Joan’s 1964 Side Trip to Saipan to Investigate Earhart’s Disappearance

For those familiar with Fate on a Folded Wing, you may recall the following words regarding Joan Merriam Smith’s side trip to Saipan in 1964, where she planned to investigate the Amelia Earhart disappearance.

“April 24th I took off for Saipan but had to return because the gear wouldn’t work properly. I thought the hydraulic power pack probably needed overhauling. The afternoon of April 30th, the hydraulic gear plans supposedly were in readiness, so I was off to see Saipan. I took pictures from the air of Rota Island, the first I came upon. It’s only one-mile-by-one and a half miles in dimension. Tinian Island was next. It was at Tinian that the first atomic bomb was loaded on the airplane Enola Gay bound for Hiroshima. There was a large, round, concrete circle below. The plane was parked in the circular ramp area to be prepared for its mission and night takeoff. All these islands were infiltrated heavily by the Japanense …”

Source: Fate on a Folded Wing, page 110

Of course, those were the last words in the original manuscript before two sequential pages went missing in the middle of that particular chapter, creating a cliffhanger for those wanting to know more about what Joan did and saw during what she referred to as “the most important part of her trip.”

While we’ll never know why those pages went missing, it did force me to try and re-create from public sources what exactly transpired during that span of time. Below follows a brief overview of news excerpts about Joan’s world flight between April 20 – May 1, 1964.

Source: Guam Daily News, April 23, 1964
  • “The 27-year-old Long Beach housewife planned to take off today for Guam on what she calls the “most important part of my trip.” – April 20, 1964 | Long Beach Press Telegram
  • “She leaves today for Wake Island and the mainland via Honolulu.” – April 23, 1964 | Guam Daily News
  • “Joan Merriam Smith is pausing in Guam on her around-the-world flight, and will make a visit to the island of Saipan in an effort to learn the fate of the late Amelia Earhart.” – April 23, 1964 | The Indianapolis News
  • She planned to visit the island of Saipan north of Guam tomorrow to seek possible information on the death of Amelia Earhart.” – April 23, 1964 | Honolulu Star Bulletin
  • “She canceled her flight to Saipan last night because of bad weather. She had planned the 150 mile hop from Guam to Saipan as a pilgrimage to the area where Miss Earhart disappeared in 1937.” – April 24, 1964 | Sacramento Bee
  • “Joan Merriam Smith took off for Wake Island from Guam Wednesday but returned an hour later with mechanical troubles.” – April 30, 1964 | Long Beach Independent
  • “Joan Merriam Smith landed safely at Wake Island last night. She completed the 1,300 mile overwater flight from Guam in 12 hours 18 minutes.” – May 1, 1964 | Tucson Daily Citizen

While there is nothing else printed in the original manuscript about Saipan, and I was unable to find anything about her trip to Saipan printed in newspapers (via, Joan did go on to make this statement in an article that was published in the Saturday Evening Post in July of 1965, confirming that she did in fact stopover there:

“I talked with some people on Saipan who claim that the Japs shot Noonan and that Amelia died a few weeks later. I saw the place where she was supposedly kept in prison and the spot where she is said to be buried.”

Source: Saturday Evening Post, July 1965

The questions inevitably remain: what else did Joan do in Saipan? Why wasn’t anything printed in newspapers about her trip, when every other leg of her journey was covered in detail? How long did she stay there? Who exactly did she meet with? Did she learn anything new? What did she come away from the experience with? After flying around the world tracing Earhart’s footsteps for herself, surveying the area, and visiting New Guinea and Saipan, what were her assumptions and takeaways? What did she personally believe happened to her hero in 1937?

In 2019, I published a blog post entitled “The Undeniable Lure of the Amelia Earhart Disappearance,” which provided an overview of the items Trixie saved in her files about Earhart’s disappearance, among other things. For those interested in reading more I recommend this post for an interesting look at this pivotal moment in American history.

In closing, on April 23, 1964, Guam Daily News asked the same question many people still find themselves asking today: will we ever know? Or “may somewhere there still be hidden a clue as to what happened,” as the article suggests?