Guest Editorial By David Bond
There has been a lot of publicity about the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan in the media of late. One of these was a two hour documentary on the History Channel concerning a photo purported to show Amelia and Fred on the dock at Jaluit Atoll and eventually executed at the hands of the Japanese. This photo was found to have been included in a Japanese book dating from 1935, so it could not possibly depict Earhart and Noonan.
Past expeditions to Nikumaroro Island have failed to come up with any solid evidence. Deep undersea searches by a company named Nauticos by a team led by Ted Waitt have failed to locate any wreckage on the ocean floor. Some other theories abound but none have turned up anything.
However there is a gentleman in Australia, David Billings, who has tangible evidence that Amelia Earhart turned back and headed for the Gilbert Islands when she couldn’t find Howland. No one wants to believe she had enough fuel to make New Britain Island. However there is a very strong probability that Amelia made it all the way to the Wide Bay area of New Britain.
It is rather unbelievable that the David Billings hypothesis has not drawn more attention, especially here in the U.S.A. David’s’ evidence is solid and he has been searching an area on New Britain 17 times. His web site Earhart Search PNG is a long read in 10 parts but well worth the effort.
Let’s take a look at these indisputable proven key facts about Amelia’s disappearance…
- On New Britain Island on 17th April 1945 an Australian army patrol, D company 11th Australian Infantry, stumbled on an all metal, unpainted twin engine aircraft. There were no military markings and it had been there for quite some time. This aircraft is a documented fact but never identified or accounted for.
- One of the soldiers from the Australian Army Patrol found a metal tag attached to an engine mount. He removed the tag to turn in at the end of the patrol with his report and did so.
Note the reference “Report patrol A1 attached with A/C plates”
- About five weeks after the Patrol A1 was completed, “D” Company personnel were informed by the U.S. Army that it was not one of their engines. The officer read a radio message to the men mentioning that the engine they found was a Wasp engine and was most probably from a civilian aircraft.
- In Rabaul at the end of WWII, one of the soldiers from “D” Company rescued a topographical map used by the Company, from equipment scheduled to be burned, to keep as a souvenir. Years later a folded margin on the map revealed the following letter/number sequence; “600H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055” This alphanumerical sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. The 10 in this number means Model 10 Lockheed Electra and 55 means the 55th built. Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft WAS the 55th Model 10 built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company and known to carry the Constructor Number 1055.
- The handwritten sequence found on the Australian Army Patrol map, “600H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055” is genuine to Earhart’s Electra. The map had been in the possession of the “D” Company clerk Len Willoughby, since the end if WWII, until it was mailed to Don Angwin in late 1993. Neither Len Willoughby or Don Angwin, knew of the details concerning Earhart’s Electra aircraft. The Warrant Officer who removed the tag from the engine remembered that there was a “string of letters and numbers” on the tag that did not mean anything to him. He turned in the tag with the Patrol Report. The Lieutenant in charge of the Patrol A1 believed that the tag and report of the find were sent to the U.S. Army. Due to the fact that it had Pratt & Whitney engines they considered the wreck to be “American”.
- Researcher Fred Goerner had previously found a U.S. Navy radio message and authored a book “The Search for Amelia Earhart”. In his book he writes … at 1030 on the morning of the disappearance Nauru Radio Station picked up Earhart on 6210 Kcs, saying ‘land in sight ahead…”
If the Electra was short of Howland, but Amelia thought she was at Howland or lateral to it, then in turning back for The Gilberts, Amelia would not expect to see land for four hours due to the 600 mile distance.
This call can be shown to have been at 2200 GMT, one and three-quarters of an hour after the supposed last call at 2014GMT. The time of “10:30” can only be 10:30am on the USCG Itasca on July 2nd*. In one and three-quarters of an hour, the Electra could travel 300 miles and be within radio reception range of Nauru.
- On July 3rd* at 6:31pm and at 6:43pm Rabaul time, the radio operator on Nauru Island heard a radio transmission on Amelia Earhart’s stated frequency on 6210 Kcs. The message was unreadable and without engine noise in the background. Again at 6:54pm, the same unreadable transmission happened on 6210 Kcs with no sound of engines. At that time of day, no aircraft from New Guinea or Australia would be flying anywhere in the SW Pacific. Certainly, there would not have been any other aircraft flying within reception range of the Nauru Radio Station, except for Earhart and the Electra.
- Because of a land dispute between two tribes over the sale of land to the central Papua New Guinea government, there is a certain amount of animosity between the Baining and the Pomio people at Wide Bay, in East New Britain. A bulldozer operator, a Baining tribesman, working for a logging company was making a track to remove logs and accidently bumped into the wreck. Because he knew that the Pomio people were looking for it, he buried it because of tribal jealousy. It is considered the wreck was buried in 1996.
A few Important Notes
Amelia Earhart was a brave, daring woman but as an experienced pilot she was no fool. First and foremost on Amelia’s mind would have been the human instinct of survival and the desire to save the Electra if possible. Let’s get real. When Howland Island was missed, Amelia invoked her contingency plan to head for The Gilbert Islands. Any pilot planning a 2500 mile flight over water would be foolhardy not to have an “alternate plan” in case of bad weather, faulty navigation or technical failure.
Some researchers and authors have suggested there was no “Contingency Plan” at all. That she landed “somewhere” never to be seen again. The use of a Contingency Plan is simply “ignored”. Some researchers want Earhart and Noonan to head north and land in the Marshall Islands. Others want Earhart to go to the south and end up at the Phoenix Islands to die as castaways.
David Billings, an aircraft engineer, has put together an MS Excel plot of the flight. Mr. Billings contends the Electra never made it to the vicinity of Howland Island due to stronger than forecast headwinds. When Amelia and Fred could not find Howland after an hour of searching, they decided to turn west for The Gilbert Islands.** Headwinds now became tailwinds and Amelia was known to “care for” her engines. Combined with careful fuel management and a strong tailwind the MS Excel plot shows that making the New Britain area was a possibility.
Despite all the facts and circumstantial evidence surrounding the search for the aircraft wreck in East New Britain, the David Billings search project has been mainly ignored. The evidence says it is “The Electra”.
What is needed now is the next step, raise funding for a LIDAR, “Bare Earth” scan of the target hill. That may reveal where the natural lie of the land has been changed by bulldozer activity.
I am sure that David would be happy to accept any assistance towards achieving the LIDAR expense. What is really needed is a very wealthy individual to come forward to support the whole venture to allow completion and find the wreck.
* The different dates of radio calls noted in facts 6 and 7 is because of the “International Date Line”.
**Amelia had told her close friend, Eugene Vidal, of her contingency plan to land in the Gilberts. It is also mentioned in Mary Lovell’s book: “The Sound of Wings” and Doris Rich’s book: “Amelia”. Both of these authors made the case that Vidal had said that Earhart would search for Howland and if not found, would head for the Gilbert Islands.