Yet such resoluteness has not detoured today's private sector search, an equally stubborn sifting of declassified military intelligence files and archives by an estimated 100 private researchers: airline pilots, former military officers, professors, journalists, an ex-Secret Service agent, a real estate developer, a Las Vegas educator, a well-placed State Department officer, a retired aerospace engineer. . . .
Many projections are fatuous, good only for cheap books and quick sales. Some leads appear factual and well worth following. In total, the Earhart detectives have formed a solid presentation of intriguing possibilities, maybe even probabilities:
- Elgen Long, 62, of San Mateo, an airline captain, has decided to go public after 20 years of guarding precise details of his massive computer and documentary research of the Earhart mystery. His work has not produced a publisher for the book he hoped would help finance an expedition to locate and recover the Earhart plane. So he is prepared to show his hand.
He believes incompatible radio equipment and negligent procedures prevented Earhart and Noonan from making vital radio contacts with the Coast Guard cutter positioned near Howland Island (a tiny mid-Pacific refueling point) to monitor the leg of their flight from Lae, New Guinea.
Further, Long states, the combination of an uncalibrated compass, faulty chart coordinates that actually misplaced Howland by several miles, plus headwinds unnoticed by Noonan, placed the fliers west and well beyond visual range of the island. He concurs with the official finding: They ran out of gas and crashed northwest of the island. Long also believes that their remains are still inside the airplane and likely could be recovered from a depth of 16,800 feet.
- But author-broadcaster Goerner continues to follow the thrust of his work--that Earhart and Noonan crash-landed in the ocean, but were picked up and imprisoned by the Japanese.
New proof, Goerner says, may well be buried in about 14,000 reels of microfilm of pre-1945 still-classified Navy and Marine Corps records recently discovered at the U.S. Naval Supply Depot at Crane, Ind. In April, Goerner corresponded with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger who said 6,000 reels have been examined and "thus far reveal no mention of Amelia Earhart.
"Should any information be discovered in the remaining reels, however, it will be reviewed for release through established procedures and made available . . . promptly and as appropriate."
- Jim Golden, 62, of Las Vegas, a Marine Corps intelligence officer in the South Pacific during World War II, a six-year Secret Service agent, and a former investigator of organized crime for the Justice Department, has spent 43 years probing the Earhart disappearance. He currently is pursuing two firm beliefs based on recurring and overlapping leads: that there still exists a Navy intelligence file (one he says he read in 1945) containing statements from natives who say they saw an American woman on Roi-Namur Island near Kwajalein in 1937; and that there lives in Japan a Hawaiian-born interpreter who was part of a team that interrogated Earhart.
- Last month, Thomas Devine, 73, of Connecticut, published "The Amelia Earhart Incident" and claimed that in World War II, as an Army postal clerk on Saipan, he saw the Earhart plane in a hangar and watched it test flown. But he offers no corroboration. This fall, James Donahue, 67, of Inglewood, a retired aerospace engineer, plans to publish "The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection," which claims a British agent spirited Earhart and Noonan into U.S. Navy custody after they had landed on Hull Island. But Donahue has no documentary proof.
Snippets without a thread. Educated guesswork. Then there are the left fielders. One New Jersey writer has claimed Earhart became a prostitute in Nagasaki after World War II. Another says she was smuggled back to the United States as one among a planeload of bogus nuns, was given a false identity and died in 1982 as Irene Bolam of Princeton, N.J.
In life, Bolam consistently denied being the famed aviator. She sued the authors, former military officers Joe Klass and Joseph Gervais. Their book ("Amelia Earhart Lives" by McGraw-Hill) was withdrawn from stores.
When Bolam died, Gervais, now a school district employee in Las Vegas, sought permission to photograph and fingerprint the body. His request was denied. That, states Gervais, is further evidence of government collusion.
Earhart's believed and published ends have been various. Dysentery in captivity. Beheading. Shooting. Also drowning after clinging to her floating airplane for two weeks while talking to a teen-aged ham radio operator in Oakland. The same fates for Noonan. With a new addition. A Cincinnati man ("call me another bankrupt Earhart chaser") said last week that Earhart blamed Noonan for getting her off course and brained him with an empty whisky bottle.