The World Flight, Second Attempt:

The Final Flight

Part 4: The Airplane Returns to Earth

1930GMT to End

From this approximate time, we do not have direct knowledge of Earhart’s movements nor intentions. Clearly, she thought she was in the vicinity of Howland, and must have been maneuvering the plane in some sort of a search pattern to visually spot the island, as radio bearings and radio communication were not fruitful for homing in on Howland. Radio communication becomes increasingly hectic, particularly from the Itasca. Continuing the chronology:

1935-1938GMT Itasca sends dashes on 500kHz.
1936 Itasca sends dashes on 7500, also go ahead on 3105 and 500 kHz.
1941-1942 Itasca sends message on 3105 and 7500 kHz: "Did you get our transmission on 7500? Go ahead on 500 kHz so we can get a bearing on you. It is impossible to get a bearing on you on 3105. Please acknowledge with voice on 3105."
1945 Itasca on the air on 3105 kHz, "Did you hear my messages on 3105 or 7500? Please acknowledge on voice, 3105."
1946-1947 Same message, but now on 7500kHz.
1948 Same message, unknown frequency.
1950-1953 Itasca broadcasts on 500 kHz: "go ahead on 3105, voice, with report of our signals." Note that the Itasca has broadcast nearly continuously during a possible Earhart schedule, and that only one radio operator was available at this time, at Radio Station 2.
1954-1956 Itasca broadcasts: "go ahead on 3105 with voice, provide position and signal reports."
1956 Howland Island receives report from Itasca that they believe Earhart is down. The landing party is recalled back to the ship.

This message requires a short digression. Black states in his report that “... shortly after the 8:55 AM [sic -- 0843 Itasca local time or 2013GMT] transmission from the plane as recorded in transcript above [sic -- Black’s report does not contain a 08:55 transmission, but in the immediate days following the flight, the 08:55 time was referred to as her final transmission], when a blinker message was received from the ship stating that the plane was probably down at sea and recalling all hands to the ship as quickly as possible.” Lt. Cooper reports “When Amelia Earhart failed to arrive by 0900 [local time for Itasca or 2030GMT or 1930GMT if using Howland Island local time], all hands except a radio operator and several colonists returned to the ship.”1 The Itasca bridge logs state that the personnel were recovered aboard ship at 0912 local time, or 2042GMT. The Howland log states that the landing party was recalled back at 0926 local time, or 1956GMT (remember, Howland Island is on +10.5 time zone; the Itasca is on +11.5 time zone).

There are two possible explanations for this message. First, the reported times are accurate, meaning that CDR Thompson believed the radio message about 1/2 hour of gas left, and that Earhart was about to go down, and he wanted the ship ready to conduct search and rescue. The alternative explanation is that the time reported on Howland is off somehow, so that the landing party was recalled at approximately 2026GMT (thirty minutes later). It is our opinion that the former is the proper interpretation, that the radio transmission was not forwarded to the appropriate officers in a timely manner, and that the ship had to use its blinkers to get the message ashore somewhat later. This leads to the speculation that Thompson was ready to “weigh anchor” about this time.

1957 Itasca is transmitting constantly on 7500 kHz: "respond with voice on 3105 kHz."
1958-2000 Itasca broadcasts: "respond on voice, 3105."
2000-2001 Itasca broadcasts: "answer on 3105, voice with report and position, sent on 7500, key."
2003 Itasca transmitting constantly on 7500kHz: "Please come in, answer on 3105, we do not hear you on 3105." [Note: Itasca personnel now recognize that Earhart has heard them on 7500 kHz, and is sending messages by key on this frequency, hoping that she can hear them. Unfortunately, she does not know Morse code enough to understand the messages or is not listening to that frequency.]
2004-2011 Itasca broadcasts: "answer on 3105, voice. How is our signals? Go ahead."
2011-2012 Radioman Bellarts is tuning up the T16 transmitter to communicate with USCG Radio San Francisco.
2013 Earhart on the air: "KHAQQ to Itasca we are on the line 157 337 wl rept msg we will rept this on 6210 KCS wait, [(3105/A3 S5 (?/KHAQQ xmission we are running on N ES S line)]" [Note: information in square brackets includes frequency, mode of transmission, signal strength, and interpretation of what Earhart said, and is the literal transcription.] This is the last message Earhart sent and was received. Most investigators interpret this message to mean: Earhart to Itasca: we are on the line of position 157/337, we will repeat this message on 6210 kHz, wait … The radio operators interpreted this to mean that Earhart was running up and down a North and South line, running 157/337 degrees.

This is such a critical message, and one that is open to a number of interpretations, that it is worth further investigation. The first problem is to establish, as closely as possible, what was actually said. There are four sources which purport to describe the message, and none of them completely agree. Two other sources which logically should contain the message, Itasca1, and Howland Island, don't record it at all. Remember that Itasca1, Radio Station1, has been unmanned since 1900GMT. Howland Island's batteries have by now run down, and the radio receiver is inoperative. We prefer to use the most credible source of information, the original, raw radio transcript as saved by Leo Bellarts. You can open a copy of the log in a new window by clicking here: Figure 1.

Because the log was kept in real time and was intended to be an accurate chronological record of events, mistakes and alterations are easy to spot and this entry shows several. Prior to the first alteration, the log must have looked like Figure 2. Translated from radio shorthand, the entries read:

To Earhart from Itasca. Answer on 3105 kilocycles with voice. How is our signal being received? Go ahead. / Unanswered 08:34 to 08:41 [2004-2011GMT]

Itasca listening on 3105 but hear nothing. Chief Radioman [Bellarts] is tuning up the T16 transmitter for a transmission to San Francisco radio 08:44 [2014GMT; remember, to make this entry, the operator had to look up at the clock, note the time, and type it in.]

San Francisco this is Itasca. Do you receive? End of message. Sent on 12600 kilocycles. / Unanswered 08:45 [2015GMT]

At this point it appears that the operator suddenly becomes aware that, while he was distracted recording Bellart’s attempt to contact San Francisco, a transmission was received from Earhart. He missed it and now not only has to ask someone else what she said but now must go back and change the times in the log so that they will be in sequence. He alters the log to look like Figure 3.

The message from Earhart came in at 08:43 so he changes the preceding times and records the following entries:

Earhart to Itasca. We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat message. We will repeat this on 6210 Kilocycles. Wait. This message was received on 3105 in voice at maximum strength. 08:43 [2013GMT]

Itasca listening on 6210 Kilocycles. Earhart from Itasca. Heard you okay on 3105 Kilocycles. Do you receive? This message was sent on 7500 kHz, and in code. 08:44 - 0846 [2014-2016GMT]

But then, possibly while he was typing the entry for 08:4-08:46, Earhart came on again. Rather than start another entry, he decided to try to cram the message onto the 08:43 line. What he tried to fit in was:

(?KHAQQ xmission we are running on N ES S line

Meaning, a questionable transmission from Earhart: We are running on a north and south line, (or possibly we are running on a line north and south?) but had run out of room and had to cross out the 43, add the N ES S on the line above, and add another 43 below word “LINE.” The result is the mess that appears in the log. Figure 4.

According to the Thompson Radio Transcripts, Thompson sent a July 4th release to the press, and said that the final message came in at 08:44 instead of 08:43, and stated the contents as:

We are on the line of position 157 dash 337 will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles we are now running north and south

In his official report, Thompson (and Black in his cruise report) stated it as 0844 - 0846:

We are on the line of position 157-337, will repeat this message, we will repeat this message on 6210 KCS. Wait listening on 6210 KCS (Other person in radio room heard this message the same.) We are running north and south.

(This transmission was by voice on 3105 with a signal strength 5. Nothing was heard on 6210 KCS)

Lt. Cooper’s report listed the message as:

0843. Earhart. We are on the line 157-337 will repeat message we are on the line 157-337. (very loud and too rapid for accurate reception S-5)

0845: Earhart. We are running on line North and South. (Very loud S-5 and far too rapid for accurate reception. Earhart sounded as if she was very excited and did not talk distinctly.)

It is worth noting that Lt. Cooper was still on Howland Island at the time, so either his report is second-hand information, or he heard it via the Howland Island radio receiver.

The Itasca bridge log states:

0843 Miss Earhart reported as being on line 157;337 and running north and south courses; good reception.

About all that can be said with any certainty is that Earhart sent a voice message on 3105 kHz at her scheduled transmission time of quarter past or quarter to the hour and that the signal strength was at the maximum. She said that she was on the 157-337 line that that she was running on that line. She also said that she would repeat the message on 6210 kHz. It is also clear that there was a quality in Earhart’s voice which Cooper described as “very excited” and which Thompson portrayed as “hurried, frantic and apparently not complete.”2 It must be remembered that both characterizations were made several days following the failed search and were presented in the context of reports the principle purpose of which was to exonerate the writers from any blame for Earhart’s disappearance. There is nothing in any of the three logs kept at the time, nor in the Itasca desk log, which supports later allegations that Earhart was panicky. His adherence to the routine transmission schedule conveys quite the opposite impression.

2014-2016 Itasca sends on key, 7500 kHz: "we hear you on 3105."
2017 Itasca on key, 7500 kHz: "stay on 3105, we cannot hear you on 6210, maintain communications on 3105."
2018 Itasca sends: "please answer on 3105."
2019-2023 Itasca sends: "answer with voice on 3105."
2024-2037 Itasca sends: "go ahead on 3105 or 500, your signals are OK on 3105."
2030 Howland Island's radio batteries are discharged, and operations are commencing to recharge them.
2038 Itasca sends on key, 7500: "go ahead on 3105 with voice."
2039-2043 Itasca on key, 7500: "answer on 3105 or 500, signals are OK on 3105. Go ahead with your position."
2042 Landing party recalled from Howland Island and aboard ship.
2045-2103 Itasca on key, 7500: "answer on 3105 or 500, signals ok on 3105. Go ahead with position." Itasca listening on 500, 500 Direction Finder, 3105, 6210 kHz, but nothing heard.
2055 Itasca tunes Radio Station 1 to 6210, Radio Station 1 listening on 3105, RDF to 500, but no signals.
2104 Itasca calls Howland Island on 7500kHz, inquiring about the RDF.
2105 Itasca tells Howland Island to get a directional bearing going at any cost. Itasca broadcasts via key on 7500: "go ahead on 3105."
2106 Itasca to Earhart on 7500: "answer on 3105kHz," and now tuning to listen for her answer.
2106-2011 No signals heard on 500, 3105, or 6210kHz.
2108 Nothing heard on bridge radio, tuned to 500kHz.
2112 Nothing heard.
2112-2116 Itasca broadcasts to Earhart: "we can hear you fine on 3105. Please go ahead on that frequency." Sent on 7500, key, but no answer.
2115-2118 Itasca broadcasts several times: "we can hear you well on 3105, so please give us your position and go ahead on 3105." Sent again on 7500 kHz, key.
2119 No signals heard from Earhart.
2121 Itasca tunes receiver to 7500kHz, but no signals from Earhart.
2122-2129 No signals from Earhart on 500, 3105, 6210, or 50kHz D/F.
2130 Still no signals from Earhart on 7500 kHz.
2132 Itasca calls Howland Island and asks to get the radio compass working now.
2133-2135 Itasca broadcasts: "we heard your signals on 3105 kHz, etc." Sent on 7500 kHz, key.
2135 Itasca to Howland Island: "Get the direction finder up and running at any cost," repeated. Itasca called Earhart on 7500, key, and said "we heard you on 3105, keep using 3105."

Itasca sends a radio message to both Radio Wailupe and Radio Tutuila, stating that Earhart is missing, that the Itasca estimates 1200 for the maximum time aloft, and if she hasn't arrived by that time, they will search to the NW of Howland. The other message suggests the Navy contract for a seaplane search, and that there is aviation gasoline on Howland.

Curiously, the time of filing for these two messages is 2145 and 2148GMT, as received on the other end. Perhaps these messages were composed and were to be sent at that time, but instead were sent a few minutes earlier. Nevertheless, at this point, the Itasca clearly believes Earhart is down on the water, despite her being able to be aloft until 1200 local time or 2330GMT.

2142 Itasca calls Radio Wailupe: Did you hear Earhart, and if so, what time? Wailupe responds no, we didn't hear anything. What frequency? Itasca responds 3105.
2157-2200 Itasca listening on 3105 constantly, but no signals.
2200 Itasca bridge logs state: "No report received from Miss Earhart since 0843 [local time]; preparing to begin search for Miss Earhart in case plane has been found to land on water."
2200 Itasca listening for plane on 6210 kHz.
2210 Itasca bridge logs state: "Underway at 155rpm on course 337° p.g.c. [per gyrocompass] to search most probable area of landing to north and northeast of Howland."

By now, it is clear that the Itasca personnel firmly believe Earhart is down on the water, after not hearing from her in the last hour and 15 minutes. In fact, they must have been startled to hear her at 2045GMT, since at that time, they had begun to call back the landing party from Howland Island. Clearly, the radiomen were upset with the lack of two-way communication and information provided by Earhart. They were broadcasting nearly continuously on all frequencies, hoping that Earhart would hear and interpret the Morse code signals they were sending. At one point, Bellarts himself went to man the 500kHz radio direction finder, forcing somewhat of a manpower shortage in the radio room. T. O’Hare, manning Radio Station 1, left his watch station for nearly an hour from 1930 to 2026GMT (0800-0856 local time), possibly so that he could have his breakfast. No relief was available, apparently. The Howland Island RDF was manned since early in the morning, when it was clearly not of any use, and due to inappropriate match of power consumption and batteries, had no power left when it was needed most of all.

Blame needs to be shared all around, and Earhart deserves some of it. First, she skips the radio test in Oakland back in March, which may well have provided impetus to her to carry an experienced radio operator. While the radio procedure for establishing communication for the first attempt was sound and promulgated in sufficient time, it required the use of 500kHz and Morse code to establish that communication effectively. After Earhart’s Luke Field accident, she had the 500kHz trailing wire antenna removed, along with her Morse code equipment. Nevertheless, she could still broadcast on 500kHz, albeit somewhat poorly given her antenna configuration, but 500kHz was the emergency frequency that everyone monitored, and was the one frequency that the Itasca could take bearings on. At this point, she was relying solely on voice communication, notorious for poorer propagation that Morse code. Neither she nor USCG personnel bothered to set up an emergency protocol for establishing two-way communication with available assets for the second attempt. Earhart asked the Itasca to broadcast on 7500kHz for bearing purposes prior to departure and during the flight, yet her RDF could not operate effectively at that high a frequency. Earhart apparently knew that the Itasca was hearing her, yet she did not attempt to establish two-way communications from her end, which she could have done by asking the Itasca to send long or short dashes on 7500kHz as an acknowledgement to her questions. Finally, Earhart did not make use of potential broadcast stations along her route to help her navigate on course.

Further blame needs to be distributed to USCG personnel. The Itasca personnel became confused about time zones, contributing to the resulting chaos. The San Francisco office interfered in the Itasca’s setting up radio protocols, adding confusion in Earhart's mind in Lae. The Itasca personnel must have realized that Earhart’s asking for 7500kHz for bearings prior to departure would not be of use to her, given her RDF capabilities, but did not question her reasoning for selecting this frequency.

Blame needs to be placed upon George Putnam, for not paying attention to details regarding logistics and radio communications protocol. Although he was not proficient in this by any means, he did have a competent person, Bill Miller, helping him on the first attempt. Yet, although Putnam did seek help for the second attempt, he did not follow through and hire someone with the necessary expertise. Further, Putnam apparently put out wrong information regarding Earhart’s RDF and radio frequency capabilities, leading to misunderstandings and confusion.

Finally, blame needs to be placed on the Bureau of Air Commerce, the US Navy, and/or the US Coast Guard for not have a single point of contact and central location for information gathering and dissemination regarding this flight, particularly the leg from Lae to Howland. Documents that should have been available to people involved were not delivered nor addressed to the appropriate personnel. It is only now, after 60-some odd years that one can piece together what actually happened. At the time of the disappearance, only different portions of the facts were available to individuals.

Is it any wonder that Earhart could not find Howland Island by the use of celestial navigation and almost no radio communication?

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:  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW