July 7, 1937 – The Search For Amelia Earhart – Past Daily Reference Room
KGMB-Honolulu – Special program on the search for Amelia Earhart – Mutual Broadcasting – July 7, 1937 – Chuck Granata Collection –
Eighty-three years ago, one of the most recognizable and admired explorers, Amelia Earhart had been missing since July 2nd, when during an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.
On July 2, 1937, midnight GMT, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae Airfield (06°43′59″S 146°59′45″E) in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island (0°48′24″N 176°36′59″WCoordinates: 0°48′24″N 176°36′59″W), a flat sliver of land 6,500 ft (2,000 m) long and 1,600 ft (500 m) wide, 10 ft (3 m) high and 2,556 miles (2,221 nmi; 4,113 km) away. The aircraft departed Lae with about 1100 gallons of gasoline.
Around 3 pm Lae time, Earhart reported her altitude as 10000 feet but that they would reduce altitude due to thick clouds. Around 5 pm, Earhart reported her altitude as 7000 feet and speed as 150 knots.
Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles (700 nmi; 1,300 km) into the flight.
During Earhart and Noonan’s approach to Howland Island, the Itasca received strong and clear voice transmissions from Earhart identifying as KHAQQ but she apparently was unable to hear voice transmissions from the ship. Signals from the ship would also be used for direction finding, implying that the aircraft’s direction finder was also not functional.
The first calls, routine reports stating the weather as cloudy and overcast, were received at 2:45 and just before 5 am on July 2. These calls were broken up by static, but at this point the aircraft would still be a long distance from Howland.
At 6:14 am another call was received stating the aircraft was within 200 miles (320 km), and requested that the ship use its direction finder to provide a bearing for the aircraft. Earhart began whistling into the microphone to provide a continual signal for them to home in on. It was at this point that the radio operators on the Itasca realized that their RDF system could not tune in the aircraft’s 3105 kHz frequency; radioman Leo Bellarts later commented that he “was sitting there sweating blood because I couldn’t do a darn thing about it.” A similar call asking for a bearing was received at 6:45 am, when Earhart estimated they were 100 miles (160 km) out.
In her last known transmission at 8:43 am Earhart broadcast “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.” However, a few moments later she was back on the same frequency (3105 kHz) with a transmission that was logged as “questionable”: “We are running on line north and south.” Earhart’s transmissions seemed to indicate she and Noonan believed they had reached Howland’s charted position, which was incorrect by about five nautical miles (10 km). The Itasca used her oil-fired boilers to generate smoke for a period of time but the fliers apparently did not see it. The many scattered clouds in the area around Howland Island have also been cited as a problem: their dark shadows on the ocean surface may have been almost indistinguishable from the island’s subdued and very flat profile.
This broadcast, from July 7th, was made during the continuing efforts to locate Earhart. Five days after her disappearance it was still thought she and her co-pilot had survived, and very few people were believing otherwise.
Here is a half hour special program, as it was aired over the Mutual Broadcasting System on July 7, 1937 – special thanks to Charles Granata for remastering the original transcription discs and offering them for this post.
Crank it up and pretend you don’t know how the story ends.