Central Pacific Edition
Interview: Leo Bellarts
Chief Radioman, Coast Guard Cutter Itasca
by Captain Elgen Long
On April 11, 1973 I interviewed retired USCG Lt. Leo G. Bellarts who was Chief Radioman on the USCG Cutter Itasca when Amelia Earhart was flying into Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea during the morning of July 2, 1937.
I was a Petty Officer First Class Aviation Radioman in the U.S. Navy during WW II, and had learned the navy’s procedures as Bellarts had known them in July of 1937. As WWII expanded to include countries from all around the world that joined the Allied Forces the many procedures their radio operators used had to be modified and incorporated into a single unified system. Major changes had been made, “Z” signals had been eliminated and replaced with “Q” signals, the names and meanings of signal flags were changed, terminologies like “No Smoke” were forbidden, and a new phonetic alphabet had to be learned.
Leo Bellarts was able to tell me of the radio events that occurred during the morning of July 2, 1937 using the old 1937 procedures and terminology, and I was able to understand exactly what he was saying and what it meant.
Bellarts told me that at 0758 Itasca Ship Time, Amelia Earhart had called the Itasca on 3105 kilocycles and said the following:
“We are circling but cannot hear you. Send a signal on 7500 kilocycles either now or on the scheduled time on half-hour.”
Bellarts added that Earhart’s signal was S-5, and was the strongest signal they ever received from her. Bellarts also said from the strength and sound of her signal he was sure she was close-aboard (very near), and no one was going to tell him, after listening to radios eight-hours a day over many years, that he couldn’t tell when a radio signal was coming from a transmitter that was very close by.
In fact he said, “I actually did go outside and stand right outside the radio shack and started listening like mad thinking well I’m going to hear a motor any second.” Earhart’s radio signals sounded to him like she was coming in “like a ton of bricks.”
Leo was so pleased that he could talk to someone who knew the procedures and understood what he was talking about, that he loaned me the original radio logs so I could make copies of them. An audio-tape of the interview with Leo Bellarts and copies of the original radio logs are in the Amelia Earhart Archives.