawn, and correct course for destination, and measure a line of position near the end of the run after dawn. If he was short of gas, he would follow the LOP to the nearest point of land.1 (TIGHAR's analysis of Noonan's procedures generally concurs with this theory.)
1350

CNO issued a priority restricted message to the Commander, Destroyer Squadron 2 (COMDESRON2, in charge of the Lexington Group) that fuel economy necessitated a speed of 25 knots or less, except in emergencies.2 It turns out that a standard dispatch prior stated a cruising speed to Honolulu of 23 knots, but a radio operator between Hawaii and the mainland mis-keyed this message to read 33 knots. This was the message received in Washington, DC. The radio transcripts have a number of these typos/mis-keying events, which created annoyance and confusion for all involved.

Available fuel was a major constraint for all search vessels. The accompanying destroyers for the Lexington had to be refueled at Hawaii, as did the Lexington. In addition, the Lexington needed aviation gasoline. No aircraft carrier had ever entered Pearl Harbor, and it was unknown whether it could do so. Arrangements were made for the Lexington to stand off of Lahaina, Maui (Lahaina Roads), and be refueled by barge and by the Avocet for the avgas. Ship fuel was obtained from the oiler Ramapo, intercepted from its west coast to the Far East. The destroyers could come into Pearl Harbor for their fuel.

July 8
0010 The Lexington asked Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor (FABPH) to provide air transport at 1400 local time, July 9, from Lahaina Roads to Pearl Harbor to bring Capt. Noyes, Commander, Destroyer Squadron 2, plus two officers for a meeting with COM14 and his staff.3
2135 COMDESRON2 informed the accompanying destroyers that upon return to Lahaina after refueling they should conduct a calibration of the radio direction finder units.4 These RDF units were presumably used to help track the Lexington planes while they were in the air. The purpose of the destroyers is to act as plane guards and to rescue any pilot that was forced down into the water.
2210 The Lexington arrived off Lahaina, and received aviation gasoline from the Avocet starting at 2339GMT.
July 9
0020 The FAB plane arrived at Lahaina Roads at 1350 local time to pick up Captain Noyes, the commanding officer of the USS Lexington; Capt. Dowell, commanding officer of Destroyer Squadron 2 (COMDESRON2); his aide, Lt. W. L. Pryor, and one other person for the conference with COM14 personnel in Pearl Harbor.5 The plane left at 0042GMT. The meeting was with representatives of COM14, Commander, Mine Battle Force (the senior officer present afloat in Hawaii), Capt. Ken Whiting, Commander, Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor, and Commander, Destroyer Division 3 (CDR. Webb Trammel from the Drayton).6
0655 The Avocet arrived alongside the Lexington and transferred aviation gasoline.
1658 The Ramapo arrived alongside the Lexington, and began the transfer of fuel oil for the ship itself. The destroyers, having finished their refueling in Pearl Harbor, departed beginning at 0456 to 0724GMT and proceeded to Lahaina Roads to rejoin the Lexington, arriving at 1145GMT, although the Cushing arrived at 1300 GMT.7 The Lamson carried COMDESRON2 and Capt. Noyes, and their aides, who transferred back to the Lexington upon arrival at Lahaina Roads.8
2309 The destroyers departed Lahaina Roads to conduct a radio direction finding calibration procedure.
July 10
0100 The destroyers finished their radio D/F calibration, and at 0145GMT, the Lexington departed Lahaina Roads with the destroyers for the Howland Island area.9
July 11
0140 The Lexington requested from the Itasca information regarding surface winds it had encountered since July 2.10 Presumably, this was to help determine speed and direction for the Lexington to launch and recover its planes, and to facilitate search patterns to account for winds.
July 12
0528 COMDESRON2 told COM14 that it could not release the Swan or Itasca until further developments.11 The search group needed the Swan and Itasca to search areas that the planes could not search effectively, and didn't want to divert assets for lower priority search areas.
0640 The CG station in San Francisco reiterated previous information about the radio amateurs in the Los Angeles area; related Noonan’s wife’s opinion that he would turn back if in doubt; and restated that radio transmissions could not come from a downed plane at sea.12
0915, 0920 COMDESRON2 provided new orders to Swan and Itasca, respectively, to steam at economical speed to Onotoa and Arorai Islands in the Gilbert group.13
1840 The Colorado rendezvoused with the Lexington group. At 1902GMT, the Cushing began refueling from the Colorado, and completed that operation at 2034GMT.14 The Lamson refueled from 2113 to 2322GMT, and the Drayton from 0032GMT July 13 to 0259GMT. Meanwhile, a representative from CNO's office contacted the State Department regarding the Lexington possibly searching the Gilberts.15
1900 A telegram was sent from the State Department to the American Embassy in London requesting permission to search the Gilberts for Earhart, should that become necessary.16
2015 COM14 reminded COMDESRON2 that care should be taken with regards to the Itasca and Swan to ensure that sufficient fuel remained for those ships to return to Pearl Harbor.17
2150 COM14 requested a clarification of the previous message from COM11 regarding whether “miles” are statute or nautical, and what was the basis for a 24.5 hour duration of Earhart's plane in the air.18
July 13
0055 COM11 replied that the miles are statute, and the fact that Earhart’s plane was in the air for 24.5 hours was erroneous information.19
0200 COMDESRON2 reminded Swan and Itasca to use best economical speed to conserve fuel.20
0350 & 0730 COM14 again asked CNO regarding the status of permission to search the Gilberts, as the Itasca would be at Arorai Island the next day. CNO’s office replied at 0444GMT, stating that they have initiated action with the State Department.21 Indeed, a letter to that effect was written by Adm. William Leahy, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to the Secretary of State on this date.22
0650 The Colorado informed COM14 that since the destroyers took less fuel than anticipated, it would not be necessary to refuel the ship in Pearl Harbor.23
1200 The American Embassy in London relayed information that the British Government had granted permission to the US to search the Gilbert Islands. 24
1700 CNO relayed this information to COM14 and COMDESRON2.25

The Search

July 13
1747 The Lexington launched its first set of 60 planes to search an area bounded by 2.5 to 0.9°N and 178.1 to 176.6°W, an area just to the northwest of Howland, as the Lexington headed directly south. At 02147, the last of the planes landed without sighting anything.

1830,
1840

COMDESRON2 issued orders to the Itasca and Swan, respectively, regarding their search plans for the Gilberts. The Itasca was to search Arorai, Tamana, and Onotoa, then proceed northwest and north on the west side of the Gilberts, investigating Nonuti, Kuria and Maina, Tarawa, then Apia, Taritari, and Maraki. When completed, the Itasca was to rendezvous with the Lexington for refueling. The Swan was ordered to proceed to Nukunau, then Tapeteouea or Drummand, Nonuti, and then rendezvous with the Lexington for refueling.26
2035 The Itasca reached Arorai, found no useful information on Earhart, and left at 2230GMT.
July 14
0034 Either 20 or 27 planes were launched (depending upon the source) off the Lexington, but were recovered by 0140GMT, due to heavy rains obscuring visibility. The area reported searched was between 0.85 and 0.15°N and 176.8 and 177.15°W, or immediately west of Howland. Again, nothing was sighted.
0145 The Itasca sighted Tamana Island, and the native magistrate came aboard. The officers and the magistrate then went to the island to interview the natives about the disappearance of Earhart. By 0730GMT, the officers had returned with reports that there had been no sighting of wreckage or a plane flying overhead by any of the natives.27
0625 COMDESRON2 gave the Swan updated orders to search Nukunau, Peru, Onotoa, Tapatueuea, and Monutie completely by Friday afternoon and to make the search as thorough as necessary of the inhabited islands, and any others. COMDESRON2 also wanted to know if Swan were detached from the search by Saturday, July 17th, did she have enough fuel to reach Pearl Harbor?28
0640 A similar message was sent to the Itasca, directing it to search Kuria, Apamana group, then northward through uninhabited islands for a more complete search, and arriving Taritari on the 16th. The question of fuel was also raised for Itasca.29 Apparently, COMDESRON2 was unaware that all of the islands in the Gilberts were inhabited – in fact, overpopulated.
0800 The Itasca responded that it could go to Pearl Harbor on available fuel reserves.30 Also at this time, the Itasca told the Howland Island radio watch that it could discontinue its guard on Earhart’s frequency. Howland had been monitoring 3105 kHz since the disappearance, and had noted several instances of Japanese music on this frequency.
1830 The Lexington launched 42 planes for its third search mission, and had the planes back aboard by 2237GMT. The area searched ran from 0.3 to 1.7°S and from 178.5E to 178.5°W, straddling the International Date Line. Again, nothing was found of interest.
July 15
0117 42 planes were launched off the Lexington to search the area bounded by 0.3S to 1.0°N and 178.5E to 178.5°W, covering the International Date Line and the Equator. (This was probably the first instance of a plane searching this area of the world.) By 0529GMT, all the planes had been recovered with no sighting of anything significant. As a side note, there is a plotting sheet of this particular flight in the Earhart Search Report (Appendix E), showing positions of planes at moments in time where radio direction finders have located them, but the times are off by one hour; the sighting times by the Drayton of the planes flying overhead don't match the Drayton bridge logs, etc.31 It is probably the most vexing contemporaneous document TIGHAR researchers have encountered, defying our efforts to reconcile the discrepancies.
0310 The Itasca had arrived at Nanouki Island at 0100, but no one greeted the ship. There were no English speakers among the residents, so the Itasca left for Kuria, arriving at 0410GMT. The native magistrate came near in a boat, and told them that nothing was known of Earhart from Kuria, Manouki and Apamana Islands. At 0510GMT, Itasca resumed its search.32
0326 The Swan arrived at Nukamau Island. The local magistrate came aboard but had no useful information, and left the Swan at 0332GMT.[33]
Later Back in Washington, DC, a memo for the record was filed regarding Lambrecht’s landing in the lagoon of Hull, and that State Department was notified of the incident and declined to pursue the matter with the British.34 Another letter signed by the Secretary of the Navy to the State Department was in regards to a closer inspection of the Gilbertese Islands by the Swan and Itasca, and that the British authorities should be made aware of these facts.35 OPNAV branch 38, Operations, began to piece together the costs associated with the Earhart cruise, and estimated the cost of fuel alone to run between $45,000 and $119,000 (depending upon lines drawn about performance of ships and planes beyond base duty), arriving at a daily cost of fuel alone of $4,500.36 (To arrive at today’s dollars, multiply these numbers by a factor of ten.)
0628 COMDESRON2 ordered all ships to perform searchlight drills from 2000 to 2400 local time, and to sweep with searchlights for five minutes during the following two watches until further orders.37 At about 0630GMT, COMDESRON2 sent a telegram to Ocean and Tarawa Islands, requesting that any information regarding the Earhart disappearance that could be given to US vessels would be greatly appreciated.38
0945 The Swan arrived at Beru, communicating by searchlight and by radio at 600m wavelength. Beru was in constant communication with Tarawa and Butaritari. Two ships had recentlybeen in the area, and one of these had a radio.39 By 1130GMT, Swan left Beru.
1846 The first of 42 planes was launched by the Lexington for the fifth round of searching; all were recovered by 2224GMT. The area searched was bounded by 2.33 and 1°N and 178.5E to 178.5°W, although significant gaps in coverage was due to the presence of squalls. Nothing was sighted.
2020 The Itasca arrived off Tarawa, and went ashore to meet with the resident commissioner. He stated that he knew of no reason nor permission for the US to be in the Gilberts, and knew nothing of Earhart that could help in the search, despite the British searching the Gilbert Islands themselves.40
2200 The State Department told its Embassy in London that the Swan and Itasca were searching the Gilbert Islands, and asking if that had the approval of the British government.41
2218 The Swan arrived at Onatoa Island. Having found no useful information, the Swan departed at 0032GMT, July 16th.42
July 16
0126 The Lexington launched the first of 42 planes to continue the search; all were back aboard by 0440GMT. The area covered runs from 2.3 to 3.0°N and from 178.7°E to 178.7°W.
0230 The Itasca got underway from Tarawa to resume its search. Itasca reported to COMDESRON2 that all of the Gilbert islands were thickly inhabited and communication was frequent between them. Based upon this information, the Itasca believed that further investigation of this portion of the Gilberts was unnecessary and in view of the fuel situation requested that she be allowed to return to Howland.43
0440 COMDESRON2 approved the recommendation and the Itasca proceeded to Howland Island.44
0735 Largely unheard from for a number of days, George Putnam requested that COM14 and the AE search group search the area surrounding 9′N, 170°E, a good 600 miles distance from the current location.45 Anecdotal evidence, uncorroborated, suggests that Putnam was very distraught at this time, and was receiving advice from a number of psychics, which may account for this seemingly bizarre search point. This begins an awkward series of messages lasting until the 18th between Putnam, COM14, CNO, and the San Francisco Coast Guard station.
about 0900 Lae radio finally responded to Radio Tutuila regarding its communication with Earhart after departure. The last weather forecast was sent three times by radiophone at 1022, 1122, and 1222 local time to Earhart. “Also message containing weather report from Nauro [sic] which Earhart was anxious get stop. Have reason believe Earhart receives these although her replies were jammed.”46 This last statement is most curious, suggesting an inability of Lae to either establish two-way communication or an inability to understand Earhart while she was in the air.
1000 The Itasca asked the CG Hawaiian Sector to determine if the Itasca could refuel in Samoa from commercial sources, then proceed to Jarvis Island before returning to Pearl Harbor. The alternative would be to make a second trip from Pearl Harbor.47
1755 CNO asked COM14 for the release date of the Lexington group and their subsequent itinerary. 48
1820 The Swan arrives at Onotoa Island, and maneuvered for anchorage. the vessel left Onotoa six hours later, apparently with no significant news.49
1831 The first of another set of 42 planes was launched from the Lexington to search the seventh area, bounded by 5.6 to 3.35°N and roughly 178.5 to 177.1°E. The planes were back aboard by 2213GMT, and saw one vessel during this series of flights.
2020 A message was sent out from CNO to COM14 informing them that the Secretary of the Treasury and his family were sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii, expecting to arrive at Honolulu on the 29th of July, and that all courtesies should be extended to them.50 The Secretary of the Treasury oversaw the Coast Guard at this time, but this was to be a vacation of sorts for Henry Morgenthau, and not an official visit.
2025 COM14 asked COMDESRON2 if they were finished with the Itasca, her fuel status, and similarly of Swan?51
2040 COMDESRON2 asked the Itasca “assuming that Earhart plane or rubber boat still afloat please submit your estimate as of noon today most probable position first of plane secondly of rubber boat.”52 This message is in some sense extraordinary, as this question should have been asked days earlier prior to determining search areas. It wasn’t asked until the search was almost completed!
2120 Putnam asked if COM14 and the Lexington group could not search the area 1°N, 170°E, could it send the Itasca?53
2330 The Itasca responded that the most probable area was between 2°N 179.3°E to 5oN, 178.15°E to 5°N, 175.45°E and 2°N, 177.5°E,54 all well to the north and now far to the west of Howland. These estimates were based upon the heavy cloud bank 50 miles visible north and west of Howland and a drift rate of 1 knot due west. This is the first time that Thompson reveals why he thought Earhart went down northwest of Howland (i.e. the cloud bank there), and why he searched that quadrant first.
July 17
On July 17th, a personal letter was written to Bill Miller of the Bureau of Air Commerce, but it has no signature or other means of identifying who is the author. We suspect that the letter is from LCDR Kenner of the USCG aboard the Itasca.55 It offers some unique insights into what the feelings were aboard the Itasca, so it will be quoted extensively.
... I thought you might be interested in knowing some of the details of Amelia's last hours and maybe you can supply some answers to the questions that are gnawing at our curiosity. Will try to give them as near as possible as all the logs are locked in the safe...

To begin with --- Earhart never contested the C.O. of the ship direct but once in the formulation of her plans. Everything was through Black and not any too definite. She gave us the frequencies on which she would work, namely 500, [sic - Earhart never mentioned 500 kHz in her telegrams to the Itasca] 3105, 6210 (approx.) and 7500 kcs. She told us she would home in on us, notify us just what frequency she would use, that she would broadcast on the quarter past and quarter to the hour, would not communicate with anyone during flight. We calibrated all our sets, had them checked with San Francisco and got an OK check on all of them. We told her we would broadcast the weather every half hour on the hour and half hour as she requested. As you know she was delayed at Lae. Finally she took off 2 July her date, 1 July ours. We received no word from her that she had taken off. First news came to us through the pres, finally word from Lae. We heard her around 3:00 a.m. plainly, faintly shortly after 2 a.m. We broadcast weather and asked her to acknowledge its receipt on next broadcast. This she never did. Then in mid air flight she announces that she will broadcast on the half hour and hour, on 3105 [Interesting, this never shows up anywhere else!]. Why she changed her schedule, we do not know. She reported cloudy weather, overcast during early part of flight. We were anxious to know if she was getting our broadcasts and asked her to acknowledge them, but she never did. Toward five she was coming in loud and clear. She apparently only worked one frequency at that time 3105. At six she reported two hundred miles off Howland. Also asked for bearing on 3105. At 6:45 she reported as "being about 100 miles out" and wanted us to take a bearing on her. We could not take bearings on her on that frequency, she had been so advised prior her departure. We asked her to shift to 500 and we would take a bearing of her. We repeatedly asked her to acknowledge our transmissions, but she never did. We never heard her on 500 at all. We kept calling her and listening for her on all frequencies but received no answer. At 0741 she called us and said "we must be on you but cannot see you gas is running low, have only half hour fuel left, have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at a thousand feet." By this time we figures[sic] she was having trouble. Her transmission was loud and clear, voice firm but tense. She talked so rapidly that it was hard to copy her messages. At 7:57 Earhart called the Itasca with the following: "We are circling but can not see the island. Cannot hear you, go ahead on 7500 with a long count either now or on the schedule time on half hour." We did as she requested, not only on 7500 but 3105 and 6210, both key and voice. At 0803 she sent the following: "We received your signals but unable to get a minimum. Please take bearings on us and answer on 3105 with voice." She made long dashes on 3105. We could not get bearings on her on that frequency. We had a high frequency direction finder on Howland but they were unable to pick her up. We then called her repeatedly telling her by broadcast that we could not get bearings of her on that frequency but to shift to 500 so we could. We asked her to please answer, and tell us if she heard us. On the latter broadcast she talked very rapidly, voice was loud and clear but she sounded pretty desperate. The fact that she talked so fast, made it impossible to copy exactly her words. We heard nothing more from her until 0844. Meanwhile we were getting ready for a fast search. We had everybody on the beach standing by to come on board. At 0844, she come on the air again. This time her voice was excited and garbled --- she sent: "We are on line of position 137-337, will repeat this message, we will repeat this message on 6210 kcs. Wait, we are running north and south." The signal strength of this message was five. This was the last we ever heard of her. We called her repeatedly until after nine then started off to search. We stood double radio watches until the Navy took over. We ran at full speed for five days then we were out of fuel. The Colorado filled us up, then we operated as part of the Navy. Meanwhile we kept a watch on Howland with the direction finder. When the search was over (today, the 18th), we had covered practically all the surrounding area to within 600 miles of Howland, had visited the Phoenix Group and the Gilbert Islands. The planes from the Colorado and the Lexington covered a huge area, new and all that we had previously scouted. The Navy abandoned the search today and we have just fuel enough to get to Honolulu. We can not even finish the cruise, as yet have not visited Jarvis or Fanning....

To sum up the whole tragedy, there are many questions unanswered. Where was Noonan? Why did she shift her schedules in flight? Why would not she answer our calls? Why her policy of no communication with any one? Did she check her radio sets prior to departure? Did she hear us all the time, if not why no attempt to establish communication on other frequencies. Was her D.F. working? Where did all her fuel go? She was only in the air about 22 hours. All of us would give a million to know what happened those last hours. Maybe you can answer some of them. I heard her last broadcast. I know that all of her frequencies were covered. It all seemed so casual at the start. Early in her flight she reported overcast and cloudy skys [sic], so that can explain her being out on the navigation. But from daylight on at Howland, the ceiling was unlimited, clear, sunny. Far to the west of us was a cloud bank. She may have gotten in that and missed the island in the morning sun. We layed [sic] down a smoke screen that could have been seen for a tremendous distance. Why did she circle? To our minds, that is a poor policy, because one soon loses their reckoning when running circles. This is just a letter from me to you. I am just speaking for myself. Truly regrettable. I am firmly convinced that she crashed upon going down and went right to the bottom, but by this time we should have found her if she had floated at all.

On July 17th, the State Department sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, informing them that authorization for searching the Gilbert Islands by planes has been granted by the British government.56 A letter from the Japanese Embassy to the State Department was sent on this date and expressed concern about the status of the search.57

Also on this date, a letter from Congressman Byron N. Scott from Long Beach to Rear Admiral Russell Waesche of the US Coast Guard was sent requesting an informal resume of the connection which the CG had with the Earhart search, both before and after her loss, and how this interfered with normal duties of the CG.58

0024 The Lexington launched 40 planes, and all were recovered by 0401GMT. The area covered included 2°24′N to 5°12′N and from 175°40′E to 177°E.
0045 The Colorado arrived back at Honolulu.
0220 The Swan anchored off Nonuti Island in the Gilberts.59

Putnam telegraphed the CNO to find out if a search could be made just slightly north of the equator at 170°E “ … because peculiar intimate nature alleged information this is a confidential personal request to you.”60

0235 COMDESRON2 released the Swan and Itasca from Earhart Search Duty, freeing them up to report to COM14.61
0259
thru
0530
Itasca officially reported to COM14 for duty,62 and at 0336, COM14 released the Itasca to the Coast Guard Hawaiian Sector.63 At 0352, the Coast Guard ordered the Itasca to return to Honolulu.64 At 0342, the Swan was released from further search duty by COM14 and told to return to Pearl Harbor.65 At 0530, the Swan left Nonuti Island for Hawaii.
0548 COM14 informed the San Francisco CG station that the Itasca was relieved of search duty and directed to report to the CG station in Hawaii, essentially stating that it has no further control over the Itasca.66
1825 The Lexington launched 41 planes, and had to perform two emergency recoveries immediately after launch. Both planes were recovered without incident. All remaining 39 planes were recovered by 2215GMT, but one plane did have a barrier crash ending against one of the after turrets.67 The area searched was approximately 0°54′N to 2°24′N and from 175°12′E to 176°35′E.
1908 Putnam telegraphed CNO again, wondering if the earlier message was received. He also explained that his request for the search of this area was “… for intimate reasons one cannot rationalize or wisely make public. …”68
2025 COM14 informed CNO and other involved parties that the search group has been ordered to discontinue the search on the evening of the 18th if flying conditions practicable on the 17th and 18th, otherwise the search will be discontinued on the 19th. The Lexington is to go directly to San Diego, while the destroyers are to proceed to Pearl Harbor for fuel then to San Francisco or San Diego.69
2331 The Lexington launches another 41 planes, and all are recovered by 0319 on the 18th. The area searched included the area bounded by 0°12′ to 2°42′N and 176°27′E to 178°48′E, although the northeastern section of this area was not searched due to weather.
2035 Putnam made a request of COM14 and the AE search group through the San Francisco CG station “… that region requested will be searched also southern Gilberts especially Beru and islands adjacent.”70
2130 COM14 replied, saying that all of the Gilbert Islands had been searched.71
July 18
0212 CNO asked COM14 if a search of the area immediately north of 170°E was possible.72
0845 COM14 replied that it would be impractical, as it would involve having to abandon the present search to conserve fuel.73
1812 The Itasca arrived back at Howland, and after loading aviation gasoline drums and oil onto the ship and picking up radioman Cipriani and the HF direction finder, left at 2250.74
1816 The Lexington launched 41 planes, and all are recovered by 2206. The area searched included the area bounded by the rectangle with approximate positions 3°32′N, 176°28′E, 1°42′N, 178°30′E, 2°38′N, 179°30′E, and 4°42′N, 177°22′E. This area substantially covered previously searched areas which had contained gaps in coverage due to weather.
1910 Putnam telegraphed CNO once again, expressing thanks for the recent message (which has not been found in the archives), and requesting that a single plane be sent to search the area just north of 170°E, instead of the vessels.75
1920 CNO sent a message stating that a search by ships in the area requested would involve abandoning the present search, and that all areas with reasonable drift were being searched.76
2053 Putnam replied that he only requested a single plane, not the entire group of ships to search. 77 Obviously, Putnam believed that the message sent at 1920 is in response to his 1910 message, although this is apparently not the case.
2300 CNO replied once more that all practical areas were being searched.78
July 19
Rear Admiral Waesche responded to Congressman Scott, stating that it was in the purview of the CG to supply the Equatorial Line Islands (Jarvis, Baker, Howland), and was requested by George Putnam to provide radio signals for Earhart’s direction finder and other assistance as necessary during its regular voyage. Total costs of operating the Itasca during this time amounted to $12,600, including fuel costs of approximately $2000, which might be considered the extra cost due to searching. The search duties, however, clearly fell in line with the duties of the Coast Guard.79
0040 The Lexington sent out its last group of 40 planes to search for Earhart, and all were recovered by 0423GMT. The area searched included the area bounded by 4°42′N, 177°48′E, 2°30′N, 179°33′E, 3°30′N, 179°27′W, and 5°30′N, 178°30′E.
0520 The Earhart Search Group departed the search area.80
1800 The US State Department sent a telegram to the US Embassy in Tokyo, suggesting to the Japanese government that any vessels plying the Marshall or Gilbert Island waters to be on continuous lookout for any traces of Earhart's plane.81
1930 CNO requested of COM14 a report containing detailed information, including all areas searched and dates.82
2230 COMDESRON2 officially reports for duty to Commander in Chief, US Forces , completing the official US Government search for Earhart.83
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