Letter to Lou Ives on the Search for Amelia Earhart
Sept. 3, 1990
Thanks for your letter of August 20 and the various enclosures. The latest news item which originated here at Ft. Walton, was carried nationwide by AP, and brought me and Tom Gannon [non-avmidn] a lot of mail and calls from all over including a letter and clipping from Mid’n Dick Johnson 18-48.
I did go on the expedition last year, but Tom Gannon and I set up the Comm and news center on Fiji while the Team went by ship to Gardner Is. We were there for 6 weeks and gave at least one press briefing every day, mainly by phone to our local paper. Usually their stories were picked up by AP.
Of the various items found by the expedition, the navigator’s book case offers the most direct linkage to the Earhart aircraft, the bookcase carries a serial number which was traced to Consolidated Aircraft and was built for installation in the PBY. It seems plausible to suggest that either [Fred] Manning or Noonen (sic) [Fred Noonan, her navigator] could have had such a case installed when they were outfitting the Electra Nav. station. We need a good picture of the nav station, but thus far, have seen none.
The basic navigation premise that Tom Gannon and I developed and from which all else followed, was that Gardner Island was a planned alternate to Howland [Island, her next refueling station] and that after failing to find Howland , Noonan proceeded to Gardner and the A/C was ditched on the beach and later was washed to sea and sunk. There is strong evidence to indicate they both survived and lived until 9 July 1937. Here are a the nav facts that led to the premise. The true course from Howland to Gardner Is. Is 154 [º]. When drawn on a chart the line passes thru Howland , Baker, McKean and Gardner(if not thru at least close). In other words four land falls on that line. At or about 1945Z on July 2nd in a wide area around Howland the azimuth of the sun is 064 [º]. Shooting a sun line as he approached Howland then would net Noonan a LOP of 154/334 which he could advance or retard thru Howland, fly to it, get on it and fly 154 or 334 and hope for a landfall. We believe he chose 154 and ultimately found Gardner. The Navy search of the Phoenix Islands was superficial at best (fly over only) and Earhart and Noonen were dead or nearly so. The flight leader in a written report stated that they had seen “signs of recent habitation” on Gardner (an uninhabited island) but the [USS] Colorado [BB—an element of the search team] steamed on and no further investigation was made. Well, there is much more, but that is for another time when maybe I can put it all together in a single narrative. I need a ghost writer. Maybe Walt Thomas?
As a side light, during our research of the Navy effort to find AE it appears that some of the Naval Aviators on the Lex [USS Lexington] the Colorado, and the PBY squadron were AVCADS. They were designated [as naval aviators] but not commissioned, like us Middies. I thought we were unique, but I guess not.
Well, thanks again for writing ; if there is ever another reunion of the FMA at Pensacola I’ll be able to attend. Give my best to the FMA brotherhood there in the DC area.
/s/ Tom Willi
Letter to Tom Willi from Lou Ives
August 20, 1990
Tom Willi (P)18-48
58 Hemlock Drive, N.W.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548
Friday, I saw the article on TIGHAR [The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery—pronounced “Tiger”] in the SEP’90 issue of Aviation Heritage. I thought the bit about locating Earhart’s Electra was interesting, and hoped to hear more about it.
Yesterday (Sunday) the Charlottesville, Virginia, Daily Progress had an article giving a bit more detail, and more importantly, naming the tigers behind the research—you and Tom Gannon.
It would be neat if you could send a bit more for both the AvMid’n historical files and the upcoming Newsletter. More detail, such as where you got the idea; the assumption of the original track, and how it was plotted; how you got TIGHAR’s attention; and the probability of locating (and proving) the end of the flight.
Did you go on the expedition to Nikumaroro?
Also, it would be nice to get your own history into the files. A couple of personal histories along with a couple of anecdotes, are enclosed.
As are copies of both articles for your files.
Missed you in ORF (1st annual East Coast reunion) and DCA this year. SAN in ’91?
Ort Rudd + FMA Board members
C.V. Glines, “Enduring Hertiage – An aviation archeology group beats the bushes for recoverable aviation relics,” Aviation Heritage, 1:1, (SEP’90); pp. 8 and 55 [not included here].
“Metal box termed tantalizing clue to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance,” Daily Press, Charlottesville, Virginia, Sunday, August 19, 1990, p. A6 [not included here].