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THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART

The search for Amelia Earhart constituted doubtless the greatest organized effort ever undertaken in behalf of a lost flyer.

Slow to get under way because of the enormous distances involved, the rescue expedition finally embraced more than 3,000 men, 10 ships, 102 American fighting planes and an undisclosed number of Japanese aircraft.And it provided an appropriate climax to the ambitious but ill-starred world flight of aviation's first lady.

Many long-range flying experts smiled wryly when Miss Earhart last spring announced plans for a 27,000-mile air jaunt around the equatorial regions.

"What will that prove?" they asked privately.

Unwilling to be quoted, they argued that Miss Earhart was years behind the times so far as ocean flying was concerned.

They contended ocean aviation had become a matter for big business - fleets of planes, chains of bases and radio stations, and many technicians operating as a coordinated unit.

Miss Earhart, they said, was still flying in the 1927 mode, with a single plane and only limited facilities for such a difficult job.

But Miss Earhart thought it might prove of aid to a possible future air lines in the South Pacific.

With a navigator and assistant pilot she left Oakland March 17 and flew 2,400 miles to Honolulu in r [section of text lostT time to start the adventure. There was little new to he [section lostT the Honolulu hop. She already had flown alone from Hawaii to California as well as twice across the Atlantic - as a passenger in [section lostT and solo in 1932, and these flights were only part of her spectacular nine-year rise to aviation peerage.

But in taking off from Honolulu for a flight of more than 1,500 miles to tiny Howland Island her plane burst a tire and cracked up. White faced, she climbed from the cockpit and announced she would have the plane repaired and start the world flight all over again.

Weeks later the plane was reconditioned in Los Angeles. The interim, involving seasonal changes on her route, caused her to reverse the direction of the flight.

With the veteran navigator Frederick J. NoonanUPI photo

as her colleague she flew from Oakland to Miami, Fla., and started the world flight again on June 1.

In smooth hops they went 1,033 miles to Puerto Rico; to Caripito, Venezuela, 650 miles; in short jumps to Fortaleza, and Natal, Brazil.

From the latter point they flew without incident 1,900 miles across the Atlantic to St. Louis, Senegal, Africa, June 7.

Dodging stormy weather, Miss Earhart crossed Africa in stride to Assab, Eritrea, and then made two long hops to reach Calcutta, India.

Leaving India for Siam June 18, she was forced back by bad weather and made an unsuccessful second start but next day flew to Rangoon, Burma.

Another series of short hops brought the fliers to Socrabaya, Java, where they had instruments repaired and rested three days.

They crossed the Dutch East Indies and Northern Australia to Lae, British New Guinea, in three days.

At Lae they faced the most difficult phase of the adventure - a 2,570-mile project over an unflown and wild tropical region to tiny Howland Island, American outpost and potential air base in the equatorial Pacific. They left Lae July 1.

Halfway between New Zealand and Howland Island the Navy tug Ontario stood by to give the fliers radio information and to go to their aid if necessary. At the little island, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca stationed itself and shooed the big ocean-flying birds from recently constructed runways, anticipating the big plane's arrival.

The Itasca picked up the plane's radio at 2:45 a.m., Howland time, recognizing Miss Earhart's voice but not getting all the message, which mentioned "cloudy weather."

An hour later Miss Earhart reported the sky overcast and asked the Itasca to broadcast every half hour on 3105 kilocycles, the radio frequency which figured so prominently in producing mystifying signals during the search for the plane.

"Want bearing on 3105 kilocycles on hour; will whistle in microphone," said Miss Earhart to the Itasca at 5:12 a.m.

Three minutes later the cutter heard Miss Earhart whistle and report her plane 200 miles out. Thirty minutes thereafter she reported the plane only 100 miles away.

"We must be on you but cannot see you," the aviatrix reported at 7:30 a.m. "Gas running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

"We are circling but can't see island," Miss Earhart reported at 7:57 a.m. "Cannot hear you. Go ahead on 7500 kilocycles with long counts now or on schedule. Time on half hour."

"We received your signals but unable to get minimum," said the plane at 8:03 a.m. The "minimum" possibly indicated inability of the plane to obtain a radio bearing on the cutter, because Miss Earhart then asked the Itasca to take bearings and answer on 3105 kilocycles. She made radio dashes so the cutter could take a bearing, but the Itasca was unable to make use of them because of their high frequency.

The last message from the plane in flight came at 8:44 a.m. (3:14 p.m. EST). It said:

"We are on the line of position 157-337. We repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. We are now running north and south." The position report in the message was useless to the worried listeners because it gave only one of the necessary elements.

The Itasca began the search almost at once, scanning 3,000 miles of ocean without sighting a trace of the plane, which carried for signaling purposes a bright orange colored kite, a Very (cap V) pistol for rockets and a supply of flares.

The next day a long-range naval plane with eight men raced out of Honolulu for a flight of more than 1,500 miles to the scene. Unidentified radio signals, some of them seemingly from Miss Earhart's plane, were reported by many listeners.

A snow, sleet and lightning storm caught the big Navy plane high above the equatorial surface as it neared the scene, and it was forced to turn back when only 370 miles north of the equator.

Twenty-four hours after its takeoff it returned to Pearl Harbor, and its commander, Lt. W.W. Harvey, reported he had encountered his worst storm in 10 years of flying.

Friends and relatives of Miss Earhart did not express great alarm.

"She will come through all right," said her stepmother, Mrs. E.S. Earhart in Los Angeles.

George Palmer Putnam, Miss Earhart's husband, clung to the belief the plane would float indefinitely if undamaged. He counted upon its big gasoline tanks, with a capacity of 1,151 gallons, to give it buoyancy.

Some observers, recalling the Pacific had swallowed 10 ocean fliers, immediately expressed fears for Miss Earhart's safety.

The more optimistic searchers pointed out that John Rodgers, Navy commander, and a crew of four floated nine days in their flying boat and were rescued after falling short in an attempted California-Hawaii flight in 1925.

In Washington, Charles Horner, president of the National Aeronautical Association, was asked if he considered Miss Earhart's undertaking foolhardy.

"It would be awfully painful to say a thing like that in the face of such a tremendously courageous attempt," he observed, but added that his organization felt every such flight in the future should be "fully safeguarded."

Radio listeners kept reporting receipt of SOS calls and mysterious dashes, supposedly from the Earhart plane.

In the belief the plane overshot Howland Island, the Itasca searched to the north and west pending arrival of other aid.

The battleship Colorado left Honolulu July 3 for the scene and the Navy ordered the $40 million aircraft carrier Lexington and three destroyers into the search from San Diego.

With 98 planes and 1,299 men the Lexington, along with the destroyers Drayton, Lampson and Cushing, sped from San Diego the morning of July 4 for a 4,400-mile run to Howland Island via Honolulu.

Radio lanes all over the Pacific buzzed with reports that Miss Earhart's voice had been heard. Others reported mysterious dash signals and a "radio squeal." Coast Guard and other listeners reported hearing "a man's voice or a woman's voice with a cold."

Paul Mantz, Miss Earhart's technical adviser, said in Los Angeles the world-circling plane could have sent such signals only if it was on land and the right-hand motor was turning over.

But the mysterious signals persisted. At 7:12 a.m. EST, July 5, in the third day of the search, the Wailupe Naval Radio Station near Honolulu reported what it believed to be a message from the plane. This is what it received:

"281 North Howland X X call KHAQQ (Miss Earhart's call letters) X X beyond North X X Don't hold us much longer X X Above water X X shut off."

There were various interpretations, some searchers expressing the belief it meant the plane was sinking.

Putnam, in Oakland, expressed the opinion it meant the plane was on a reef and that the gasoline supply necessary to keep the radio apparatus in operation was nearing exhaustion and that Miss Earhart and Noonan were safe somewhere near Howland.

The cutter Itasca reported "official information indicates that Earhart is down 281 miles north of Howland."

Speeding to the point in question, the Itasca found nothing.

The British freighter Moorby joined the hunt in that vicinity. So did the Navy minesweeper Swan.

Late at night July 5 the Itasca sighted lights which it at first believed might be flares in that area. Hopes skyrocketed again but only momentarily because the cutter later concluded the lights were either a meteor or lightning.

The belief that the plane must have landed on solid footing persisted in the mind of Putnam. He conferred with Lt. Fred Johnson of the San Francisco Coast Guard, who recommended a shift in the search to the area south of Howland.

Putnam asserted bearings taken on various radio signals which might have come from the plane all indicated a position in the neighborhood of the Phoenix Islands, centering 280 miles southeast of Howland.

The battleship Colorado shifted its course to head for Winslow Bank, a formation north of the Phoenix Group and east of Howland. The Japanese aircraft carrier Kamoie and the Japanese survey ship Kooshuu began a search of the Marshall Island area about 500 miles northwest of Howland.

In Washington President Roosevelt watched the progress of the great search while the Navy coordinated all participating elements, including the cutter Itasca, under the authority of the 14th Naval District at Honolulu.

With the Coast Guard and amateurs still reporting hearing weak radio signals possibly emanating from the plane, the Colorado launched its three catapult planes into the search July 7 near Winslow Reef, east and south of Howland.

Refueled from the Colorado, the Itasca weaved about through the numerous islands in the area. The minesweeper Swan also headed into the search area.

These searching units kept up the hunt while the Lexington sped toward the rescue with its great fleet of fighting planes.

Putnam maintained his conviction that the plane reached a reef or an island. Along with engineering experts he reiterated that all investigation showed the plane could send messages only if it was on solid footing.

The fact that the lost plane carried a small water condenser as well as emergency rations cheered friends of the missing pair. Watchers did not know exactly what food supplies were on the plane but figured they could exist a month or more on them and that the condenser would enable them to take drinking water from the sea for an indefinite time.