The World Flight, Second Attempt:
The Final Flight
Part 2: Midpoint to the Vicinity of Howland
Randall S. Jacobson, Ph.D.
|0718GMT to 1415GMT|
0830 GMT, the Howland Island radio watch was established, with Radioman
Second Class Frank Cipriani as watch stander.1
According to the logs, at 0911 to 0913 GMT, the Itasca heard
unreadable voice signals on or about 3105 kHz.2
At 0921 GMT, Itasca intercepted a message sent from Radio Nauru
to Earhart, asking for her current position. The signals from Nauru
are described as signal strength 1, very weak, and sent on 38 meter
wavelength (~8000 kHz).3 It appears that
Nauru was trying to respond to an Earhart broadcast at 0915 GMT. Since
Earhart was unaware of Radio Nauru’s frequencies and ability to listen,
we speculate that she was not listening to the Nauru signals. At 0953
Itasca called Radio Tutuila, asking if Ontario is in
communication with Earhart. Tutuila replied that “Ontario ZCX Earhart.”
4 We still have not determined the meaning
of ZCX, one of the few Z codes not identified from the time period.
At 1015 GMT, both Itasca and Howland heard weak phone signals
on 3105 kHz, but cannot identify the source.5
At 1030 GMT, Nauru apparently reports Earhart broadcasts “Ship in sight ahead.”6 We speculate that this information was provided to the Navy via a State Department telegram from Sydney, Australia, which reads: “Amalgamated Wireless state information received that report from ‘Nauru’ was sent to Bolinas Radio ‘at 6.31, 6.43 and 6.54 PM Sydney time today on 48.31 meters (6210 kHz), fairly strong signals, speech not intelligible, no hum of plane in background but voice similar that emitted from plane in flight last night between 4.30 and 9.30 P.M.’ Message from plane when at least 60 miles south of Nauru received 8.30 P.M. Sydney time, July 2 saying ‘A ship in sight ahead.’ Since identified as steamer Myrtle Bank sic which arrived Nauru daybreak today. Reported no contact between Itasca and Nauru radio.”7 Converting Sydney local time, -10 time zone, to GMT indicates that the plane was heard from 0630 to 1130 GMT. There is an implication that these signals were also heard on 6210 kHz, but we believe that Earhart was using 3105 kHz instead as her night-time frequency. This report, if true, indicates that Earhart broke out of her radio schedule to report this unusual fact. We know of only two ships in the general area that Earhart might have seen: the USS Ontario, whose position at that time was 2°59.02′S, 165°23.20′E, very close to the great circle path from Lae to Howland, and the SS Myrtlebank, a merchant vessel scheduled to arrive at Nauru the following morning, having departed New Zealand. The Lexington Search Report provides an approximate position of the Myrtlebank of 1°40′S, 166°45′E.8 Again, we speculate that Navy personnel inferred the Myrtlebank position based upon the State Department telegram. Based upon correspondence between TIGHAR researchers and the Third Mate of the Myrtlebank, who claimed he heard a plane that night cross his starboard quarter, we have roughly determined the limits of the Myrtlebank position at 1030 GMT: a 20nm by 10nm region oriented at 350° centered at 2°20′S, 167°10′E. At this juncture of the narrative, we are uncertain as to which ship, if any, Earhart saw that night, but will speculate later when we attempt to reconstruct the navigation of her flight. The deck logs of the Ontario report the seas are calm, visibility at least 40 miles, and cloud cover from 20 to 40%.
During this time period, the Itasca was sending out weather reports via Morse Code on 7500 kHz, as well as the letter “A” on the hour and half hour, as promised. The radiomen were also listening on 3105 kHz, and occasionally heard a carrier or two, but nothing determinate. We know of only one other piece of information during this time frame, but it comes from the report of Captain Irving Johnson, who cruised the Gilbert and Phoenix Islands looking for evidence of Earhart's disappearance. When he landed on Beru in the Gilberts, he wrote about his discussion with a missionary there:
This missionary ran a school and had quite an establishment on Beru, drawing natives from all the other islands in the Group. Usually he would visit the island himself to pick them out, and having been many years in the group, he had first hand knowledge of nearly everything that went on. They have radio there and when Miss Earhart was lost, he attempted to find out from the thousand of natives in the London Missionary Society’s control whether any airplane had been seen at the time. He said that in certain cases, it was hard to tell whether some ignorant native had actually seen an airplane or wished he had, but that it was believed that the Earhart plane had flown eastward high up over the island of Taputeouea. He said that not a particle of a wrecked plane or any wreckage that could possibly be from airplane had been found on any of the islands although the natives often walk along the reefs to see what they can pick up in the way of drift, especially as their island are so heavily populated that anything they can get is useful.9What is intriguing and makes this information credible is that Tabituea is directly on the flight path, and Earhart would be cruising at 8000 feet altitude, well above the probable limits of vision, particularly at night, but the plane could easily be heard from that altitude. Tabituea is a long, north-south running island, approximately 30 miles in length. Unfortunately, the missionary does not state a particular time that the plane flew overhead. Interestingly, the Gilbert Islands did have radio transmitters, and some of them could have been used as navigational beacons, had the logisticians planning Earhart's flight taken the time to determine their location, frequency, and broadcast schedule. It appears that this kind of information was not gathered to help in flight navigation.
The weather during this flight segment is even more poorly known, as there are no upper air measurements in the vicinity. The forecast provided at 1905 GMT on July 1 by the Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor, predicted E to ENE winds about 20 knots, changing from 25 knot ESE winds at Ontario.10 Nauru reported at 2130 GMT on July 1 that it was experiencing 14 mph (12.1 knots) winds from the East at 2000 feet, 12 mph (10.4 knots) from the East at 4000 feet, and 24 mph (20.9 knots) from the East at 7500 feet. 11 The only real-time information we have is from the bridge logs of the Ontario. From 0800 to 0900 GMT, Ontario reports force 3 winds from the East, which change to force 4 (11 – 16 knots) at 1000 GMT, then changing direction from ENE from 1100 to 1300 GMT. At 1300 GMT, the sky becomes more occluded, changing from 30% to 70% cloud cover, and at 1400, the winds are reported to be force 3 from SE x E, with 80% cloud cover. The last two hours have seen rain.12
|1||NARA, RG. 200, Bellarts, Howland Island Radio Transcripts. Back.|
|5||Bellarts, and Howland Radio Transcripts. Back.|
|6||Report by J. S. Dowell, Commander, Lexington Group, to Commandant, 14th Naval District, July 20, 1937. Back.|
|7||NARA, RG. 59, File 800.79611. Back.|
|9||Johnson letter, June 4, 1940. Back.|
|10||Chater Report. Back.|
|12||NARA, RG. 24, Ontario. Back.|