History of the Search for Amelia Earhart Part 3

About the search for female flying ace Amelia Earhart, biography and history of the missing woman pilot.


Fred Goerner, a CBS newsman in San Francisco, resumed the search in 1960. What set him off was a newspaper item which said that a San Mateo, Calif., woman, who was on Saipan in 1937, had seen two captured Americans. Her descriptions fitted Earhart and Noonan. On the first of his four trips to Saipan, Goerner recorded the testimony of 13 natives who corroborated the San Mateo woman's story. One claimed he was locked up in jail next to an "American woman flier." Others identified Amelia and Noonan from photos and swore they had heard the Japanese refer to them as "American fliers who had been captured as spies." Following up these and other clues, Goerner recovered an airplane's generator from Saipan's Tanapang Harbor and unearthed two skeletons. He brought this grisly evidence back to the U.S. But the generator--while American in type--turned out to be of Japanese manufacture, and the remains were those of Saipan natives. Faced with a government runaround, dead ends, and even hostility, Goerner interviewed thousands of persons who had in any way been associated with Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan. His exhaustive six-year investigation appeared as The Search for Amelia Earhart, published in 1966.

Joe Klaas, in Amelia Earhart Lives, tells about "Operation Earhart," a search launched by two air force officers in 1960. And Joe Davidson describes the investigations of a group of Cleveland men in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan.


Goerner, the foremost expert on the disappearance, believes Amelia and Noonan made a government-requested detour over the Truk Islands in the Carolines. Their unofficial mission: to observe and report on the Japanese military installations there. Heading back toward Howland Island, they ran into bad weather, got lost, ran out of gas, and crash-landed on Mili Atoll in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, some 800 mi. northwest of Howland. They were captured, taken to Saipan for interrogation, and eventually killed. Their bones, uncovered by the marines in 1944, were brought to Washington, D.C., and secreted in the National Archives.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. naval forces in the Pacific during W.W. II, stood squarely behind Goerner. "I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese," he said shortly before his death in 1966. The Japanese government replied that there was no truth to "the rumor that the Japanese had executed Amelia Earhart at Saipan in 1937."

Klaas suggests that Amelia spent the war years in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, secretly left Japan after the war, and may have been alive, using an alias, as late as 1970. She was not killed because the Japanese wanted--and got--the assurance of the U.S. government that the Japanese emperor would not be tried as a war criminal.

Goerner, Klaas, Davidson, and many others agree on one thing: The U.S. government knows the secret of Amelia's fate, but it is not telling anyone. Ann H. Pellegreno, who in 1967 followed Amelia's route in a similar Lockheed Electra, wrote in World Flight: "So long as the aura of mystery surrounds the √ędisappearance' of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, the search will continue. However, might it not be contemplated that those who know the facts carry a far greater burden that those who seek the truth concerning Amelia Earhart?"

To clear up the mystery once and for all, the dauntless Goerner pressed for a congressional investigation several times. But Washington has remained as silent as the tomb.

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