Research Document #7
Capt. Wilhelm Friedell’s Report on the U.S.S. Colorado's Search for Earhart
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The official report of the Captain of the U.S.S. Colorado is interesting because the logic he uses in deciding where to search for Earhart is identical to TIGHAR’s. It is also interesting to note that his description of what was seen on Gardner Island differs from that of the man who did the searching – see Lambrecht’s Report. This is a transcription of the report.

BB45/A4-3 545  
Passage, Pearl Harbor, T.H.,
13 July 1937.
From: Commanding Officer.
To: Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District.
Subject: Resume Earhart Search by the U.S.S. COLORADO.
(In Charge Search Group).

On 1 July, 1937, the U.S.S. COLORADO, Captain Wilhelm L. Friedell, U. S. Navy, Commanding, arrived at Honolulu, T. H. The U.S.S. COLORADO was operating in accordance with approved operating schedule on a one month's training cruise of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Students from the University of California, and Washington. Also on board were four distinguished guests of the Navy, Doctor Marion Luther Brittain, President of the Georgia School of Technology, Doctor Lee Paul Sieg, President of the University of Washington, Doctor Charles Derleth, junior, Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, and Doctor James Washington Bell, Professor of Money and Banking and Member of the Administrative Board of the Graduate School, Northwestern University. These distinguished guests of the Navy were all connected with schools that take an active part in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Several officers and men of the Naval Reserve were aboard for training augmenting the regular ship’s company of the U.S.S. COLORADO. The U.S.S. COLORADO had stopped at Hilo, Hawaii, for a pleasant welcome and a two day visit, had fired successfully, by the N.R.O.T.C. a modified Short Range Battle Practice in the Lahaina Area, and was berthed at Pier 2, Honolulu, T. H., to remain until early Tuesday Morning, 6 July, 1937.

On the morning of 1 July, 1937, (Honolulu Time) Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam, and her Navigator, Mr. Fred J. Noonan, took off from New Guinea for Howland Island in the Lockheed plane known as a flying laboratory in which they were approaching the end of a flight around the world. Howland Island is located in Latitude 0°-47′ North, Longitude 176°-43′ West. It is 1,660 miles from Honolulu, T. H. and is the nearest land to the Hawaiian Islands in the direction of the flight. It is an island two miles in length, and 1,000 yard wide. It is twenty feet high. South and east of Howland in Latitude 0°-13′ North, Longitude 176°-33′ West is Baker Island also twenty feet high. It is one mile in length and 1,500 yards wide.

On Howland Island there are four weather observers, from Honolulu equipped with a direction finder for this flight, and a radio for communication with the Honolulu Radio Station, and the Coast Guard Cutter ITASCA. On Baker Island are four observers from Honolulu also equipped with a radio.

The ITASCA, under the Command of Commander W.G. Thompson, United States Coast Guard, had been placed on station near the island for the purpose of guarding the flight. The ITASCA had come from the West Coast for this purpose. The ITASCA had previously been stationed at Honolulu, and the personnel were familiar with the waters and islands of the vicinity.

About noon, Friday, 2 July, 1937, word was received in Honolulu that the Earhart Plane had not arrived at Howland Island. The ITASCA reported that 0742 (Zone plus 11 1/2 time) the Earhart Plane had been contacted, and the plane reported only one-half hour of fuel, no land fall and position doubtful. The contact at 0646 had reported one hundred miles from the ITASCA then at Howland Island, but no relative bearing was given. At 0843, the plane reported line of position 157-337 but no reference point. The ITASCA further reported that at 1200 she would commence search to the northwestward for the plane.

The ITASCA reported later that she had received no word as to the course and speed or position of the plane but believed that the plane was down to the northwest, having passed Howland Island, and due to the glare of the rising sun had missed seeing Howland Island or the ITASCA which had been smoking heavily in order to assist in being sighted.

The reason for the ITASCA’s search to the northwestward was not known until contact with the ITASCA was made several days later and information was then received that on the morning of 2 July, 1937, at Howland the visibility had been clear except to the west and north, and if the plane had been close to Howland it was believed the island or the ITASCA would have been easily seen except from the northwest.

Inquiries from the Navy Department to the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, as to the practicability of searching by destroyers and planes from Pearl Harbor, T. H., brought ut the fact that the position of Howland Island, 1,660 miles from Honolulu precluded any searching of that area being conducted without a base in the immediate vicinity for either destroyers or planes.

In the afternoon of 2 July, Lieutenant Warren W. Harvey, U.S. Navy, in a seaplane took off from Pearl Harbor, T.H., for search in the vicinity of the Howland Island for the Earhart plane.

The U.S.S. COLORADO was made available to the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, for use as a searching vessel. At 0500, Saturday, 3 July, 1937, the U.S.S. COLORADO left Honolulu for Pearl Harbor, with orders to fuel prior to departing for the Search Area. While at Pearl Harbor additional stores of gasoline, lubricating oil and aviation oil, were taken on board.

At 0700, the Patrol Plane reported her position at Latitude 6°-35′ North, Longitude 172°-00′ West, that the weather was extremely bad and that it was necessary for her to return to Pearl Harbor.

The U.S.S. SWAN had been despatched from the Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor, T.H., with supplies for the Navy plane in the event that it reached Howland Island and conducted a search from there. In order to guard the Patrol Plane on its return flight to Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. DENT, TALBOT, TANAGER, and WHIPPOORWILL were ordered out to cover the path of the Navy Plane. This plane returned to Honolulu safely by 1900, Saturday, 3 July 1937, and no further planes were despatched from Pearl Harbor for the Search Area. The four ships were directed to return to Pearl Harbor. The U.S.S. SWAN continued on towards Howland Island.

While at Pearl Harbor the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. COLORADO received instructions from the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, Rear Admiral Orin G. Murfin, U.S. Navy, and conferred with the Commanding Officer, Fleet Air Base, Captain Kenneth Whiting, U.S. Navy, and other officers of the District and Air Base relative to the probable path and location of the Earhart Plane in the event of a forced landing. This information seemed to indicate that the most probable reason for missing Howland Island would be that of stronger winds than normally expected in the region, and that the plane had probably been carried southeast of Howland a greater distance than that from which Howland could be sighted. These opinions lead the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. COLORADO, at this time to believe that southeast of Howland was the most likely area.

The Commanding Officer upon departure from Pearl Harbor 1300, 2 July, 1937, set course for Howland Island.

Prior to departure from Pearl Harbor, word was received that amateur operators in the vicinity of Los Angeles had intercepted position report of the Earhart plane as Latitude 1°36′ South, Longitude 179° East. Radio watch was set on 3105 Kcs and 6210 Kcs, the frequencies known to have been used by the plane, in addition to the regular watch on the distress frequency, 500 Kcs. Contact was made via broadcast receivers with the radio broadcasting stations in Honolulu which were delivering an almost constant stream of information relative to aircraft reports of reception of messages from the plane.

The broadcasting stations and the ITASCA continued to send messages to the plane. On the night of 3 and 4 July no signals were heard on the plane frequency by the ITASCA or COLORADO, but reports were received from Wyoming, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Australia and other points that signals, and in some cases voice reports, had been received from the plane. It was also reported that an unbroken carrier wave was heard, both the night of 3 July and the night of 4 July on the plane frequency. There was no doubt that many stations were calling the Earhart plane on the plane’s frequency, some by voice and others by signals. All of these added to the confusion and doubtfulness of the authenticity of the reports.

At this time the Commanding Officer, U.S.S. COLORADO stated that pending further information it was his plan based on the present information, search operations conducted and being conducted by the ITASCA and information obtained from officers at the Nval Air Station, Pearl Harbor and a knowledge of winds and currents in the vicinity of Howland and Baker Island to conduct search operations upon arrival at Howland Island in the area southeast of the island. The search to be conducted as follows: The U.S.S. COLORADO to steam east along the equator, the planes to be launched from the ship to search to the northward sixty miles then east for twelve miles then south passing the COLORADO to sixty miles south of the track of the COLORADO and then to complete the rectangle and return to the ship. Upon return to the ship, the planes were to be serviced and with new pilots take off for search of the next rectangle. It was expected that four flights of three planes each could be made per day.

On the Fourth of July word was received that Commander Destroyer Squadron Two, Captain Jonathan S. Dowell, U.S. Navy, in command of the LEXINGTON Group, consisting of the LEXINGTON, the DRAYTON, the CUSHING and the LAMSON, was proceeding to the search area.

During the night of 4 – 5 July, constant radio search was conducted. The COLORADO heard the carrier wave which had been previously reported by other stations. The Broadcasting Station in Honolulu had been requesting the plane, if the broadcasts were heard, to send a message and if unable to send a message to send signals by means of cutting the carrier wave on and off. Another station reported that answering signals had been heard but none of the stations reporting having heard signals agreed on any one specific reply signal. About midnight 4 July, word was received that the plane carried no emergency radio equipment and that if the plane had landed on the water the engines would be partly submerged and the radio equipment would be unable to transmit. This gave rise to the belief that the plane was on land, if the signals heard or messages received were to be considered in any way authentic.

At 0230 the 5th of July 1937, word was received that operators in Honolulu had received a message from the plane that its position was 281 miles north of Howland Island. It was further stated that this was believed to be authentic as three separate operators had heard the report.

This information placed a different picture in view, for if the position was correct it could indicate that the plane was on the water, and if signals were actually heard as had been believed, then the plane must be on land or able to transmit from the water. The U.S.S. COLORADO was still too far away to cause a change of course for the reported position. The ITASCA and SWAN left their positions immediately and proceeded towards the position 281 miles north of Howland Island. The S.S. MOORBY which was near the reported position proceeded towards the position given, arriving on the 5th of July. The SWAN reached Latitude 5° North, Longitude 172°-45′ West, and commenced searching to the westward. The ITASCA reached the reported position late in the afternoon of 5 July. The COLORADO during the 5th of July continued on its course to Howland Island. Due to the distance involved to the position 281 miles north of Howland Island, and to Howland Island from the position of the COLORADO at this time it would have served no useful purpose to change the course of the COLORADO directly to the suspected position. In the event that the SWAN, ITASCA and MOORBY failed to locate the plane in the suspected position or area and radio information confirmed the original assumption of the plane being in the southeast quadrant from Howland Island any change now would delay ultimate search of that region.

It was not necessary for the Commanding Officer to decide until Tuesday forenoon on the course to follow. During the 5th two despatches of considerable interest and weight were received. The first despatch cast definite doubt as to the location as being 281 miles north of Howland Island, due to the fact that it stated again that the plane could not use radio if actually in the water, and the region to the north of Howland as previously stated was entirely water. Hence, if signals were received the location was definitely wrong. The other despatch referred to the opinion of the technical aides connected with the flight, that the plane would be found in the original line, which would indicate a position through Howland Island and the Phoenix Group, or in other words the southeast quadrant from Howland Island. These reports bore out the original assumption of the Commanding Officer, which was based on all information then available, that the logical quadrant for the position of the plane was the southeast quadrant.

The carrier wave was again heard during the night and the ITASCA and the broadcast station in Honolulu continued to broadcast to the plane instructions as to the replies to be given if the plane was heard. At 2132 on the night of the 5th the listeners in the radio room of the COLORADO were startled to hear on the plane frequency, the words, “Earhart from ITASCA did you send up a flare? If you did send up another. Please go ahead.”

At 2140 the following was received, “Earhart Plane from ITASCA, we see second flare, we are coming for you, we are starting toward you.” At 2145, “We see your flare and are proceeding towards you,” these reports continued to be broadcast by the ITASCA, and apparently to a listening world, the position 281 miles north of Howland Island in which the ITASCA, SWAN and MOORBY were searching was the correct position. It was therefore with great sadness that the following was received shortly thereafter, “Report in error, objects sighted are apparently meteors Howland reported same effect.” And the SWAN verified the opinion by reporting sighting meteors at the time the ITASCA was believed to be sighting a flare from the Earhart Plane.

On the 6th of July, 1937, the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District was directed to take charge of all Naval Forces based Pearl Harbor and those in the search area. The Coast Guard Cutter, the ITASCA was further directed to operate under Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District. The Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, directed the Commanding Officer, U.S.S. COLORADO to take charge of Naval and Coast Guard Units in the Search Area and coordinate the Earhart Search Unit, until the arrival of Commander Destroyer Squadron Two.

Shortly after the flares were known to be false a report was received that further investigation of the report received on 3 July that on 3105 Kcs a woman’s voice had made four distress signal calls followed by KHAQQ, followed by “225 garble, Off Howland, battery very weak, can’t last long, garble indicated sandbank,” had been made and considerable credulance was given to the possibility of the report having been actually received. The only banks charted are south and east of Howland Island. A report was received from Mr. Putnam stressing the Phoenix Island Group and stating that headwinds aloft had been much stronger than expected for the flight. Again it was stated that the Lockheed Aircraft Engineers stated that the radio could not operate unless the plane was on land. It was further suggested by Mr. Putnam, that a plane from the COLORADO investigate the Phoenix Island Area. The possibility that the position 281 miles north of Howland was in error and might have been south and southeast was also considered. A third report also stated that a strong signal had been heard and a man's voice calling the ITASCA. A fourth signal report state “Position 281 miles north of Howland, drifting northwest.” This report was definitely known later to be a false report.

The search in the northwest quadrant was being carried on by ships. The planes radio was believed to have been heard, if some of the many reports were presumed to be authentic, hence on land. Considerations irrespective of radio had pointed to the southeast quadrant, and at this time still did. The southeast quadrant from Howland, except for one unverified report, still was the most likely. The Commanding Officer therefore decided to hold to his original decision, that of searching to the southeast of Howland, with one modification, that being to search by planes, the land areas of the Phoenix Group, prior to the large water areas. Large areas of intervening water, of course would be covered at the same time.

Accordingly at 0800, Tuesday, the ship’s head was changed to 205° true and speed increased to eighteen point three knots (18.3). Arrangements were made in answer to a request from the ITASCA for a rendezvous with that ship for 0600, the 7th of July, for the purpose of fueling the ITASCA and provisioning her from the COLORADO. The SWAN was directed to search to Latitude 0°, Longitude 175° West.

The Commander Coast Guard sent word that he had communicated with persons familiar with the methods of navigation of Mr. Noonan, and that Mr. Noonan would take a fix shortly before dawn, correct course for destination, and determine line of position when near the end of estimated run. This procedure would allow a flight of about 3000 miles without a good fix. If short of gas, he probably would follow the line of position to the nearest land. The line of position 337°-157° was given in one of the last reports received from the plane. It was also stated in a report that the plane was short of gas.

Considering the question as to what Mr. Noonan did do, it must be considered which way he would steer on the line. To the northwest of Howland was wide stretches of ocean, to the southeast were spots of land. To a seaman in low visibility the thing to do when in doubt of own position would be to head for the open sea. The land would be the place to get away from. To the Air Navigator with position in doubt and flying a land plane it is apparent that the thing to do would be to steer down the line towards the most probable land. To the Air Navigator, land would be a rescue, just as the sea would be to the seaman. Would and did Mr. Noonan do this or had he other reasons to do otherwise? The answer was of course unknown but logical deduction pointed to the southeast quadrant.

At day break, Wednesday, 7 July, the ITASCA met, fueled and provisioned from the COLORADO. Upon completion the ITASCA was directed by the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. COLORADO to proceed to a point 0°20′ South Latitude, Longitude 178° West, and from there to search a sector, eastward and south from a line bearing 157° from that point and to search to the eastward a distance of 120 miles. This position and area was chosen as a place for search due to thoroughly considering the probable drift of the plane, had it landed on the morning of 2 July to the south of Howland Island, while on a line 157° to or from Howland Island. The ITASCA was further instructed to rectify this area to be searched in accordance with the current found in the region in order to continually take into consideration the drift of the plane if on the water.

At 1435, the COLORADO approached the westward charted islands of the Phoenix Group and planes were catapulted searching ahead for the charted position of the Reef and Sand Bank north of Winslow Reef and southeast of Howland Island.

Although the planes searched ahead from the ship and crossed the Equator covering an advance of approximately 100 miles ahead of the ship and beyond the believed location of the Reef and Sand Bank, and several miles to the Eastward of the charted position, it was not located. At 1645, the planes were recovered in a position south of the Equator in Longitude 174°30′ West. When the planes were returned to the ship, the course of the ship was changed to 260° until clear of any possible danger of the Reef and Sand Bank, and Winslow Reef, and then to the southward.

On the 8th of July, the SWAN reached the position Latitude 0°00′, Longitude 175° in the afternoon, and was then directed to proceed to a point 2° South, 172° West, continuing to cover a search across the northeast section of the water area of the Phoenix Islands.

At 0657, the COLORADO launched planes from 175°30′ West, 1° South, and conducted an East-West search over the charted region of Winslow Reef and Reef and Sand Bank. A thorough search of this region failed to locate either of the two reefs.

During the previous twenty-four hours two reports of the plane had been received. A report was received from Melbourne, Australia “Plane between Howland and Samoa Group, ten hours West.” No further information was given nor was the report verified. The other report was received at 1800 stating that a reputable citizen of Hilo at 1515 had heard Amelia Earhart call the ITASCA and the ITASCA answer. The ITASCA was immediately asked for verification and stated that they had no word. What then did it mean, was a joke intended, a fraud perpetrated or a mistake made?

The mystery was solved shortly by the report that the listener had accidentally turned in on the “March of Time” broadcast and believed the reproduction and acting to be real. At 0700 on the morning of 9 July in Latitude 3°54′ South, Longitude 174°46′ West, the COLORADO launched her planes in the direction of McKean Island. Upon locating McKean and searching the vicinity, the planes continued to Gardner and then to Carondelet Reef before returning to the ship in Latitude 4°30′ South, Longitude 174°24′ West. After the vain search for Reef and Sand Bank and for Winslow Reef it was to be expected that the other Islands did not or might not exist. They were however, all located by the planes and although they were not in the exact charted position they were seen from a considerable distance and the planes had no difficulty in locating them. McKean Island showed unmistakable signs of having at one time been inhabited. On the northwest side of the Island there appeared buildings of the adobe type. No one was seen on either Gardner Island or McKean Island. McKean Island was such that a plane could have made a safe crash landing either on the beach or in the center of the Island. No dwellings appeared on Gardner or any other signs of inhabitation. A long shallow lagoon extends the entire length of the Island and through most of the width. A seaplane could land in the lagoon and it is believed that a land plane could make a forced landing there, and the occupants walk ashore. Coral reefs extended out from the shore line for about 150 yards. At Gardner Island a four thousand ton tramp steamer has piled up head on and remains there with her back broken. Groves of Cocoanut palms grow on the western end and the entire island is covered with tropical vegetation. Myriads of birds cover both islands. Carondelet Reef was under water but plainly could be seen from the planes at a distance of 10 miles. This was of interest in regards to the possibility of Winslow Reef existing and the Reef and Sand Bank to the Northwest ward of Winslow Reef. If the two existed, it is apparent from the way in which Carondelet Reef was seen, that they are many miles from their charted position. Upon recovery of the planes from the morning flight the ship continued on course 090° and at 1400 launched planes in Latitude 4°33′ South, Longitude 173°45′ West. The purpose of the flight in the afternoon was to search the water ahead of the ship to locate Hull Island and to search the island and the water in the vicinity for any signs of the Earhart Plane.

As the planes approached Hull Island natives were seen running out of their huts and waving clothes at the plane. Lieutenant Lambrecht, the senior aviator and in charge of the flight, landed for the purpose of asking if the inhabitants had seen or heard of the Earhart Plane. A European Resident Manager of the natives came out in a canoe to meet the plane. He and his natives were astonished and excited in seeing the three planes. The Resident Manager asked where the planes were from and when informed Honolulu, nearly upset the canoe in his excitement. It was necessary to explain to him that the planes had not come direct but had arrived by the battleship COLORADO which was relatively close by. The Resident Manager said that there was a radio on the island, however, he knew nothing of the Earhart flight and created doubt of his having ever heard of Miss Earhart herself. Neither he nor his natives had seen or heard a plane. The planes returned to the ship in Latitude 4°33′ South, Longitude 173°08′ West.

During the night the ship steamed north and then east arriving at Latitude 3°51′ South, Longitude 172°15′ West, at 0700 the 10th of July.

The SWAN had been directed upon arrival at Latitude 2° South, Longitude 170° West to proceed to rendezvous with the COLORADO in Latitude 3°10′ South, Longitude 172° West at 1100 and to search in the vicinity of Canton Island en route. The planes were launched at 0700 and proceeded to Sydney, Phoenix, Enderbury and Birnie Islands in the order named, and at 1015 in Latitude 3°22′ South, Longitude 172°2′ West were recovered by the ship. Sydney was the only island which showed any signs of recent habitation and in appearance was much the same as Gardner Island. It has the usual shallow lagoon which in this case was large enough for a seaplane to make a safe landing. Phoenix and Birnie Islands had the appearance of a lagoon, but the latter island being very small. Enderbury had a lagoon but it was very shallow.

When the planes were recovered, the SWAN was taken alongside and refueled and provisioned. Upon completion of fueling the SWAN was directed to search in a northwest direction across the open water north of the Phoenix Group en route Latitude 2° South, Longitude 175° West.

The COLORADO at 1445 in Latitude 03°22′ South, Longitude 175°45′ West launched planes for a search to and of Canton Island. This island was located and carefully searched by the planes. It was the largest of any of the islands searched. Its lagoon was deeper than those of the other islands but was crossed with coral reefs in such a manner that it would be dangerous to land except at two places, one at each end of the island. At the western end there remains the shacks and scaffolding erected by the recent eclipse expedition. When the planes were recovered, the course was set at 350° to take the COLORADO to a rendezvous at 0700, 12 July, with the destroyers approaching the search area with the LEXINGTON Group.

Upon fueling the destroyers the COLORADO was detached from the search group and directed to return to the West Coast in order to debark the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Students and Naval Reserve Officers. These students with the distinguished guests embarked for a month cruise, which extended into a six weeks cruise, covering many more miles than was expected at the time of embarkation, and crossing the equator twice. The fact of crossing the equator was not neglected by Neptunus Rex and his court, although they postponed their visit in order not to interfere with the operations in connection with the search. While they arrived aboard long after the COLORADO had crossed the Equator, the reception and initiation into the Realm of Neptunus Rex was fittingly and properly conducted by Neptunus Rex and his court assisted by the Shellbacks for the benefit of the Pollywogs.

If it is considered that the search area began with the position where the COLORADO fueled the ITASCA, 0600, 7 July, and ended with the position where the COLORADO fueled the destroyers of the LEXINGTON Group 12 July it will be found that the COLORADO steamed 1240 miles, and that her planes flew 21.2 hours each, 1908 miles each and that the COLORADO with her planes covered within the radius of visibility an area of 25,490 square miles. Adding to this additional mileage to and from Pearl Harbor to the Search Area the COLORADO steamed 3,980 miles and 320 hours, more than expected when the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Cruise commenced.

As this is written the LEXINGTON Group is approaching the Search Area and will be able to conduct an extensive search over a large water area. The COLORADO has, however, searched the land area within a radius of 450 miles of Howland Island and definitely ascertained that the Earhart Plane is not on land within the region unless on an unknown, uncharted and unsighted reef.

W. L. Friedell

Copy to: CINCUS

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