Research Document #33
The Luke Field Crash Report: Proceedings
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PROCEEDINGS OF A BOARD OF OFFICERS APPOINTED TO INVESTIGATE AND REPORT UPON THE CRASH OF MISS AMELIA EARHART'S AIRPLANE NR 16020 AT LUKE FIELD, OAHU, T. H., AT 5:50 A.M., MARCH 20, 1937, AND CIRCUMSTANCES RELATING TO HER ARRIVAL AND STAY AT WHEELER AND LUKE FIELDS, MARCH 18 TO 20, 1937.

PERSONNEL FOR THE BOARD

Major PHILLIPS MELVILLE, Air Corps, President (Luke Field)
1st Lieut. KENNETH A. ROGERS, Air Corps, Member (Wheeler Field)
1st Lieut. HARRY S. BISHOP, Air Corps, Member (Luke Field)
2nd Lieut. NORMAN L. CALLISH, Air-Reserve, Recorder (Luke Field)

This Board comprises the standing ACCIDENT CLASSIFICATION COMMITTEE, LUKE FIELD, T.H., (A.C. Circular 15-14, 3/1/34.) with the addition of one member from WHEELER FIELD appointed per oral order of the Commanding General, 18th Composite Wing.

Oral instructions to the Board were to investigate and render a detailed, confidential report on the circumstances of the crash of Miss Earhart's, Lockheed "Electra" airplane at Luke Field on the morning of March 20, 1937, including, for record, an account of the preparation made for her arrival at Wheeler Field; her stay at that post; the transfer of her airplane to Luke Field; preparations for her take-off for Howland Island and a detailed report of all services rendered by the personnel of either post and the Hawaiian Air Depot, from the date of arrival until the airplane was shipped aboard the S. S. LURLINE, March 27, 1937.

The Board was convened at Luke Field in accordance with the foregoing instructions at 8:30 A.M., March 22, 1937.

Present: All members.

At this meeting the instructions to the board were imparted to all members; arrangements made for the collection of signed statements from competent eye-witnesses; the Wheeler Field member was instructed to secure a statement covering the details of Miss Earhart's arrival and stay at that post; Headquarters Luke Field, were called upon for a similar report; the Commanding Officer, Hawaiian Air Depot was called upon for a report of the facilities placed at Miss Earharts'* disposal and services rendered by Depot personnel; disposition of the wrecked airplane; inventory of equipment, etc. Members of the Board who had not previously done so then inspected the Luke Field landing mat, the wheel tracks of Miss Earhart's airplane and the damaged airplane in the Final Assembly Hangar, Hawaiian Air Depot.

The Board was adjourned, subject to call, at 11:30 A.M., same date.

The Board was reconvened at the call of the President at 8:30 A.M., March 24, 1937, to review the evidence then available.

Present: All Members.

The Board was adjourned at 10:00 A.M., same date, pending completion of these proceedings.

Due to the fact that Miss Earhart and her party left Honolulu aboard the S.S. MALOLO at Noon, March 20, 1937, the Board was unable to obtain any statements from the personnel involved in the crash and has had recourse to Miss Earhart's statements to the Press as published in Honolulu newspapers.

After due consideration of the available evidence the Board reconstructs the details and sequence of events from the time of Miss Earhart's arrival on the morning of March 18 to her departure at Noon, March 20, 1937, substantially as follows:

WHEELER FIELD:

Miss Amelia Earhart with Mr. Paul Mantz, technical advisor; Captain Harry Manning, navigator and Mr. Fred J. Noonan, co-pilot and assistant navigator, landed in her Lockheed "Electra" airplane, Department of Commerce No. NR 16020 at Wheeler Field, T.H., at 5:45 A.M., March 18, 1937, having flown from Oakland, California on the first leg of a projected "Round-the-World" Flight. Comprehensive preparations for her arrival previously made by the Commanding Officer, Wheeler Field were put into immediate effect. (See Exhibits B & C). The airplane was placed under cover in the hangar of the 75th Service Squadron and the personnel of the flight, after breakfasting at the quarters of the Commanding Officer, Wheeler Field, left for rest at the residence of Mr. Christian R. Holmes, Honolulu. No instructions were left by Miss Earhart or Mr. Mantz at this time relative to the care and maintenance of the airplane. At the direction of 1st Lieut. Kenneth A. Rogers, Station Engineering Officer, Wheeler Field and under the supervision of Mr. Wilber Thomas, Honolulu representative of the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company and 1st Lieut. Donald D. Arnold, Engineering Officer, Hawaiian Air Depot, the personnel of the Station Engineering Department undertook a routine inspection and serviceing of the airplane and engines. (See Exhibit B† for work performed). Mr. Mantz had stated, on arrival, that for the last six hours of the flight the right-hand Hamilton, constant-speed propeller had been frozen in a position of fixed pitch. Special attention was, therefor, paid to filling the propellers with fresh lubricant. At about 3:00 P.M., Mr. Mantz returned to Wheeler Field and the airplane was placed on the flying line for test. The self-adjusting pitch mechanism of the right-hand propeller still failed to function. The engines were stopped and the defective propeller removed for disassembly and inspection. The latter revealed a badly galled condition and that the blades were frozen in the hub due to improper or insufficient lubricant. As the necessary tools for dismounting the propeller and remedying this condition were not available at Wheeler Field, the left-hand propeller was also removed from the airplane and both propellers taken to the propeller section Hawaiian Air Depot, Luke Field, for reconditioning. The Depot personnel worked throughout the night on the propellers which were returned to Wheeler Field at 2:00 A.M., March 19 and re-installed on the airplane. (See Exhibits A & E). At this time the hour of Miss Earhart's departure for Howland Island, was still undetermined but it was generally understood that she would take-off late in the afternoon of March 19, weather permitting. Mr. Mantz arrived from the city at 11:00 A.M. and was advised of this work that had been performed on the airplane and the propellers. He requested that the airplane be partially serviced with gasoline and an adjustment made to the right-hand oleo leg. This was done. The airplane was then placed on the flying line for engine test. During this test the propellers functioned perfectly. At about ll:15 A.M. Mr. Mantz with Mr. Christian R. Holmes and Miss Terry Mines* as passengers took off for a test flight. Previous to the take-off he announced that he would land at Luke Field to have the airplane instruments checked at the Depot and if the landing mat at that station afforded beter* conditions for Miss Earharts'* take-off, that he would remain there.

LUKE FIELD:

The Operations Officer, Luke Field was notified by telephone of Mr. Mantz's intention prior to his departure from Wheeler Field and steps were immediately taken to clear the airdrome. Mr. Mantz landed safely at about 12:00 Noon. The landing was reported by telephone to the Operations Officer, 18th Composite wing, Fort Shafter. He was met by Brigadier General Barton K. Yount, Air Corps, Colonel Millard F. Harmon, Post Commander and Lieutenant Arnold, Depot Engineering Officer. Mr. Mantz stated at this time that the airplane engines and propellers were functioning excellently and that Miss Earhart would definitely make her take-off from Luke Field at an hour to be determined after study of expected weather reports. After making arrangements for the refueling of the airplane by the Standard Oil Company, Honolulu, Mr. Mantz left for the city at 1:30 P.M.

The Standard Oil gasoline arrived at Luke Field by truck at 3:30 P.M, and refueling through a chamois strainer was begun under the supervision of the Depot Inspector. Considerable sediment was observed in the chamois strainer and refueling was stopped at the order of Lieut. Arnold, who immediately notified Mr. Mantz by telephone of this difficulty. The latter requested that the airplane be refueled with Air Corps gasoline. Authority to do so was obtained by Lieut. Arnold from Lieut. Colonel Hume Peabody, Operations officer, 18th Composite Wing, who happened to be present. As there was a possibility of misunderstanding due to the gasoline situation, Lieut. Arnold requested that Mr. Mantz return to Luke Field and assume responsibility for the refueling in person. The latter did so, reaching Luke Field at 4:15 P.M. After additional tests of the Standard Oil gasoline Mr. Mantz again requested Air Corps gasoline and 515 gallons were serviced into the airplane from the segregator-equipped Air Corps refueling truck, of the 72nd Bombardment Squadron. (See Exhibit E, page 4). Serviceing* being completed, at Mr. Mantz's request the airplane was placed in the Final Assembly Hangar at 7:30 PM. under guard. Somewhat earlier Lieut. Arnold had a telephone conversation with Miss Earhart and was informed she would take-off at 11:00 P.M. or at dawn, that the decision would be announced by 10:00 P.M. Shortly after the return of Mr. Mantz to Honolulu he telephoned that a dawn take-off had been decided upon and that Miss Earhart and her party would reach Luke Field about 3:30 A.M.

During the night it showered heavily. The Depot personnel who had remained to work on Miss Earhart's airplane spent the night in the Final Assembly Hangar using cots and bedding furnished by the Commanding Officer, Luke Field.

The only visitors were one or two press representatives. At 3:45 A.M. the airplane was placed on the apron the area roped off and a heavy guard established. Traffic to the Fleet Air Base was halted, except for Navy personnel. Miss Earhart and party reached Luke Field via the Fleet Air Base at 4:30 A.M. On arrival Mr. Mantz requested 75 additional gallons of gasoline which were serviced, making a total of 590 gallons at Air Corps gasoline furnished and a total load of 900 gallons according to a statement made by Miss Earhart. At 4:45 A.M. a number of Press representatives arrived via the Navy. Due to the fact that the Luke Field ferry does not commence operations until 6:15 A.M. there were no casual visitors or sight-seers. At 5:00 A.M. Mr. Mantz thoroughly inspected the airplane, including the tires, warmed up the engines and then shut them off. Miss Earhart then took her place in the pilot's cockpit and at her request the Southwest flood-lights were turned on for a short period to permit her to survey the runway. She decided to delay take-off until there was sufficient daylight to see clearly. At 5:30 Captain Manning and Mr. Noonan boarded the airplane and Miss Earhart started the motors. At 5:40 she taxied slowly to the Northeast end of the runway accompanied by the Luke Field fire truck (also termed the "Crash Truck"). Members of the work detail of the Hawaiian Air Depot stationed themselves at intervals along the west side of the runway. A special guard of enlisted men had previously been stationed at 200 feet intervals between the hangar line and the runway for the dual purpose of keeping the mat clear and to check the point at which the airplane left the ground. As Miss Earhart taxied down the mat a Navy "Grumman" airplane taxied out from the Navy side and in spite of efforts by a Naval Officer to wave him down, followed her to the end of the runway and parked off the mat out of her way. Flying conditions at this time were good; ceiling about 3000 feet; wind southerly, not exceeding 2 MPH; visibility at the surface about 3,500 feet rapidly increasing with advancing daylight.

THE CRASH:

On reaching the end at the at Miss Earhart turned and after a brief delay opened both throttles. As the airplane gathered speed it swung slightly to the right. Miss Earhart corrected this tendency by throttling the left hand motor. The airplane then began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground-loop. It tilted outward, right wing low and for 50 or 60 feet was supported on the right wheel only. The right-hand landing-gear suddenly collapsed under this excessive load followed by the left. The airplane spun sharply to the left sliding on its belly and* amid a shower of sparks from the mat and came to rest headed about 200 degrees from it's* initial course. The fire truck had followed along the side of the mat during the take-off and reached the scene within a few seconds as did the observers nearest the crash. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt. The visible damage to the airplane was as follows:- Right wing and engine nacelle severely damaged, left engine nacelle damaged on under side, right hand rudder and end of stabilizer bent. Minor damage to the underside of the fuselage. Both propellers bent. The engines were undamaged. The oil tanks ruptured. The damaged airplane was roped off under guard as promptly as possible by the Officer-of-the-Day. All unauthorized persons were cleared from the mat and the work of salvage initiated by the Depot Engineering Officer without delay. The greater part of the gasoline was first pumped from the tanks into a refueling truck. Depot personnel then commenced to disassemble the airplane, preparatory to removing it from the mat. All loose property of technical or personal nature was collected under the supervision of an officer and placed for safe keeping in a stock room at the Depot. The work of removing the damaged airplane was continued in spite of steady rains and was completed by 6:00 P.M. at which time the airplane was housed in the Final Assembly Hangar pending disposition. At 9:00 A.M. Mr. Emil Williams, Department of Commerce Inspector arrived at Luke Field for the purpose of investigating the crash. By order of the Wing Commander, he was accorded every assistance and permitted to interview and take statements from witnesses. On March 25 the Commanding Officer, Hawaiian Air Depot issued orders that the work of disassembly be continued and the airplane prepared for shipment to California. This work was completed March 26 and the airplane delivered to the representative of the Young Brothers Company for transfer by barge to Honolulu. It was shipped, addressed to Miss Amelia Earhart, Burbank, California, aboard the S.S. Lurline, which sailed for San Francisco at Noon, March 27 1937.

FINDINGS:

The Board finds that Miss Amelia Earhart with Mr. Paul Mantz, technical advisor, Captain Harry Manning and Mr. Fred Noonan landed in Lockheed "Electra" airplane NR 16020 at Wheeler Field, Oahu, T.H., at 5:45 A.M., March 18, 1937; that adequate preparations had been made for her arrival by the Commanding Officer, Wheeler Field; that the personnel of the Station Engineering Department under competent supervision carried out a thorough check of the airplane and engines; that a dangerous condition of the propellers was discovered and remedied at the Hawaiian Air Depot; that subsequently the propellers functioned perfectly; that the airplane was flown to Luke Field at Noon, March 19, 1937; that at this time it was announced by Mr. Mantz, technical advisor for Miss Earhart, that she would take-off from Luke Field as the mat afforded better conditions than Wheeler Field; that during the afternoon 515 gallons of Air Corps gasoline were serviced into the airplane at the request of Mr. Mantz and on authority of Lieut. Colonel Hume Peabody, Operations Officer, 18th Composite Wing; that this was later increased to 590 gallons making a total gasoline load of 900 gallons according to statement by Miss Earhart; that at about 9:00 P.M., March 19, Luke Field was notified that the take-off would be made at dawn; that Miss Earhart and party reached Luke Field at 4:30 A.M., March 20, 1937, and that the airplane, including the tires, was inspected by Mr. Mantz shortly thereafter; that Miss Earhart with Captain Manning and Mr. Noonan as crew taxied out for take-off at 5:30 A.M.; that take-off was made from Northeast to Southwest; that after a run of approximately 1,200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to the collapse of the landing gear as the result of an uncontrolled ground loop; that lack of factual evidence makes it impossible to establish the reason for the ground loop; that as a result of the crash the airplane was damaged to an extent requiring major overhaul; that no injuries were suffered by Miss Earhart or her crew; that approximately 50 square feet of the Luke Field landing mat was damaged necessitating replacement; that no other damage was sustained by government or private property.

The Board finds further that every reasonable facility and service requested by Miss Earhart or her representative, Mr. Paul Mantz, was accorded by the Station Engineering Department, Wheeler Field and by the Hawaiian Air Depot; that no requests were refused; that Miss Earhart's technical advisor, Mr. Paul Mantz, landed the airplane on the mat at Luke Field about Noon, March 19, 1937, at which time he inspected it and pronounced it suitable for her take-off for Howland Island; that her decision to use it was based on his recommendation; that the nature and condition of the Luke Field landing mat had no bearing on the causes resulting in the crash; that in a signed statement to the Press (See Exhibit O) Miss Earhart stated: "The runway is excellent and every facility for safe flying available"; that, subsequent to the crash, prompt and efficient action was taken by the Engineering Officer, Hawaiian Air Depot, to remove the damaged airplane from the runway and to safeguard it and the technical and personal property it contained; that it was subsequently shipped to Miss Amelia Earhart, Burbank, California, on board the S.S. Lurline sailing from Honolulu, March 27, 1937, in compliance with orders of competent authority based on the written request and authorization of Miss Earhart.

CONCLUSIONS:

It is the conclusion of the board that every reasonable assistance and facility was accorded Miss Earhart by the 18th Composite Wing to facilitate her flight and that no claim of negligence or responsibility in connection with her crash can be sustained against the personnel, equipment or facilities made available to Miss Earhart by the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

None.

 

Melville sig
PHILLIPS MELVILLE,
Major, Air Corps,
President.

approval
DEPARTMENT AIR OFFICE
Composite Wing Headquarters
Fort Shafter, T. H.
rogers sig
KENNETH A. ROGERS,
1st Lieut., Air Corps,
Member.
bishop sig
HARRY S. BISHOP,
1st Lieut., Air Corps,
Member
yount sig
BARTON K. YOUNT
Brig. General, A.C.,
Commanding.

callish sig
NORMAN L. CALLISH,
2nd Lieut., Air-Reserve
Recorder


†sic; should be Exhibit "A."
*sic


Crash Report Cover Pages Exhibit "G" Statement by Mr. Fred D. Wood, Hawaiian Air Depot.
Proceedings and Findings Exhibit "H" Statement by Mr. E. L. Heidlebaugh, Hawaiian Air Depot.
Exhibit "A" Statement by the Engineering Officer, Wheeler Field, T.H. Exhibit "I" Statement by Mr. Lynn V. Young, Hawaiian Air Depot.
Exhibit "B" "Plan for Amelia Earhart Putnam Flight", Headquarters Wheeler Field, T.H. Exhibit "J" Statement by Corporal E. J. Cashman, R-4311524, 65th Service Squadron.
Exhibit "C" Letter, "Amelia Earhart Putnam Flight", Headquarters Wheeler Field, T.H. Exhibit "K" Statement by Private E. C. Schultz, 6678961, 65th Service Squadron.
Exhibit "D" Statement by the Operations Officer, Luke Field, T.H. Exhibit "M" Inventory of property shipped.
Exhibit "E" Statement by the Engineering Officer, Hawaiian Air Depot. Exhibit "N" Request for shipment and release from responsibility.
Exhibit "F" Statement by Mr. Geo. H. Miller, Hawaiian Air Depot.  

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