Amelia Earhart – Fred Noonan, Pilot – Navigator: Forever linked in history?
By Gordon Allison, Jr. | Copyright 2017
Part Five of a series
Editor’s note: Our thanks to local contributor, Gordon Allison Jr., for his exhaustive research documenting one plausible theory about the fate of Amelia Earhart after her fabled around-the-world flight went awry in July of 1937. In the 1970s, Allison befriended Major Joe Gervais, who was co-author of a book titled ‘Amelia Earhart Lives.’
Doing additional research to tidy up this series, I learned that when the U.S. military assumed management of Earhart’s Around-the-World flight, changes were made to her airplane – facilitating her spy mission to photograph from the air Japanese controlled islands in the Pacific.
Remember! This was during the build-up to World War II, and America knew little about the Japanese menace!
Now, thanks to the military, Amelia’s aircraft was equipped with the latest, most high-tech radios!
Designed by Bendix Avionics, her high-powered transmitter had an output about three times that of the older Western Electric gear. This made any distress calls more likely to be received. These changes in her communications equipment were not public knowledge, or even well known by the various military branches.
The radiomen on the Itasca reported the loudest radio signals about 7:58 am Howland Island Time. The radiomen had expected the transmissions to be from the old Western Electric radios – so they assumed (based upon signal strength) that she was much closer to them, when in reality she was a few hundred miles to the north on her route back from secretly photographing the Japanese islands.
Paul Mantz was an accomplished pilot who flew stunts for Hollywood, along with Frank Tallman (Tall-Mantz Aviation), flying planes through hangers and crashing airplanes into barns for movies. In the 1950s TV-show ‘Sky King,’ Mantz was the pilot for ‘Songbird,’ a Cessna aircraft featured in almost every episode.
But before TV, Mantz was Amelia’s technical advisor in planning her original around-the-world flight. He flew with her on the first leg of her initial attempt (going west) from Oakland to Honolulu. She crashed her plane on take-off on the second leg of her flight with navigator Fred Noonan.
After the aircraft was “repaired” under U.S. military direction at Lockheed in Burbank, Mantz flew with Amelia from Burbank to Oakland to pick up 6,500 stamp covers that she was to carry on the second around-the-world flight attempt.
Mantz is remembered for crashing in the “Flight of the Phoenix” airplane, which tragically ended in his death in 1965. Interesting Fact: My younger brother, Lynn, won a scenic flight at the local airport north of Richmond, VA in the early 1950s, which got him (and later me) into flying. His pilot? None other than Paul Mantz himself!
As we have seen in Part 3 of this series, I (and others) believe that Amelia returned to the U.S. after World War II, assuming a new identity as Irene Bolam – “a simple New Jersey housewife.”
The creation of multiple personas was likely used in the cover-up of Fred Noonan’s post-war identity. After the unexplained disappearance of Amelia’s airplane in the Pacific, he may not have wanted to give up his famous persona.
Noonan may have been the man, known as Walter Rothar, who spent many years in mental facilities for attempted extortion against Earhart’s husband, book publisher George Putnam for claiming to have found Amelia alive in the Pacific — or even for claiming to be Noonan!
However, at some point, Rothar “disappeared” from custody. Later a man who looked just like Noonan — with similar build, hairline, mannerisms and postural stances — appeared as William Van Dusen, a former associate of Noonan at Pan American Airways. Van Dusen had explored Mayan ruins by air with Charles Lindbergh in 1931 and 1932, and had made survey and trans-Pacific flights during 1935 and 1936. Noonan was the navigator on many survey flights across the Pacific for Pan Am, on the first trans-Pacific airmail flight in November 1935, and on the first trans-Pacific passenger flight in October 1936.
My friend, Major Joe Gervais, dined with William and Cathy Van Dusen at their estate in Connecticut the night before attending the Long Island Early Flyers’ Club luncheon. At that time, Van Dusen was an executive with Eastern Airlines. During dinner, Van Dusen casually mentioned that he had heard through the grapevine that Gervais was headed to Montreal.
Gervais was taken aback! His Montreal trip had been scheduled in order to meet with Irene Bolam (whom Gervais believed to be the true Amelia Earhart. Of course, the meeting never happened — Irene had a bad habit of making appointments and never keeping them.
After dinner, much to the surprise of Gervais, Van Dusen took out a silver cigarette case with an inscription that read: “A Salute, to the man who showed us the way across the Pacific, Frederick J. Noonan.” The entire crew of the Pan Am China Clipper had etched their signatures in the case, including Gervais’ host, William Van Dusen! Gervais opened the case and it contained a single, old-fashioned Marlborough cigarette – in the style of the 1930s.
Gervais later said that he felt like a mouse that had just been mauled by a cat. Was Earhart now Bolam? Could Noonan be Van Dusen?
During the last few weeks – while the County Compass published this series of articles about the true fate of Amelia Earhart – a Texan named Brian Lloyd flew his single engine Mooney 231 airplane around the world retracing Amelia’s trip of 1937. Brian completed the task on Sunday, July 30. Visit: ProjectAmeliaEarhart.Org.
Also, the book Amelia Earhart Lives (originally co-authored by Major Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas) has been republished by a group that brings back popular books after copyrights expire! But don’t look for the same cover as the original.
The recollections in this series of articles are copyrighted by Gordon Allison, Jr. 2017.