Research Document #15
The Floyd Kilts Story
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One of the most amazing pieces of information we have come across in our investigation is this July 1960 article from the San Diego Tribune in which a retired Coast Guardsman relates a story he said that he heard on Gardner Island in 1946. Little regarded and roundly debunked at the time, Kilts’ story has since been shown to be largely true, forty years after he told it. For the documented story of the bones found on Gardner Island, see the Bones Chronology.

San Diego Tribune—July 21, 1960


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.

Islands 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 to eternity.

No satisfactory, 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.

Amelia 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 Gardner.

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.

“What attracted 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.

“The magistrate 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.

“The magistrate 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 died.

“The natives 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 Island.

So, there you are. Kilts knows there have been many Amelia Earhart theories and may be many more.

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.

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