Amelia Earhart in the Marshall Islands
A photograph found by former US Treasury Agent Les Kinney in the US national archives that gave new credence to a popular theory about the disappearance of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart has now been found to have been taken two years earlier, in 1935, and published in a book in 1936. Regardless of this, many people, particularly some key Marshallese, believe the aviator and her navigator Fred Noonan were forced to land on Mili Atoll and were subsequently taken to Jaluit and on to Saipan.
In 2015 I covered a number of stories for the London MailOnline that included interviewing people in the Marshall Islands, whose relatives had spoken often of the aviators being in Mili and Jaluit, and researcher Dick Spink at his home in Washington State. They are posted below.
Note: Kinney released the photo to coincide with the History Channel running a two-hour special called ‘Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence’ that will premiere Sunday, July 9, 2017 at 9pm. http://www.history.com/specials/amelia-earhart-the-lost-evidence
By Karen Earnshaw in the Marshall Islands and Richard Shears for MailOnline
June 26, 2015: Compelling new evidence found among the jagged coral of a tiny North Pacific island could be the key to finally unraveling the mystery of exactly what happened to U.S. aviator Amelia Earhart after she disappeared almost 80 years ago. The corroding pieces of metal, discovered on the Mili atoll in the Marshall Islands, are currently being analyzed to find out if they are the wheel well trim and dust cover from Amelia’s Lockheed Electra plane, which disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, while she and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting to fly around the globe.
The two men behind the find believe that they are in possession of another piece of tantalizing evidence that they claim proves she and her companion were captured by the Japanese and died while in their hands. But by far the most incendiary allegation they make is that the U.S. government knew of the fate of Earhart and Noonan but did nothing to help them and then kept the dark secret for 78 years.
The fate of Earhart has been the subject of endless worldwide speculation in books, movies, TV specials and has brought numerous researchers into the vast Pacific looking for vital clues. But the men behind these latest extraordinary claims hope their discoveries will end the speculation once and for all — and within a matter of weeks.
Les Kinney and Dick Spink are convinced a skinny piece of metal and another small, circular piece of metal — which are currently being analyzed by the companies which built Earhart’s plane — is actually the trim and dust cover from the aircraft’s landing gear, which they say broke off when it smashed along the rough coral shore at Mili at about 10am on July 2.
If it is proven to be part of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E it means they were more than 850 miles from Howland Island, their next scheduled refueling stop when they disappeared. It also puts them 2,000 miles from the spot in the sea where other Earhart sleuths believe the plane, having run out of fuel, crashed on that same morning. But more than that, if the plane landed on Mili — as Kinney and Spink are convinced it must have – it lends credence to speculation that the doomed adventurers fell into the hands of the Japanese, who just five years later would be engaged in all-out war with the Americans.
Plane put on carts for transporting on ship
It has long been rumored that the 39-year-old pilot and her navigator were captured by Japanese troops who were setting up military bases in the Pacific. Those troops were said to be on board a transport ship heading to the island of Saipan, where Japan had a large military base. There are those, with Spink and Kinney among them, who claim the Lockheed was put on carts used for transporting ammunition and then loaded on to a barge that was towed to the island of Jaluit. There, it is presumed the plane was lifted onto the ship and then taken to Saipan.
Kinney and Spink, part of a team who traveled to the Mili island last January, found the remains of three of the ammunition cart’s metal wheels and axles, while the wooden tops rotted away years ago. Kinney said: “The rails were moved and reset until the Japanese reached the lagoon side of the beach where the plane was loaded onto a small barge with the help of 40 locals.”
Suspected by the Japanese of being spies for the Americans, some claim the pair were held on Saipan until they died despite the lack of physical evidence, with the cause of their deaths the subject of further controversy. In 2009, Wally Earhart, Amelia’s fourth cousin, said the U.S. government continued to perpetrate a “massive cover-up” about the couple and insisted they had died in Japanese custody.
“They did not die as claimed by the government and the Navy when the Electra plunged into the Pacific – they died while in Japanese captivity on the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas,” said Mr Earhart, who did not reveal his sources. He said that on Saipan, Noonan was beheaded by the Japanese and Earhart died soon after from dysentery and other ailments.
Kinney and many other Earhart enthusiasts believe her plane was dumped into a giant pit in Saipan along with Japanese aircraft by US marines in the aftermath of World War Two. The pit is under a runway that is still being used. One researcher is trying to get permission to unearth the planes.
Then there was Thomas E. Devine, who served in a postal Army unit who spoke of a letter from the daughter of a Japanese police official who claimed her father was responsible for Amelia’s execution.
Photographs have also emerged over the years claiming to show Amelia in captivity — but these have been found to be fraudulent or to have been taken before she began her flight. There are also the claims of U.S. troops who landed on Saipan after the war went on to insist they found a safe which, after it was blown open, was found to contain a briefcase filled with Amelia’s flying documents. Another claim, more dubious, tells of the discovery of her documents in a cave on Saipan.
But how would all this have been kept quiet for some many years?
Politics and Japanese loss of face
Kinney and Spink believe politics, national security and even Japanese loss of face all play their part in the failure for Earhart’s fate to be exposed by the U.S. and Japan.
“At the time, cultural attitudes in Japan placed great emphasis on ‘saving face’,” Kinney told MailOnline. “The Japanese aversion to being humiliated would not allow an announcement Earhart had been found even if only a few days had elapsed since her discovery on Mili atoll.
“No less a factor was the rise of Japanese militancy. In the 1930s, the Japanese military considered the United States an enemy and would have quickly concluded, whether it was true or not, that Amelia Earhart had been sent on a spy mission.” That mission, he said, would likely have been an assessment of whether the Japanese were militarily fortifying the Marshall Islands. What’s more, he believes the U.S. knew within a few weeks that Earhart and Noonan were in the custody of the Japanese but could do nothing.
“If they had, the Japanese would have known the U.S. had broken their closely-guarded military and diplomatic codes. The U.S. decided Earhart would become expendable.” But while some will be quick to dismiss this in particular as the wild rantings of a conspiracy theorist, Kinney, a former U.S. Federal law enforcement agent, believes he has one more piece of evidence in his possession which will prove his claim beyond a shadow of a doubt. Kinney said that after spending hundreds of hours combing national archives in the US, he unearthed one vital document that “would be tough for the government to refute.” He is unwilling to make its contents public yet until his remaining investigations are complete.
Kinney has also relied heavily on an account of the discovery of what is said to have been Amelia’s briefcase on Saipan — a discovery made in July 1944 by U.S. Marine Robert Wallack. After American troops landed on Saipan, Wallack was part of a team ordered to blow up a Japanese safe. Inside, he has claimed, he found a briefcase that contained Amelia’s navigational gear, her passport, maps and other personal documents. He gave the briefcase to a high-ranking naval officer on the beach.
“In my opinion,” Kinney told MailOnline, “the briefcase was sent back to Washington, D.C., sometime in late July or August of 1944. It most likely went to the White House and then on to some secure storage facility of the Navy. There is a good chance it later was destroyed. Kinney added that in 1968, four researchers from Cleveland dug up the same grave and unearthed 189 bone fragments. Years later, with the advent of DNA, the researchers tried to retrieve the bones from the archaeological museum where they had been stored — but they were missing. “Officials at the museum have no idea what happened to the bones,” said Kinney.
Kinney, who has been investigating the Earhart mystery for 27 years, dismisses the competing theory that Amelia crashed on Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, while trying to reach her intended destination on Howland Island. He insisted “she didn’t make it — for whatever reason, Earhart missed Howland island from the west and continued in a north-easterly direction.”
Many say the distance to Mili would have been impossible for the Electra to cover. But Kinney and Spink, a 53-year-old American science teacher who has spent thousands of dollars of his own money investigating the Earhart disappearance, believe it was possible. They insist that because Earhart had extra fuel tanks on board the plane she had ample fuel to make it – and Kinney has uncovered a Lockheed fuel study which he said proves she could have made it.
And his belief is backed up by contemporary accounts from the islands that they have collected on their visit. Kinney told MailOnline: “After leaving Lae, New Guinea, Earhart must have landed at Mili atoll just after 10am local time. The tidal charts for that time and date indicate the tide was beginning to recede. “Two Marshallese eyewitnesses to Earhart’s landing, fishing not far away, said two people left the plane in a small yellow boat.”
They add that numerous people in the Marshall Islands have told them of seeing the two fliers on Mili island before they were captured by the Japanese and taken on board the tramp steamer, the Koshu Maru. The damaged Electra plane was loaded onto a barge and towed behind the Koshu Maru to two other atolls before mooring at Saipan.
It was also in 1944, he says, that two Marine privates, on orders from a watchful Marine Intelligence officer, dug up a grave outside an old Catholic cemetery on Saipan. The skeletal remains of two people were thrown into a canister.
Spink said he had been told by many people that local Bilimon Amram, who was half-Japanese and working as a medic on Jaluit atoll — one of the atolls the Koshu Maru stopped at to refuel — had claimed he treated Noonan for a leg injury. “Everyone told me Bilimon bandaged Fred’s infected leg,” said Spink, accounts that also convinced him that the two Americans had been picked up on Mili Atoll. What’s more, the men and other members of the Mili expedition found a number of pieces of metal they thought could have been part of a plane — discoveries made more compelling by the fact there were no other planes on the small island and no air battles had been fought overhead or close by. But one of these pieces, thought to be from an auxiliary power unit, has since been discounted.
So the two men and the rest of the investigating team now pin their hopes on two remaining pieces. The first is the corroded circle they hope may have been the dust shield that fitted over the brake assembly of a GoodYear wheel. The second is the thin piece of metal they believe is part of the wheel well of the plane. It is being tested, along with other pieces, by metals giant Alcoa and aviation firm Parker Aerospace who are comparing their chemical elements to those of contemporary aircraft. (Note July 7, 2017: Parker Aerospace later was unwilling to make a positive identification of the metal parts, but did not rule out that they belonged to Earhart’s plane.)
The officially held belief is that the aircraft is “on the bottom of the Pacific”, 18,000 feet down but close to Howland, said Tom Crouch, senior curator at the U.S. National Air and Space Museum.
In the meantime, Spink still clings to his memory of the extraordinary moment that led to today’s possible breakthrough in the Earhart mystery – a moment during a party with friends in the Marshall Islands. “Didn’t Amelia Earhart disappear in this part of the world?” he asked. “Yes,” a local man answered. “She landed on our island and my uncle watched her for two days.”
Marshall Islanders tell their story on Amelia Earhart
By Karen Earnshaw in the Marshall Islands and Richard Shears for MailOnline
July 9, 2015: Islanders living on a remote Pacific atoll have told MailOnline they are convinced that Amelia Earhart was captured by the Japanese after her plane crashed there nearly 80 years ago. Friends and descendants of islanders who insist they saw the American aviator and her navigator Fred Noonan after their Lockheed Electra plane crashed in the Marshall Islands have told what they have learned about the adventurous pair who vanished during a round-the-world flight.
Islanders who claim to have seen the couple on board a Japanese ship in 1937 after their plane came down have since died — but not before they relayed stories of seeing Amelia and Noonan in a remote part of the Marshall Islands. Their accounts lend credence to a persistent theory that the U.S. fliers were captured and taken onto a Japanese ship to the island of Saipan, 1,450 miles south of Tokyo, where they were imprisoned on suspicion of being U.S. spies. Once there, the theory goes, they met grizzly ends. Noonan, some claim, was executed, while Earhart was left to rot in prison, eventually dying of dysentary.
Towards the end of the Second World War, it is claimed, their bodies — which had been buried in the Catholic cemetery — were dug up on the orders of the U.S. intelligence services. Some claim — including a relative of Earhart — that the U.S. government knew what had happened to the adventurous duo all along, but the strained politics of the years running up to the war prevented them from acting.
All of this, of course, is conspiracy theory which goes against the generally held belief that the Electra crashed into the ocean nearer to Howland Island, their planned destination. But those who live on the Marshall Islands are absolutely certain of two things: that Earhart crashed onto the small atoll, and that she and Noonan were taken away by the Japanese.
Bilimon went to his grave saying he saw Earhart
Bilimon Amram went to his grave insisting he not only saw Earhart and Noonan on the Koshu Maru, but also spoke to the navigator about the leg he broke when the plane crashed. Amram’s friend Charles Domnick, 73, told MailOnline: “He told me he saw both of them on the Japanese vessel and spoke to Noonan. They were both sitting on the deck. He had no doubt about that.” Domnick said he went to Amram’s warehouse in the late 1960s, where his friend swore that he had accompanied a Japanese doctor to the Koshu Maru to look after an injured American.
“He told me he was working as a medical assistant at the time but he said they weren’t allowed to go inside the vessel. What he was allowed to do was carry the medical kit onto the deck. Amram told me that the injured American man and the woman were sitting on the deck and the man had a broken leg – or some sort of serious problem with his leg – and together he and the Japanese doctor fixed it up. Amram said the woman had short hair and long boots. He and the doctor didn’t talk to her – they just treated the guy, had a conversation about his leg, and then they left.
“As they were leaving, he said he saw on the far side of the ship that there was a plane hanging there, with one wing broken. That was as much as they saw — that was what he told me and he had no reason to tell me that and I had no reason not to believe him.”
Domnick said that when he asked Amram if he was sure about what he had witnessed, his friend said forcefully: “‘Hey guy’ — that’s what he always called me — ‘I know what I saw and I saw the lady!'” Domnick recalled.
‘”She was definitely American, not Japanese, and I did help fix Noonan’s leg”.’
With the Japanese setting up bases throughout the Pacific in preparation for an all-out war that was to follow five years later, local people agree today that it would be highly unlikely an American woman would be sitting on board a Japanese ship — unless she was Amelia Earhart.
Domnick said Amram’s credentials were impeccable and he had no reason to make up such a story. Years later, he worked as a doctor in Majuro and he was also in charge of what later became the Department of Public Health.
Domnick wasn’t the only person to hear Amram’s tales. A relative of Amram, who has asked not to be identified, recalled how he had been trained by the Japanese to be a medic. The relative added: “I remember him telling how he got on the boat and he saw the American lady and a guy.”
Jerry Kramer, a U.S. businessman who has lived on Majuro since the 1960s, told MailOnline he had been a good friend of Amram and could “absolutely confirm the story that he told about helping to treat the navigator and seeing Amelia Earhart”. But he goes one step further with the story. Asked if he believed that the American aviators came down on Mili, Kramer said: “Absolutely! In fact, after I first came to Majuro in 1962, the next year I went to Saipan and then people there showed me where she was in jail. And they told me they’d followed the story of her voyage from the Marshalls.”
As MailOnline previously reported, islanders have claimed that the damaged aircraft was hauled across the island from the ocean side to the lagoon side on rail car wheels similar to those used by Japanese troops to move bombs. Rusty remains of those trollies are still to be seen on the island.
Kramer’s son Daniel, who joined a team of 11 researchers on an expedition to Mili atoll last January, pointed the team towards an area where the shorter trees indicated their relative youth compared to taller, older trees. The find seems to support the theory that the aircraft was towed across the islands on the trolley by some 40 Marshallese villages, with trees having been cut down to make way for the rails. “While others were looking down with their metal detectors, searching for parts of the plane Daniel was looking up at the trees,” said Kramer.
“He told the team that this was nearly 80 years ago and the old palm trees were quite tall. But there was a patch of trees which were younger and shorter and he said he believed this was where the palms had been cut down to make a track for the plane.”
Domnick has also heard reports of an American woman and man crashing on one of the small islands lying to the north of the Mili atoll from his uncle Tamaki Myazoe. At the time of Earhart’s disappearance, Myazoe — who was half-Japanese, half-Marshallese — was helping load the Koshu Maru with coal. At that time the tramp steamer was stationed on another nearby atoll, Jaluit, which was being used for the Japanese headquarters in the Marshall Islands. But then Myazoe and his colleagues were interrupted by the captain, who came back on board in hurry.
“The captain and the other crew came up and cut the ropes to the dock and they took off in a rush,” Domnick recalled his late uncle telling him.
“My uncle told me he was bunkering the ship along with the other Marshallese and all of a sudden the captain gave the order to leave.
“He didn’t know it at the time, but years later my uncle told me that he had learned that the ship had left in a hurry in a bid to find a couple of American aviators on remote Mili, about 130 miles away to the east. My uncle said he asked his father where they had gone to — and why so fast. He was told that an American aviator was lost in that area and that they’d searched all over but couldn’t find them.”
But two weeks later, his uncle told him, the Koshu Maru returned to Jaluit — only this time it did not berth at the dock. Instead, it anchored a long way out in the lagoon. Locals tell how shortly after arriving back in Jaluit, the Koshu Maru sailed off, first to Kwajalein Atoll, in the northern part of the Marshall Islands, and then on to Saipan.
Mili atoll landowner Chuji Chutaro, 76, today also supports reports that the Lockheed plane came down on the tiny island which adjoins the atoll. “Some time in the 1960s I was sitting with some elders on an island in Mili and they said they’d heard a plane had landed all those years ago,” he told MailOnline. “They didn’t see it, but they did hear about it. Also, I had a friend called Kekmen Lang, who is from Nallu Island, part of Mili atoll. He told me that he had found a piece of a plane on a small island and he said it was probably part of Amelia Earhart’s plane.”
There is also the astonishing account given by modern-day U.S. researcher Dick Spink, who has told of a moment years before when he was at a party with friends in the Marshall Islands. “Didn’t Amelia Earhart disappear in this part of the world?” he had asked. “Yes,” a local man answered. “She landed on our island and my uncle watched her for two days.”
With the stories of the aviators crashing in the Marshall Islands — some 2000 miles from the area in the sea where other Earhart sleuths believe the plane crashed after running out of fuel — refusing to go away, an investigation is continuing in the US that might hold the key to the pair’s fate.
Parker Aerospace is testing a number of pieces of metal picked up by the researchers on Mili in January, some of which have been discounted as coming from the Lockheed, others which might be from the aircraft. Results of the tests are not due for several months. But confirmation that just a single piece is likely to have come from the aircraft will be powerful evidence supporting claims that the couple crashed on Mili atoll and that the stories of them being taken away on a Japanese ship deserve further investigation. (Note July 7, 2017: Parker Aerospace later was unwilling to make a positive identification of the metal parts, but did not rule out that they belonged to Earhart’s plane.)