San Diego Tribune—July
DIEGAN BARES CLUE TO EARHART FATE
by Lew Scarr
Gardner Island is
a five-mile hyphen of coral punctuating a million square miles of nowhere
and nothing in the Central Pacific.
If a San Diego man
is right, it is where Amelia Earhart crashed and died 23 years ago.
The water slapping
the short, sharp Gardner shoreline is as warm as your bath and as blue
as your baby’s eyes.
Coral Looks Smooth as Silk From Air
At low tide the
smoothest coral in the world is exposed for 200 yards. From the air
it looks as if you could dry your nets there, fly your kite, or, alas,
land your plane.
Actually, this smoothest
coral is slashed with canyons six to 10 feet wide and 40 to 100 feet
deep. At the ends of the 200 yards, the hard beach drops deceptively,
100 feet or more at one spot.
A plane attempting
a landing there would be dashed to pieces.
And in the warm,
blue water slapping the Gardner shore, Floyd Kilts says, Amelia Earhart’s
airplane, the Flying Laboratory, lies in a crust of shells.
Base for Coast Guard Unit
Kilts, 68, of 3615
Oleander Dr., is on leave from his job with the state Department of
Veterans Affairs after suffering a heart attack. During World War II
he was a chief carpenter in the Coast Guard for four years.
He was stationed
on 15 islands in the Pacific installing and dismantling loran stations
(navigational aids). One of the 15 was Gardner.
That was March,
1946, nine years after the world’s greatest woman pilot and her navigator,
Fred Noonan, flew the twin-engine Lockheed Flying Laboratory from here
documented explanation of the disappearance has been accepted. Even
after the navy officially listed Miss Earhart and Noonan as dead, there
was the nagging feeling among some that the tousle-haired aviator lived.
Recently a story
that she was captured and executed by the Japanese was scotched. Kilts
said the story was impossible anyway because it held that Miss Earhart
turned up on Saipan, a 90-degree error from take-off at New Guinea
to Miss Earhart’s announced destination to Howland Island, more than
2,000 miles away.
Reported Flying Line to Island
But Gardner is on
roughly the same longitude as Howland and only 380 miles south. The
final authentic message from the Flying Laboratory said Miss Earhart
was running north and south, perhaps on the line between Howland and
Kilts knows this
bit of reasoning is hardly enough, but there is more. Here in his words
is the rest of the story:
“A native tried
to tell me about it. But I couldn’t understand all of it so I got
an interpreter. It seems that in the latter part of 1938 there were
23 island people, all men, and an Irish magistrate planting coconut
trees on Gardner for the government of New Zealand.
“They were about
through and the native was walking along one end of the island. There
in the brush about five feet from the shoreline he saw a skeleton.
him to it was the shoes. Women’s shoes, American kind. No native
wears shoes. Couldn’t if they wanted to—feet too spread out and
flat. The shoes were size nine narrow. Beside the body was a cognac
bottle with fresh water in it for drinking.
“The island doctor
said the skeleton was that of a woman. And there were no native women
on the island then. Farther down the beach he found a man’s skull,
but nothing else.
was a young Irishman who got excited when he saw the bone. He thought
of Amelia Earhart right away. He put the bones in a gunnysack and
with the native doctor and three other natives in a 22-foot, four-oared
boat started for Suva, Fiji, 887 nautical miles away.
was anxious to get the news to the world. But on the way the Irishman
came down with pneumonia. When only about 24 hours out of Suva he
are superstitious as the devil and the next night after the young
fellow died they threw the gunnysack full of bones overboard, scared
of the spirits. And that was that.”
This same account
was related by the doctor to New Zealand officials.
Kilts knows that
there are those who never will believe absolutely that the skeleton
was that of Amelia Earhart, not without a dental identification or
something. But Kilts believes it.
He is sure that
Miss Earhart crashed on the coral trap of the Gardner beach and crawled
into the brush and died.
He thinks that
Miss Earhart thought that Gardner was Howland. Or even if she realized
it wasn’t Howland she tried to bring the fuel-empty Flying Laboratory
down at any old port in a storm—in this case, the treacherous Gardner
So, there you are.
Kilts knows there have been many Amelia Earhart theories and may be
Next month he will
fly to the Philippines to visit his daughter and, perhaps, stop off
at Gardner in the middle of nowhere and nothing to hunt for an airplane
and do a little theory proving of his own.