Cousin: Japanese captured Amelia Earhart

Wally Earhart of Carson City, the fourth cousin of Amelia Earhart, says the U.S. government continues to perpetrate a "massive coverup" about her mysterious disappearance in the Pacific 72 years ago.

Because of the current surge in interest about the pilot's fate spurred by the recent release of the film "Amelia," starring Richard Gere and Hilary Swank, it is time the American public "know the truth about Amelia's last days," said Earhart, who will portray Abraham Lincoln as grand marshal of the Nevada Day parade today.

Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not die as claimed by the government and the Navy when their twin-engine Electra plunged into the Pacific on July 2, 1937, Wally Earhart said in an interview.

"They died while in Japanese captivity on the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas," claims Earhart, a 38-year Carson City resident who often portrays Lincoln and other historical figures at appearances sponsored by groups such as the Nevada Historical Society.

"The Navy and the federal government would have you believe that Amelia and Noonan died on impact when their plane ran out of gas while attempting to reach Howland Island during their flight around the world," Earhart said.

"Their airplane did crash into the Pacific, but instead of dying, the pair was rescued by a nearby Japanese fishing trawler. The Electra airplane was still floating and the Japanese hauled it aboard their ship in a large net.

"The Japanese then transported Amelia Earhart, Noonan and the airplane to Saipan. Noonan was beheaded by the Japanese and Amelia soon died from dysentery and other ailments," Wally Earhart continued. He added that the Japanese troops on the island cut the airplane into scrap and tossed the remnants into the Pacific.

"There are many people, including Japanese military and Saipan natives, who witnessed all these events on the island," said Earhart, who disputes claims by several historical researchers that Amelia Earhart and Noonan were instantly killed when their plane hit the water or they died of starvation and disease on either Howland Island, Gardner Island or in the Marshall Islands.

Why do the government and Navy continue to "cover up" the true facts of the case?

There are two major theories, according to Wally Earhart.

One is that the Navy was "inept" in not finding and rescuing the aviators after their aircraft crashed. The other is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt "wanted the whole matter kept under wraps," Earhart said.

"Roosevelt had asked Earhart, a close family friend, to scout Japanese military installations in the Pacific during her flights in the region. This was kept a deep secret back in 1937 and it is being kept a secret today because Japan and the United States are good friends and military allies and the government doesn't want to drudge up old antagonisms," Wally Earhart believes.

Earhart also noted that Amelia Earhart had close relations with Nevada.

"She loved Northern Nevada and often visited friends in Carson City and at Lake Tahoe. And she also made several flights across the state, stopping at a half-dozen cities," Earhart added.

On one flight, while flying a small plane between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City in 1928, she was declared missing after making a forced landing in bad weather in a deserted area near the Nevada-Utah state line. Rescuers were called out when it was feared she had crashed into a mountain peak in isolated Lincoln County in eastern Nevada.

Searchers ultimately found Amelia sitting beside her downed plane. She was uninjured but the craft suffered a bent propeller and other minor damages.

In 1931, Earhart crossed Nevada in an autogiro, the forerunner of the helicopter, making landings at Wendover, Elko, Battle Mountain, Lovelock and Reno.

And in 1929, George Putnam, her future husband and millionaire heir to a publishing fortune, divorced his first wife, Dorothy, in Reno. Amelia Earhart and Putnam were married two years later.

The mystery surrounding the fate of Amelia Earhart may never be solved. It remains the most famous missing person case in United States history.

• David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.


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