Howland Island, a desert island of a mile and a half by half a mile in size and situated near the point where the Equator meets the Dateline in the Pacific Ocean, had crept quite far up on the "most wanted" lists by the time H.I.DX.A. got together a DXpedition to there in 1988. It is not the easiest place to reach, and one needs permission from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife as the Island is a protected area.
H.I.DX.A. did, however, succeed in chartering a suitable vessel, the M/S Nei Momi out of Tarawa in Kiribati for the three or four days trip to Howland Island. She was then to stand by while the group was ashore and return the DXpedition to Tarawa. An agreement to also carry two scientists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife was made, so in addition to the operators, Jim, VK9NS, Jean-Louis TR8JLD, Chris, NO1Z, Ron, 7J3AAB and Kirsti, VK9NL, the group consisted of seven persons.
Howland Island has a most interesting history, starting with the mining of guano in the mid 1800's. But it was not until the 1930's that Howland Island caught the attention of countries interested in aviation. The U.S.A. slipped four 'colonists' ashore in 1935 and thus lay claim to the Island under the nose of the British! The idea was to build an airfield where trans Pacific flights could refuel en route. Heavy equipment together with field kitchen, stores and radio equipment was put ashore in 1936 and three runways, each 150 feet wide were completed by the time Amelia Earheart was on her way to circumnavigate the Earth by plane. She was to have landed on Howland Island and many arrangements were in place to welcome her - but it was not to be. As we all know, Amelia Earheart disappeared somewhere close to Howland Island in July 1937. The Island's one and only beacon is dedicated to the aviatrix and bears the inscription "Earheart Beacon 1937."
War came to the Pacific in December 1941 and by then, only four men occupied the Island. Two of these were killed outright when a Japanese submarine fired shots and set some of the buildings ablaze. A later air attack completed the job and the airfield was subjected to intense bombing by both American and Japanese planes to make sure it could never be used by friend or foe. The two survivors of the initial attack were finally taken off the Island in February 1942 With the airfield destroyed and everything alse obliterated, there was no further interest in Howland Island and the Island was declared a Fish and Wildlife Reserve. Only sporadic visits by officers of the U.S. Department of Interior and the odd amateur radio DXpedition happen these days.
The H.I.DX.A. group operated the call NO1Z/KH1, except for Kirsti who operated as VK9NL/KH1, this being a new YL country. The dry heat on the Island is almost unbearable. Only some tough pigweed grows there, so there is no shelter and there is no fresh water. The Island is totally given over to birds and hermit crabs. A large tent had been hired in Tarawa and this housed all the stations as well as serving as 'rest area' i.e. a couple of air mattresses on the floor. The ship, the "Nei Momi", was anchored off the Island and food in the form of a big pot of fish and rice was brought ashore every evening. The operators would then take time off and gather around the pot for the once a day meal after which the plates were put outside for the crabs to clean up. As with all DXpeditions to uninhabited islands, it was hard work, little rest and good fun! The arrangement with the ship worked out very well with the crew of the "Nei Momi" helping with all unloading and re-loading of equipment in addition to bringing everyone safely ashore and back onboard. The surf breaks heavy around Howland Island and having experienced seamen to carry out such work is an absolute benefit.