The World Flight, Second Attempt:

The Final Flight

Part 3: At Howland Island
1415GMT to 1930GMT
So far, the flight had gone relatively smoothly, and there was not a lot of activity on the Itasca or Howland Island. Over the next five hours, chaos erupts. Most investigators skim over the details of what happens here, focusing upon the brief messages that Earhart provides:
  • 1415GMT: Earhart voice heard, but cannot make out information.
  • 1515GMT: Earhart states that she will listen on hour and half hour on 3105 kHz.
  • 1623GMT: Earhart states "Partly Cloudy"
  • 1744GMT: Earhart wants a bearing on 3105 kHz on the hour, will whistle in microphone, about 200 miles out approximately, now whistling.
  • 1811GMT: Earhart requests: "Please take bearing on us and report in half hour. I will make noise in mic -- about 100 miles out."
  • 1912GMT: KHAQQ calling Itasca we must be on you but cannot see you but gas is running low been unable to reach you by radio we are flying at 1000 feet". Another radioman states "Earhart on now says running out of gas only 1/2 hour left can't hear us at all."
  • 1928GMT: "KHAQQ calling Itasca we are circling [?] but cannot hear you go ahead on 7500 with a long count either now or on the schedule time on 1/2 hour"
  • 1930GMT: "KHAQQ calling Itasca we received your signals but unable to get a minimum. Please take bearing on us and answer 3105 with voice." Another radioman reports this message as: "Amelia on again at 0800 [local time] says hears us on 7.5 megs go ahead on 7500 again."
Based upon the details provided in the radio transcripts and the summary reports by Thompson, Black, and Cooper, along with the deck logs of the Itasca, we can piece together a minute by minute chronology of events aboard the Itasca and Howland Island. Doing so will be instructive to uncover the errors in radio protocol and discipline on both parties that ultimately contribute to the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan. We will drop the use of footnotes, as it will be obvious to the reader as to the source of original materials.

The three radio transcripts were maintained by the Itasca radiomen, headed by Radioman First Class Leo G. Bellarts, assisted by Radiomen Third Class Gilbert E. Thompson, Thomas J. O’Hare, and William L. Galten, and Radioman Second Class Frank Cipriani, who was on loan from the USCGV Taney for this specific cruise. Bellarts assigned responsibility for radio duties as follows: Bellarts to handle all plane communications and logging of information, interface with Commander and Officer of the Deck. Cipriani to man the high frequency direction finder ashore, use transmitter to communicate with the ship, keep a log of frequencies and bearings obtained from the plane; O’Hare to handle normal point-to-point communications with Navy and CG radio stations; Galten to handle ship’s direction finder and to listen to 500 kHz when plane is within 1000 miles of the Itasca, and Thompson to act as relief operator. In reality, these responsibilities were scrambled during the last few hours of the flight. According to the radio transcript logs, here are the watch standing hours for Station 1 (point-to-point, referred to as Itasca1), Station 2 (communications with plane, referred to as Bellarts for raw log and Itasca2 as smooth log), and Howland Island, beginning just before 0000GMT, July 2.

Station 1 (Time Zone +11.5)
Local Time
GMT Time
Operator
1144/1 - 1557 2314/1 - 0327/2 Thompson
1557 - 1733 0327 - 0503 O'Hare
1733 - 1802 0503 - 0532 Cipriani
1802 - 2006 0532 - 0736 O'Hare
2006 - 2400 0736 - 1130 Galten
0000/2 - 0158 1130 - 1328 Galten
0158 - 0800 1328 - 1930 O'Hare
0800 - 0856 1930 - 2026 station not kept
0856 - 1033 1328 - 2203 O'Hare
1033 - 1550 2203 - 0120/3 Galten
1550 - 2123 0120 - 0853 O'Hare
2123 - 2359 0853 - 1129 O'Hare

Station 2 (Time Zone +11.5)
Local Time
GMT Time
Operator
1900/1 - 1950 0630/2 - 0720 Bellarts
1950 - 2400 0720 - 1130 Thompson
0000/2 - 0205 1130 - 1335 Thompson
0205 - 0719 1335 - 1849 Bellarts
0719 - 1035 1849 - 2205 Galten
1035 - 1042 2205 - 2212 Bellarts
1042 - 1155 2212 - 2325 Thompson
1155 - ? 2325 - ? Bellarts
? - 1559 ? - 0329/3 Thompson
1559 - 1737 32 - 0507 Bellarts
1737 - 1803 0507 - 0533 Thompson
1803 - 2020 0533 - 0750 Bellarts
2020 - 2400 0750 - 1130 Thompson
Howland Island (Time Zone +10.5)
Local Time
GMT Time
Operator
2200/1 - 1000/2 0930/2 - 2130 Cipriani*
*transferred to Howland at 0630GMT.1

The Chronology
1410GMT Itasca bridge log states: "First contact Earhart but unreadable thru static"
1415 - 1418GMT Itasca1 records "Able hear Earhart at (on3105)", but Bellarts records "Heard Earhart plane / but unreadable thru static". Black claims that Bellarts heard "cloudy and overcast" in a monotone voice through the loudspeaker. Further, Black claims that James Carey, Associated Press, and H. Hanzlik, United Press, were present and verified that the voice was Earhart's.
1425GMT Itasca sends message to USCG, San Francisco, stating that they heard Earhart.
1430 - 1435GMT Itasca sends weather report on 7500 kHz (key) and 3105 kHz (voice).
1458 - 1505GMT Itasca sends weather report on 7500 kHz (key) and 3105 kHz (voice).
1515GMT Earhart broadcasts on 3105 kHz, voice. Bellarts states "Earhart heard fone/will lissen on hour and half on 3105-sez she". Black claims she said overcast, and Lt. Cooper is in the radio room at this time. Itasca bridge log states: "Earhart heard said she will listen on hour and half hour signals weak and fragmentary."
1515GMT USS Ontario leaves its guard station and heads back to Pago Pago, apparently without direct approval by authorities. It is believed that the Ontario did not hear or see Earhart, and if so, must have left based upon the fact that she was well past the half-way point of your journey and that the Ontario was not needed any longer. But, if the Ontario did hear or see Earhart, they left at a prudent time. Surprisingly, approval for leaving the station came the following day from Naval Station Tutuila. The Ontario was nearing its endurance limits, primarily for food, and not fuel (coal) or water, based upon the bridge logs.
1528GMT Itasca calls radio CG San Francisco, stating they heard from Earhart, but unknown if Earhart hears them. Could they perform a radio check on Itasca's 3105 voice?
1530-1537GMT Itasca sends weather on 3105 kHz on both voice and key. Also asks when does she expect to arrive at Howland? Are you receiving our signals? Please acknowledge at next schedule.
1556- 1605GMT Sent weather on 3105 kHz via both key and voice.
1610GMT Itasca contacts radio CGSF and Navy Radio Wailupe, Hawaii, but only Wailupe hears Earhart, but cannot make anything out.
1623- 1625GMT Earhart on the air, Black states volume strength 1; Bellarts states "Heard Earhart (Part Cldy)"; Itasca1 was working Radio Wailupe, but "Earhart broke in on fone 3105 / nw ???? unreadable."
1627- 1630GMT Itasca sends weather on 3105 kHz on both key and voice.
1656- 1705GMT Itasca sends weather on 3105 kHz on both key and voice.
1709- 1712GMT Itasca sends letter A on 7500 kHz via key: "observing sked on 7500 KCS A's." No known schedule documents sending letter A's at this time.
1730- 1736GMT Itasca sends weather on 3105 kHz on both key and voice.
1740GMT Itasca disembarks landing party, consisting of LCDR Baker, Capt. Neilson, US Army, Lt. Cooper, and Black, along with several others, to Howland.
1742- 1745GMT Earhart on the air. Bellarts states: "Wants bearing on 3105 KCS// on hour// will whistle in mic About two hundred miles out// appx//whistling//nw." Itasca1 states: "Earhart on 3105 nw / want bearing 3105 etc. 200 miles out." Itasca bridge log states: "Miss Earhart reported position 200 miles from Howland and requested bearings. Poor reception. Vessel began laying down heavy smoke to assist Miss Earhart." Black states that volume is S3. Black states that he is getting his information provided by the radio room. The signal strengths are not recorded on the radio transcripts. The only location of signal strength is denoted in Thompson's Radio Transcripts, and Black's report is a verbatim copy of Thompson's report. That raises the question as to where Thompson obtained his radio signal strengths.
1745GMT Itasca breaks its radio schedule and broadcasts weather blind to Earhart on 3105 kHz, voice, according to Howland Island.
1747GMT Howland Island states: "Picked up Earhart (using long antenna, S3, hardly any carrier. Seemed overmodulated. Switched over to loop for Bearing, S1 - 0. She stopped Transmission). Bearing Nil. 3105."
1750-1753GMT Itasca radios Howland Island, tells them the latest information, and requests that they take a bearing on Earhart on 3105 kHz.
1800- 1806GMT Itasca sends out letter A's on 7500, while listening on 3105 kHz as well.
1806GMT Itasca calls Earhart on 3105 kHz, on voice.
1811GMT Itasca sends letter A's, asking Earhart to acknowledge on 3105 kHz. By this time, the Itasca radiomen are seriously out of radio schedule with Earhart; they must be frantic with the fact that two-way communication has not been established by now.
1812-1817GMT Earhart comes back on the air. Itasca1 states: "Earhart on nw reception fairly clr nw Wants bearing es [and] wnts rept in 1/2/ hr"; Bellarts states: "Pse [please] take bearing on us and report in half hour--I will make moise [sic] in mic - abt 100 miles out"; Howland Island reports: "(am using the D/F and receiving set sparingly due to heavy drainage on batteries) (the batteries are of low AM-Hour capacity) Earhart on the air, S4 [signal strength 4], "give me a bearing" Earhart did not test for bearing. Her transmission too short for bearing, static x5, her carrier is completely modulated. Could not get a bearing due to above reasons. 3105." Itasca bridge log states: "Miss Earhart reported position 100 miles from island reception fair." All three primary accounts basically agree with basic message, although only Itasca records show that AE wants a report on the bearing in one half hour. This does not make a lot of sense, since it would require two-way communication established at the time of her next scheduled transmission. An alternative explanation is that she meant "on half hour," which would correspond to the Itasca's next scheduled broadcast. However, since the Itasca was using +11.5 time zone, it is now 0642-0647 local time, and to them on the half hour would be in 45 minutes. Why would Earhart wait 45 minutes for a report on her bearing? This scenario assumes that the Itasca radiomen have forgotten that Earhart is using GMT time, rather than their own local time. Another interesting point is that the actual letters stating "abt 100 miles out" on Bellarts' raw radio transcripts is offset from the rest of the text lines, suggesting a later addition. This raises the speculation that the mileage was based upon the radio operator's expectation of distance based upon the signal strength. Thompson indicates the signal strength as level 4, as does Black.
1820-1826GMT Itasca communicates with Howland Island, asking them to provide the information to LCDR Baker, now on the island.
1830GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart on 3105 kHz.
1835-1836GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart on 7500 kHz.
1838-1842GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart on 3105 kHz, key.
1842-1844GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart on 7500 kHz.
1844-1846GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart on 3105 kHz, possibly interfering with reception from Earhart at this time.
1848GMT Itasca broadcasts to Earhart on 3105 kHz that they cannot take a bearing on 3105 kHz very well, please send signals on 500 kHz or would you like to take a bearing on us? Go ahead.
1849-1855GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart, 3105 kHz, voice: Go ahead on 3105 kHz.
1855-1900GMT Itasca sending A's to Earhart, go ahead, but no answer. DC (nickname for Bellarts) now goes to 500 kHz D/F for manning that station.
1901-1904GMT Itasca sending A's, key, and voice on 3105 kHz.
1905-1910GMT Itasca sending A's on key, 7500 kHz. Itasca is now sending continuously on either 3105 or 7500 kHz, frantically trying to elicit a response.
1910GMT Earhart on the air. Itasca1 states: "Earhart nw says she is running out of gas, only a half hour left, cannot hear us at all; we hear her and are transmitting to her on 3105 and 500 kHz same time constantly."
1911GMT Bellarts record states that Itasca is sending A's via key on 3105 kHz.
1912GMT Bellarts record states: "KHAQQ clng Itasca we must on you but cannot see u but gas is running low been unable to reach you by radio we are flying at a 1000 feet." Note that Radio Station 2 (Bellarts) is now out of sync with Radio Station 1 regarding the time of reception of this message. The Itasca bridge log states: "Plane position reported as near the island and gas running low". This is the last message from Earhart that is useful for reconstructing her flight, as from this point on, we can only speculate as to the motions of the plane relative to Howland Island. If this message is correct, then Earhart must have thought that her journey is essentially complete in distance, covering 2223nm in 19 hours, 12 minutes, for an average speed over the ground of 115.78knots, encountering a headwind component of a little over 14 knots, averaged over the entire trip.
1911-1916GMT Itasca sends letter A's on 3105, 500 kHz on key; voice on 3105 kHz stating we received your message, signal strength 5.
1919-1927GMT Itasca sends letter A on MCM, sending message on voice, all on 3105 kHz.
1928GMT Earhart on the air. Bellarts states: "KHAQQ clng Itasca we are circling but cannot hr u GA on 7500 wid a lng count either nw or on the skd time on 1/2 hour (KHAQQ S5, A3)." S5, A3 means signal strength 5, maximum, and voice transmission. Itasca1 does not record this message. Itasca bridge log states: "Plane reported as circling and requested vessel to transmit on 7500 KC for bearing, reception very good." Black and Thompson reports state that the signal strength was 5, and "in view of signal strength it is believed Earhart was closest to Howland at this time. It was about this time Itasca expected her to arrive." Earhart's request for a long count on 7500 kHz now or on the scheduled half hour makes a lot of sense: do it now, or in two minutes, so she can obtain a bearing. From the Itasca's perspective, they are interpreting it to mean now or in 32 minutes, as they are on a half hour time zone. Fortunately, the radiomen provide the signals immediately. Of interesting note and curiosity, the original, raw radio transcript clearly indicates a type-over for the word "circling." Computer enhancement of the underlying word indicates that the original typed word was "drifting." An aircraft in the air does not drift, so we speculate that the radio operators likely misheard the exact wording that Earhart used. We further speculate that Earhart said "listening." If correct, the message makes a lot more sense: 'We are listening but cannot hear you.'
1929GMT Itasca sends letter A's on 7500 kHz, go ahead on 3105 kHz. Howland Island reports that its batteries are weak, and that it heard a voice on 3105 kHz.
1930GMT Itasca sending constantly on 7500 kHz, and 3105 kHz, telling her to go ahead on 3105 kHz and that we can hear her; stopping frequently to listen.
1930-1033GMT Earhart is back on the air. Bellarts states: "KHAQQ clng Itasca we recd ur sigs but unable to get a minimum pse take bearing on us and ans 3105 wid voice / NRUI de KHAQQ lng dashes on 3105." Black and Thompson state essentially the same information. The Itasca bridge log states: "Plane reported receiving our signals but unable to get a minimum for a bearing; good reception." Earhart says she received the 7500 kHz signals, but could not obtain a bearing on them. She asks Itasca to please take a bearing on her, and answer with 3105 kHz with voice. She then sends a series of long dashes on 3105 kHz. This message is the only acknowledgement that Earhart received any signals from the Itasca, and at this point, she understands that the Itasca can hear her on 3105 kHz, as they understood her earlier instructions to send signals on 7500 kHz. Of course, Earhart's direction finder was not designed to obtain a bearing on 7500 kHz, so it is reasonable to understand that she could not get a minimum.
1930-1934GMT Itasca calls Howland Island, Howland reports no signals and impossible to work.
1935GMT Itasca calls Earhart, stating that it has received her signals OK, but that it is impracticable to take a bearing on 3105 kHz with voice transmission. Do you receive this message, over? No response.

This concludes the third flight segment chronology. To summarize, Earhart is getting closer to Howland, eventually arriving at what she thinks is the approximate location, but due to a lack of two-way communication, cannot get a bearing on Itasca nor can she get the Itasca to get a bearing on her and transmit that information back. The Itasca radiomen have abandoned all resemblance of a radio schedule, as does Earhart, to a lesser degree. Earhart’s message content does not indicate she is frantic yet, but indicates a growing concern that she cannot hear the Itasca.

Let us review for a moment the intended radio schedules. Earhart states that she will broadcast at quarter past the hour, using GMT time zone. She broadcast at times 1415, 1515, 1623, 1744, 1822, 1912, 1928, and 1930GMT. Only three broadcasts were out of schedule: 1744, 1928 and 1930GMT, with the last two as an attempt by Earhart to get Itasca’s attention prior to their scheduled broadcast. The 1744GMT message requested a bearing on her at approximately 200 miles range. Curiously, what is missing is a 1715GMT transmission. Both Itasca1 and Bellarts indicate both radio stations are listening on 3105 kHz, and that no transmissions from the Itasca were being made. This suggests that at 1715GMT, Earhart may have been at a distance without a bounce path off the ionosphere for radio transmission at 3105 kHz, presuming that she did transmit.

The radio schedule for Itasca was for them to transmit letter A, call sign, position on 7500 kHz on the hour and half hour, and to provide voice on 3105 kHz either upon request or when Earhart is within range. By 1415GMT, Itasca has begun to send weather information on 3105 kHz, in addition to letter As on 7500 kHz. According to the records, the times of transmission varied from 2 minutes before to 6 minutes after the hour, sometime continuously, sometimes not during the early hours. By 1800GMT, Itasca begins transmitting either on 7500 and/or 3105 kHz nearly continuously, sometimes interfering with its own ability to listen on 3105 kHz. Further, the radiomen are using more and more Morse code on 3105 kHz, in the (correct) belief that reception should improve at the airplane using code vs. voice. Apparently, they believe Earhart can interpret Morse Code at the nominal 10 words per minute rate previously provided to the Shoshone during the March flight. We do know that Capt. Manning was quite proficient in Morse Code, and that Earhart and Noonan were not proficient.

The Itasca radiomen are also beginning to become confused as to time zones. Our interpretation is that they have forgotten or ignored Earhart's request to maintain GMT time zones, and are instead using the half-hour time zone, a remnant from their base in Honolulu, which is on +10.5 time zone.

A couple of odd discrepancies appear from the content of Earhart’s messages. First, at 1744GMT, Earhart reports that she is approximately 200 miles out from Howland, and at 1811GMT, reports that she is only 100 miles out from Howland. The time interval of 27 minutes to fly 100 nautical or statue miles seems unreasonable. Many previous Earhart researchers have speculated that she had extremely powerful engines installed beyond her Pratt & Whitney R1340 power plants. It is more likely that the positions provided did not correspond exactly to the times of the information provided, but were positions sometime in the recent past. This concurs with our analysis of the Oakland to Honolulu leg, and will be discussed later on. Also, between the two time periods, it is probable that Earhart experienced the sunrise, whereby Fred Noonan could obtain a sun-line and correct his longitude estimates accordingly, accounting for the possible discrepancy of distance.

Another odd discrepancy is the report at 1912GMT that Earhart had only a half hour of gas left. Only one radio operator stated this; the other stated that gas was running low. We doubt the literal interpretation of only 30 minutes of gas remaining, as Earhart is still on the air at 2013GMT, nearly one hour later. It is more likely that she is referring to the fact that gas is running low relative to her reserve fuel. Lt. Cooper stated that a reserve of 20% is usually required. Earhart stated in Last Flight that during her trip from Oakland to Honolulu, “...we arrived in Hawaii with more than four hours’ supply of gasoline remaining, which would have given us over 600 miles of additional flying, a satisfactory safety margin.” Based upon Kelly Johnson’s fuel consumption figures applied to Earhart’s fuel load of 1100 gallons, the plane would have a nominal endurance of 24 hours, 9 minutes. Given a reserve capacity of 152 gallons, at 38 gallons/hour consumption rate, or four hours of reserve time, or 20 hours, 9 minutes of non-reserve flight time. Thus, at 1912GMT, Earhart would begin to become concerned about using her reserve fuel. Interestingly, Thompson states that “The Army Air Corps report computes her reserve gasoline as 7% or about 160 miles (one hour) flying.”2 While this figure is inaccurate and misleading, if Thompson believed it at the time, then it is another reason for him to leave Howland long before the 24 hours of total flight time endurance for Earhart.

Weather: During this segment of the flight, weather information is more timely and plentiful, albeit from a restricted area: around Howland and Baker Islands, and to a limited degree around the USS Swan. Since the Swan was located between Howland and Honolulu, she was actually above the meteorological equator, so that wind direction and speed has no bearing on winds below the equator, due to the Coriolus Force acting at the Earth's surface. However, her sea state condition can be used as an indication of storms at sea from any direction, as can the Itasca’s measurements. The primary source of weather information remains the Itasca bridge logs, the weather reports sent by the Itasca radiomen to Earhart while she was approaching Howland. Any the early morning wind measurements aloft made at Howland no longer survive or were not made. According to the Itasca bridge logs, winds were consistently out of the east from 1330 to 2030GMT, mostly at force 2, except from 1830 to 1930GMT, when the winds were force 1. Using the USCG Beaufort scale for bridge entries, force 1 winds are 7 knots or less, and force 2 winds are 11.3 knots. During this period of time, visibility ranged from somewhat less than 20 miles to unlimited visibility, and cloud cover ranged from 20 to 40%. Seas were calm and slight, with a moderate swell from the ENE, indicating a fairly distant storm or consistent winds in that direction. The Swan was experiencing swell from the NE, sea conditions ranging from moderate to heavy swell, indicating that the Swan was in closer proximity to a storm than Itasca.

Bellarts saved the weather broadcasts he sent to Earhart, and for the time following 1400GMT, here is the information the Itasca sent to Earhart:

Local Time
GMT Time
Visibility
Wind Dir
Wind Speed
Barometer
0158
1328
20
ENE
6
29.82
0228
1358
20
E
9
29.82
0330
1500
20
E
8
29.82
0403
1533
20
E
8
29.82
0503
1633
20
E
6
not reported
0530
1700
20
E
6
not reported
0700?
1830?
20
E
1
not reported
0800?
1930?
20
E
8
not reported
0900?
2030?
20
E
6
not reported

At 1950GMT, Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor a weather forecast was sent to the Itasca and Earhart, but it consisted entirely of information regarding the weather around Hawaii.3

In summary, the weather for Earhart's approach to Howland indicates good visibility, winds aloft probably about 10 knots from the east, well below the 20 knots forecast the previous day by the Fleet Air Base. The actual conditions surrounding Howland were described by Commander Thompson of the Itasca some days after as unlimited visibility, with a cloud bank to the NW quadrant, possibly 30 to 40 miles away.

Research Papers Earhart Project Home Page

About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2017 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at: info@tighar.org  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW