Associated Press file photo
Associated Press file photo
BROOMFIELD – For 75 years, researchers, historians and scientists have tirelessly sought answers in the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Competing theories have emerged, but with those theories come more questions: Was the famed pilot lost at sea after a crash? Did she and her co-pilot Frank Noonan survive on a remote island? Was she kidnapped?
For the last 27 years, Broomfield resident Bill Prymak has studied Earhart’s final journey as the head of the Amelia Earhart Society, a group of researchers and history buffs who share theories and information across the globe. At the height of his research in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Prymak traveled four times to the Marshall Islands, where he interviewed potential eyewitnesses who said they saw a plane crash in 1937.
After working for years with other Amelia Earhart Society researchers, he believes he knows exactly what happened to Earhart and her co-pilot in 1937: They crash-landed in the Mili Atoll of the Marshall Islands, where they were captured by the Japanese and put to their deaths on the island of Saipan, because they were believed to be spies.
Prymak’s interviews “are proof from the people who lived there at the time,” he said last week, sitting in his home office where he does his work. His walls are plastered with maps of the Marshall Islands, blueprint posters of Earhart’s Electra 10E airplane and photos from his trips to the islands. A tall bookshelf bursts with books about Earhart and her final journey, which was supposed to take her 29,000 miles around the globe.
“This is really Amelia’s office,” he said.
Prymak’s research is featured in Mike Campbell’s new book, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Campbell’s book makes the case for Earhart’s demise at the hands of the Japanese military.
Prymak said his interviews on the islands prove Earhart crash-landed near the Mili Atoll. Islanders told him they saw a pilot matching Earhart’s description, as well as an injured man thought to be Noonan.
Prymak made his first trip to the Marshall Islands in 1989, where he met a man named Joro. Prymak said Joro described a “lady pilot” crash-landing on the inner coral reefs of Barre Island. In an interview with Prymak, Joro said the Japanese, who occupied the area at the time, ordered “all able-bodied men to assemble in the village of Port Rhin at Tokow Channel, next to Barre Island.” The Japanese threatened to behead any islanders who talked about the mission, Joro told Prymak.
Others told Joro that the Japanese used a barge to tow away an American airplane, which had landed in the shallow waters off Barre.
“These interviews would be hard to come by today. Many witnesses have died, or they are well into their 90s by now,” Prymak said.
Campbell said Prymak’s interviews, along with interviews and information gathering from other researchers around the globe proves what he calls the “Japanese Capture Theory.” He believes the U.S. government and competing research groups are the reason the full truth has not been revealed.
“Numerous unanswered questions about Earhart’s final flight remain, but the popular belief that the so-called Amelia Earhart mystery is an irresolvable enigma is known to be utter nonsense by those familiar with the facts,” he said.
Prymak agrees, calling other theories “nonsense.”
If Prymak and Campbell have strong feelings about their Japanese Capture Theory, those strong feelings are mirrored by other research teams who believe the Amelia Earhart Society is wrong.
One popular theory says Earhart and Noonan died on impact when their plane ran out of gas while attempting to reach Howland Island.
Last July, however, a research group known as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, launched an expedition to test a different theory. TIGHAR researchers believe Earhart and Noonan did not die on impact, but became stranded on Nikumaroro Island and died of starvation after their plane was swept out to sea. The team is analyzing high-definition underwater video that could reveal pieces of Earhart’s plane and more clues.
Prymak’s own interest in Earhart’s disappearance started in 1985, when he retired from his job as a civil engineer and began dedicating more time to flying his Piper Malibu airplane. He logged more than 6,000 hours in the air, and felt a connection to Earhart because of his passion for flight.
Prymak, now 84, no longer flies, but said he will continue to learn more about Earhart and her final flight.
“It’s hard work, but I answer a lot of inquiries,” he said. “If someone in (the Amelia Earhart Society) has a lead, they always pass it on to me.”