Highlights From the Forum

October 15 through 21, 2000
(page 2 of 2)

(click on the number to go directly to that message)
18 Climbing on the Norwich City John Pratt
19 Back to the Gilberts Don Neumann
20 Testing Plan B Bob Brandenburg
21 Vidal Transcript Pat Gaston
22 Re: Back to the Gilberts Cam Warren
23 Vidal Anecdote: Origin? Ron Bright
24 The Gilberts Gamble Ric Gillespie
25 Re: Testing Plan B Tom MM
26 Re: Testing Plan B Bob Brandenburg
27 Re: Back to the Gilberts Patrick Gaston
28 More on Radios Mike Everette
29 Fred’s Plan B? Kerry Tiller
30 Re: Back to the Gilberts Bob Brandenburg
31 Searching for Howland Chris Kennedy
32 Re: More on Radios Cam Warren
33 Plan B and Vidal Cam Warren
34 Re: WE 13C Transmitter Hue Miller

Message: 18

Re: Climbing on the Norwich City

Date: 10/17/00
From: John Pratt

Ric wrote:

>I’ve seen no indication in the literature (Maude or Bevington) or
>photos that the initial October 1937 evaluation expedition went aboard
>Norwich City except to tie a line to her stern for mooring the Nimanoa.

Remember Bevington’s account:

We sighted Gardner at dawn. A wrecked cargo steamer was up on the reef and in the distance it looked 0.K. The natives were very disappointed as they thought someone had got in ahead of us. The wreck was a cargo steamer; the bows high and dry in the reef while its back was broken in two places and overhung the reef; the ship was about 3000 tons, is very rusty and has been up 20 years. There being no anchorage we tied up to the stern of the wreck, as the wind took us away from it. I boarded the wreck and found the told [hold? JP] to be teeming with mullet; they were so thick that more fish were visible than bottom. The natives easily speared them; lurking in corners were octopus, but of course not of the deep sea size.

Bevington Diary.

He recorded the natural resources, which is natural for the expedition he was on. He just didn’t record any of the things we wanted to know about.

John Pratt 2373

From Ric

I stand corrected.

Message: 19

Back to the Gilberts

Date: 10/18/00
From: Don Neumann

Whatever the origins of the AE/Vidal conversation about the...’return-to-the-Gilberts’... comment, the fact remains there is no evidence that the subject matter of such comment was actually implemented as a ’Plan-B’, alternative landfall.

While we have no concept of exactly what such a ’reversal’ of course might have involved navigationally (since no one, except possibly FN, had any idea where they were on the LOP) it does seem strange that whereas Itasca received radio signals from AE all the way in from the Gilberts (assuming that they were, in fact, following their originally plotted course from Lae to Howland), that they would have received no (recorded) radio signals from AE on any ’return trip’ back to the Gilberts, especially since AE’s diminishing fuel supply would probably have ’splashed’ them somewhere short of any of the Gilbert Islands, presumably prompting at least one CQD...SOS...MAYDAY (take your choice) attempt by AE to inform Itasca of their plight &/or estimated position?

Looking at my National Geographic Map of the Pacific, clearly shows that the Gilberts are several hundred miles further from Howland & that the Marshalls are even further away from Howland, than the islands in the Phoenix chain.

While, according to the TIGHAR hypothesis, AE had sufficient fuel to reach Gardner Island & make a wheels down landing on the reef flat, the most negative aspect of such a landfall (to me) was the question of... ’how do we get them located & rescued?’...

Assuming (perhaps a big assumption) for the moment that AE had received no further radio signals from Itasca (Itasca recorded no further signals from AE) on the flight from the vicinity of Howland to Gardner Island, AE would have had no assurance that the only known (to her), available source of rescue (Itasca) had ever been able to determine what course AE followed after her last recorded signal, even if she had continued to signal such intentions after her last (only) signal of acknowledgment from Itasca.

Now they are situated on an uninhabited island, presumably in the Phoenix chain, with fuel gone or at least insufficient to take off again (even if the rising tide & condition of the plane & reef flat would permit such an effort) & maybe not even enough fuel to crank the engine & recharge the batteries to continue any further attempts to transmit a message to any potential rescuer(s).

In retrospect, it would seem that the Gilberts might not have been such a bad choice (again requiring a VERY BIG assumption that FN could have navigated them from an undetermined position on the LOP back to the Gilberts), even if they fell short of landfall, they would have been in closer proximity to a populated British mandate, with some boats probably navigating the waters in the vicinity of & between the islands, where rescue would seem more likely than from an uninhabited island, some 350 miles SE of the Howland area, with no establishment of any two way radio communication with the outside world.

Guess it all boils down to whether AE’s desire to save her aircraft, round-the-world flight & her own reputation was stronger than the obvious risks seemingly (to me at least) inherent in choosing to fly the SE leg of the LOP FN had established for Howland, to an uninhabited, (well off any established shipping lanes) island chain, with no established radio contact to the only known (to AE) rescue vessel that could respond to her distress calls.

Naturally, that is just why we all spend such a considerable portion of our waking hours pondering about & seeking to find that one ’smoking-gun’ piece of documented, verified &/or documented evidence that the ’mystery’ is finally solved!

Don Neumann

From Ric

No proponent of the Gilbert Islands theory has, to my knowledge, provided any specific explanation of just how in heck Noonan could have navigated back to the Gilberts if he had wanted to.

Message: 20

Testing Plan B

Date: 10/18/00
From: Bob Brandenburg

May I suggest that there is a simple, direct way to test the Gilberts contingency plan hypothesis. The method does not depend on the validity of Vidal’s - - or anyone else’s - - recollections, but only upon the physical feasibility of such a plan.

Here’s a brief outline of the minimum essential elements of the test:

  1. Define the uncertainty area containing AE’s actual position at the time she executed the plan.
  2. State, and justify, the estimated fuel AE had at the time she executed the plan.
  3. Define the objective of the plan, i.e., to fly to a specific preselected island, or to fly to a general target area and then search for a suitable island. If the latter case, specify the center and radius of the target area, how much time is allocated for searching the area, the area search rate, fuel consumption during the search, and allocated fuel reserve.
  4. Define the flight plan, including course, speed, altitude, and fuel consumption for each leg of the plan. Include an explanation of how FN would decide which initial course to fly, given the uncertainty of his starting position at the time the plan was executed, and how any error in his estimate of the starting position would impact the outcome of the plan.
  5. Explain in precise, step-by-step detail how FN would navigate along the way. Describe the minimum acceptable navigation accuracy that would ensure success of the plan, and explain in detail how FN would achieve that accuracy.
  6. Derive and present the overall probability of success of the plan, and explain the logical basis on which AE would decide that the plan was a feasible alternative to proceeding to the Phoenix Islands.

I propose that, instead of haggling over who said what about what AE may have said was her alternative plan, that the proponents of the Gilberts hypothesis perform the test outlined above and submit their results to the forum.

Any takers?

LTM, who thinks feasibility proofs are nifty.
Bob Brandenburg #2268

Message: 21

Vidal transcript

Date: 10/18/00
From: Patrick Gaston

Ric wrote:

>As with Cam’s other revelations, this one sounds completely overblown. The
>vaunted Vidal source for a Plan B turns out to be not a contemporaneous
>document at all but an ’oral history’ (which is just a polite way of saying
>anecdotal recollection) of, as yet, undetermined vintage. The fact that the
>recollections were ’taped’ puts them, by definition, at least a quarter
>century after the events described. Much ado about nothing.

Overblown? Much ado about nothing? Why do I suspect that if Vidal had said "Gardner" instead of "the Gilberts," TIGHAR would be trumpeting this transcript as the Find of the Decade?

For that matter, why does it seem that oral history is inherently suspect only when it points >away< from Niku? We do not see the same sort of ab initio disdain directed at the "anecdotal recollections" of Pulekai Songivalu, Otiria O’Brian or Emily Sikuli, among others. Exhibit 1: "In TIGHAR’s efforts to find a conclusively identifiable piece of the Earhart aircraft, >>it would be difficult to overstate the potential importance<< of Emily Sikuli’s recollections." (Niku IIIP Expedition Report, Introduction, emphasis added) In fact, the Vidal transcript is far more coherent than the garbled recollections of Sikuli, who (for example) claims to remember seeing "very red" rust on aluminum aircraft components. Yet Emily’s story is deemed sufficiently believable to redirect TIGHAR’s entire search effort, while Vidal’s story is dismissed out of hand: "Much ado about nothing."

Turning to the substance of Vidal’s recollections, the transcript is specific that AE’s plan, in the event they were unable to locate Howland, was to head for the Gilberts when she had four hours of fuel remaining. Not three, not five. How interesting that this coincides almost precisely with TIGHAR’s best estimate of AE’s reserves at the time of her closest approach to Howland! Exhibit 2: "In short, without being there to stick the tanks ourselves, it seems most reasonable to accept that the fuel load aboard the Electra at takeoff was 1,100 US gallons. That fuel load, if managed according to the tables Johnson provided specifically for Earhart, should have left the aircraft with nearly 4 hours of remaining fuel at the time of the last transmission heard by Itasca." (Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR Forum 8/10/99))

I do not mean to denigrate Mrs. Sikuli or the other islander witnesses, but only to plead that all "anecdotal recollection" be subject to the same standards of scrutiny, whether those recollections support the Niku Hypothesis or otherwise. In dealing with anecdote, the primary questions center on: (1) the accuracy of the speaker’s memory and (2) the purity of his motives. With respect to question (1), even if the Vidal interview was conducted a quarter century after the fact, this is still 35 years closer to events than TIGHAR’s interviews with Sikuli et al. Furthermore, Vidal’s recorded recollections are quite precise and do not appear to suffer from the internal inconsistencies and anachronistic external references that tend to betray a fading memory. As for question (2), what possible motive could Gene Vidal have had to fabricate a story about "Plan B" in the context of a private interview with a University of Wyoming grad student? I don’t hear anyone suggesting he was on retainer from the Gilbert Islands Tourism Commission ...

Cam Warren may not have gone to charm school, but he is not the first or only one to engage in sarcasm on this Forum. And he did >not< hoard his findings, as you suggest. His messages make it clear that Cam didn’t begin researching the matter until after Ron Bright’s and Dustymiss’ efforts came to grief. Once he discovered the true location of the Gilberts reference, he promptly shared that information with Ron and Dusty. I don’t see what more you can ask. Cam deserves not TIGHAR’s opprobrium but its approbation.

In the final analysis, is it so impossible to believe that Earhart, with four hours of fuel remaining, did exactly what she said she would do?

Patrick Gaston #2328

From Ric

It is, and always has been, the most basic premise of TIGHAR’s Earhart investigation that all anecdotes are created equal. They are worthless as evidence UNLESS they direct you to a contemporaneous document, photograph, or artifact that establishes their degree of accuracy. With limited resources, choices have to be made about which anecdotes are worthy of further investigation to see if they might lead to something substantive.

The abundance of anecdotes, for example, which describe Earhart’s capture by the Japanese have been enthusiastically collected and pursued by conspiracy buffs ever since Gervais, Briand and Dinger came forward with their list of witnesses in 1960. Forty years later not one single document, photograph or artifact has emerged to support those stories. So when I get a phone call from someone whose uncle was a Marine on Saipan and found Amelia Earhart’s logbook which he then gave to an officer who told him to keep quiet about it, I don’t immediately begin searching the archives of the Second Marine Division --- not because the story disagrees with Niku hypothesis but because years of research has shown that it is highly unlikely to be verifiable.

Unlike the Saipan stories, the investigation of anecdotes about events on Gardner Island have borne real fruit. For example, Floyd Kilt’s anecdote about bones being found on Gardner was eventually proven to be true by the discovery of a previously unknown British government file. Until then it was just a legend and we treated it as such. We are excited about Emily Sikuli’s anecdote because much of what she told us had already been verified by official British records and there is some realistic expectation that the parts that have not been verified (the bit about the plane wreck and other bones) might be verifiable by documents, photographs or artifacts.

Had the Vidal document turned out to be a letter he wrote in 1937 or even 1938, or better yet, a diary entry, it would have carried some weight as a contemporaneous document, but as it is, it is anecdote and therefore absolutely equal to Bilimon Amaron’s story of the American woman named "Melia" whom he saw in Japanese custody, or Al Bresnick’s account of AE hinting to him that she was pregnant, or Emily Sikuli’s tale of airplane wreckage on the reef at Gardner. The trouble is that there is no apparent way to verify the accuracy of the Vidal anecdote. And if we could somehow verify that Vidal was remembering it right, would that justify a search of the Gilbert Islands or the ocean bottom somewhere on the way there?

Your suggestion that anecdotes can be evaluated for accuracy by assessing the purity of the speaker’s motives is incorrect. Very few people who come forward with stories are seeking reward or publicity. In my experience, most are absolutely sincere and have excellent reputations for truthfulness. The majority are passionate that they have important information to contribute. The problem is that we are all subject to the vagaries of the human memory.

But, let’s give Mr. Vidal the benefit of the doubt and say that his recollection is correct. I’m more than willing to believe that Earhart, with four hours of fuel remaining, might have done what Vidal recalled her saying she would do if someone can show me how she could have done it. Failing that, it seems much more reasonable to assume that Earhart, being ignorant of the complexities of the problem, was simply looking at a map and making an intuitive comment.


Message: 22

Re: Back to the Gilberts

Date: 10/19/00
From: Cam Warren

Ric writes:

>No proponent of the Gilbert Islands theory has, to my
>knowledge, provided any specific explanation of just how in
>heck Noonan could have navigated back to the Gilberts if he
>had wanted to.

Excuse my navigational naivete, but wouldn’t heading due WEST be a good start? (That would involve keeping the sun behind them, just in case it was still morning and their compass wasn’t working.)

Cam Warren (always a trouble maker!)

From Ric

True. Heading west would be a good start for either you, or me, or AE and Fred getting to the Gilberts --- but that’s not the question.

You’re Fred Noonan (or Amelia Earhart, take your pick) and you’re running on a 157/337 line of position that should intercept Howland but hasn’t and now you’ve got only four hours of fuel left. You have no idea whether you’re north or south of Howland, let alone how far north or south you might be. Just heading west in the general direction of a sprinkle of widely-scattered, tiny islands that are at the extreme limit of your projected range hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon one of them is tantamount to suicide.

Message: 23

Vidal anecdote---Origin?

Date: 10/20/00
From: Ron Bright

Patrick Gaston resurfaced the long running forum discussion, hot at times, over what is evidence, proof, standard of, etc. And some of his arguments were cogent. I don’t think they will carry the day, however, for the Gilbert and Noonan story. I think Vidal’s "oral history" is suspect, but for a different reason.

First an apparent semantic problem. I think that TIGHAR uses "anecdote" with a pejorative connotation,that is an "anecdote" is "worthless" unless it directs you to something physical that could "establish a degree of accuracy." That is probably true in finding "conclusive" proof. But strictly speaking, an anecdote is a "little known, entertaining fact of history or biography". There is no negative inference to its truth or accuracy. It stands alone, take it or leave it. Anecdotes are indeed just "recollections" that should be evaluated like all evidence, the witness’ credibility, time gone by, perception, motives, contemporaneous reporting, and as you point out, the vagaries of all memory recollections

TIGHAR’s position is simply that some additional artifact, document, photograph, etc. is necessary to support the anecdote and provide some measure of accuracy. Most Tigharites can live with that. Others obviously have a different standard.

There are of course lots of reasons to believe Vidal: his closeness to Amelia professionally and perhaps as a "lover", his longtime professional help in the World Flight route, preparation at Hollywood, his reputation, his rather detailed account, etc., all tend to support his anecdote.

But there are more reasons to doubt his recollection.

Specifically, during the immediate post-lost search for Amelia in and around Howland, the Gilberts, and Marshalls, I have yet to see an author or reference to Vidal claiming during the initial critical hours of search that "hey guys, Amelia told me just before she left that she would head to the Gilberts if she had four hours of fuel left if she missed Howland". Vidal would have notified the Coast Guard within the first hours of her loss .

As close as Vidal was to Amelia, personally and professionally, it is odd that she never told another soul---George Putnam, Clarence Williams, Jackie Cochrane, et al.,---that if she missed Howland she head to the Gilberts. No corroboration there.

At the end of July 1937, Vidal did meet with Roosevelt and Undersecretary of State Welles and convinced them to do a "thorough surface search " of the Gilberts. I think he said he had "secret" or some non-disclosable source that indicated she was in the Gilberts. He didn’t mention the horse’s mouth. Never did he say that he had a conversation with Amelia in her living room while looking at the charts and that she expressed a specific contingency plan to plot back to the Gilberts to find a "nice sandy beach" to land on. So there goes the necessary corroboration, at a minimum, to believe Eugene. And you might add, just where in the Gilberts!

I don’t know about the navigational difficulties of reversing course and heading back from the vicinity of Howland to the Gilberts that makes it the worst possible choice, as you contend. Maybe you can explain.

Note: A possible source of the " return to the island "anecdote of Vidal is contained in Butler’s book when she describes a conversation between Gene, Gore and Amelia on the way home from an Army-Navy game (1936). Asked what part of the Flight she worried most about, she responded Africa. But Gene and Gore said landing in the Pacific would be more dangerous. Amelia said, "Oh there are always islands...wouldn’t it be wonderful to just go off and live on a desert island." And Gore added, Amelia and Gene discussed survival techniques on an island, including how to make a "sunstill" to get fresh water. (Any sunstills on Niku?)

There, in all probability, is the genesis of the fly back to the Gilbert story that began in the fall of 1936 and when Vidal is recalling "options" 10-20 years later, he "recalled" the return to paradise theory.

Ron Bright

From Ric

Last things first. Your theory about the origin of Gene’s recollection is interesting. If it dates from 1936 it certainly is not specific to the Gilberts because at that time she was planning to come at Howland from Hawaii. If she really did say, "Oh there are always islands...wouldn’t it be wonderful to just go off and live on a desert island." it must rank as one of history’s great ironies.

About "anecdotes." Our use of the term is not pejorative but we use it in the scientific sense rather than the popular meaning of "little known, entertaining fact of history or biography." In science, "anecdotal information" means information that was not gathered as part of a controlled scientific study. For example, there is an abundance of anecdotes that attest to various individuals having psychic ability but no such ability has ever been demonstrated in a controlled study. In the particular case of historical investigation, anecdotes are vital as the starting place that may lead to the development of genuine evidence. Certainly all of the considerations you list (the witness’ credibility, time gone by, perception, motives, etc.) need to be taken into account in considering whether a given anecdote may be worthy of attempts to verify its accuracy, but the crucial and fundamental point that prevents the researcher from getting lost in a forest of folklore is that no story, no matter who tells it, can be accepted as fact purely on its own merits.

As for the practical problems of the "back to the Gilberts plan" I’ll try to explain them in a separate posting in a way that’s easy to understand.


Message: 24

The Gilberts Gamble

Date: 10/20/00
From: Ric Gillespie

There are 16 islands in the archipelago know as the Gilbert Islands. They are distributed along a line that runs for about 425 nautical miles in a roughly northwest/southeast line some 500 nautical miles from Howland Island at the southeast end and 600 nm at the northwest end. The islands are not, of course, distributed evenly along that 425 mile line but are bunched in three groups -- the Northern, Central, and Southern Gilberts. Each of the "bunches" is separated by about 60 miles of open ocean. Within the Northern and Central Gilberts, the individual atolls are generally less than 25 miles apart. The seven atolls of the Southern Gilberts (those closest to Howland and laying across Earhart’s direct route) are more widely scattered, averaging more like 50 miles apart.

Now, we’re somewhere -- we don’t know where -- along a line that runs 157/337 degrees and passes through Howland Island. We know that we should have passed over or near one of the atolls of the Southern Gilberts during the night but that’s just a supposition. Even if the weather was free of clouds, it was dark, the islanders don’t have electricity. Chances are we couldn’t see anything down below and certainly not enough to identify a particular atoll.

All we know for sure is that Howland did not appear on schedule, so we must now be somewhere other than where we intended to be. We have fours of fuel left, enough to go another 520 nautical miles -- maybe a bit more if we were bucking a headwind on the way out and could pick up some tailwind going back west. We decide we’re going to turn back for the Gilberts. On what heading? The reciprocal of the one we followed to get here? If we’re south of where we should be and we just reverse course we could easily pass south of the whole Gilberts chain. Should we head due west? Remember that the Gilberts chain angles off to the northwest. If we’re north of where we should be we won’t have enough gas to get there. What if we get lucky and pick a heading that takes us toward the Southern Gilberts (the only ones we can theoretically reach)? We’ll have to be lucky enough to hit an island right on the nose because we’ll be just about out of gas when we get there.

In short, as an alternative to running on the LOP (which, after all, is what she said she was doing) heading back for the Gilberts would be incredibly stupid.


Message: 25

Re: Testing Plan B

Date: 10/20/00
From: Mike MM

I don’t want to sound like I’m pushing any particular hypothesis. I greatly appreciate all efforts to look into the Earhart mystery- - Niku, down at sea, crashed on land somewhere else, or whatever, as long as it may reasonably contribute to ultimately solving the riddle.

However, in response to Bob’s post, I think it feasible from a navigational standpoint that the Gilberts could have been reached (without knowing where you are at the start), at least to a level of certainty which is as good as following a DR of 157 for 350+/- NM to Niku. I want to call attention to the general E-W alignment of the sun LOP’s east of the Gilberts before and roughly at the potential ETA of the flight -- somewhere in there is quite a good so called "course line" for FN. I believe that by the 2nd to 3rd hour, advancing prior LOP’s en route to estimate a fix, FN would have had a pretty good idea where he was. Given the layout of the Gilberts, he probably also could have chosen a target zone considerably wider than Howland or Niku. Not trivial, but neither is finding Howland or Niku. Fuel is another issue entirely, and I won’t speculate on that one.

Is it worth pursuing in greater detail? Not really, this forum has a very specific and different objective, which is fair enough. However, politely turning the tables, it would be great if even the Niku hypothesis could be laid out with this kind of detail. How about in the upcoming 8th edition?

Tom MM

From Ric

I’ll leave it to the Celestial Choir to comment on your suggested navigation to the Gilberts.

The Niku hypothesis has been calculated and recalculated, questioned and kibitzed, and shown to be reasonable in infinitely more detail than Bob Brandenburg has suggested somebody do for the Gilberts hypothesis. The 8th Edition, when complete, will have more than you ever wanted to know about the Niku hypothesis. The first chapters of the 8th Edition went up on the TIGHAR website this week and those who have purchased a copy have received their access information.

Message: 26

Re: Testing Plan B

Date: 10/20/00
From: Bob Brandenburg

Sorry, Tom, but

> I think it feasible from a navigational
> standpoint that the Gilberts could have been reached (without knowing where
> you are at the start), at least to a level of certainty which is as good as
> following a DR of 157 for 350± NM to Niku.

The rules of the proposed test require a detailed proof of feasibility, i.e., the actual navigational procedures and expected results. The rules are stated for a good reason - - supposition and intuition almost always lead to the wrong answer in situations like this.

> I want to call attention to
> the general E-W alignment of the sun LOP’s east of the Gilberts before and
> roughly at the potential ETA of the flight -- somewhere in there is quite a
> good so called "course line" for FN.

The LOP’s were not generally oriented E-W. Recall that the LOP through Howland was oriented 337-157. As the sun moved eastward, the LOP would tilt somewhat further to the west, but not nearly enough to provide a course line.

Consider also that not just any course line would work, even if FN could get one. He needed a course line to a known island, but that required knowing where he was to begin with.

> I believe that by the 2nd to 3rd
> hour, advancing prior LOP’s en route to estimate a fix, FN would have had a
> pretty good idea where he was. Given the layout of the Gilberts, he
> probably also could have chosen a target zone considerably wider than
> Howland or Niku.

"I believe" and "probably also could" don’t get a passing grade on the test . The test rules require proving that it could be done.

LTM, who is a tough grader.
Bob #2286

Message: 27

Re: Back to the Gilberts

Date: 10/20/00
From: Patrick Gaston

Ric wrote:

>You’re Fred Noonan (or Amelia Earhart, take your pick) and
>you’re running on a 157/337 line of position that should intercept Howland
>but hasn’t and now you’ve got only four hours of fuel left. You have no
>idea whether you’re north or south of Howland, let alone how far north or
>south you might be. Just heading west in the general direction of a
>sprinkle of widely-scattered, tiny islands that are at the extreme limit of
>your projected range hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon one
>of them is tantamount to suicide.

Let’s add to that scenario. Although your line of position should have intercepted Howland, it didn’t. So your dead-reckoning estimate of the Electra’s progress also was off. You have a line of position, but that line must fall either east or west of Howland. If you are 50 miles "long", i.e., east of Howland, continuing on a 157 heading takes you into the Phoenix Group. You might hit McKean, but you will pass well to the east of Gardner. If you’re 50 miles "short", you also will miss Gardner and fly into oblivion. Nothing in the opposite direction (337 degrees) but open water. You know next to nothing about the Phoenix Islands and you can’t be sure anyone will even think of looking for you there (remember, you don’t know if anyone heard your "157/337" broadcast. There seems to be something wrong with the radio....)

On the other hand, stretched out behind you on both sides of your intended flight path are the Gilberts, which are more numerous and no more widely scattered than the Phoenix Group. They are inhabited and under resident British administration, greatly enhancing your chances of rescue if you can reach them. It’s a long shot, but with four hours of fuel remaining and a slight tailwind you just might make it. So you put the Electra into a 180 and head west, maybe even a little south of west You may not be able to make Tarawa, but Beru, Nikunau and Arorae are within the realm of possibility. And once you get out of these damn clouds, Fred may be able to get his bearings again. Doesn’t sound particularly suicidal to me, even without a preconceived Plan B.

I admit it’s strange that GP never mentioned a "Plan B," but he might have bought into the "low on fuel" transmissions allegedly heard by Itasca and figured there was no way she could have made the Gilberts. Also there were some post-loss intercepts that, if memory serves, pointed toward the Phoenix Group. GP seems to have been genuinely frantic and you can’t blame him for grasping at whatever straws were out there.

Certainly the Phoenix Group was closer; for that matter, McKean was even closer than Gardner. If Fred had charts, and if he believed his LOP ran through Howland, and if the sole consideration was finding the closest landfall, then wouldn’t it have made sense to alter course slightly toward McKean (and beyond that, Orona) rather than continue doggedly following an LOP to the southwesternmost island of the group? Ah, well, we can speculate endlessly -- that’s what makes it so much fun.

Pat Gaston

P.S. I find it difficult to handle Kar Burns’ observation that unburied human bones from the Norwich City disaster would not last 10 years in the Niku environment, as you have found a collection of fragile bird bones that certainly have been around for 10 years and may even date to the Gallagher era.

From Ric

Last things first. Photos of the bird bones shown by Kar to an expert in such things (there are experts for EVERYTHING) indicate that the scatter and appearance is typical of a dead bird that has been scavenged by coconut crabs. The bones probably weren’t very old at all when we saw them in 1996. Also, the environment at the 7 Site where the bird bones were found is sheltered and quiet while the Nutiran shoreline is the most-pummeled part of the whole island.

You have some basic misconceptions about the LOP. Just because they didn’t see Howland doesn’t mean that Fred’s LOP did not intersect Howland. In fact, AE’s message that they were running on the line is an excellent indicator that Fred believed that the line DID intersect Howland (otherwise, why chase it?). Accurately placing the LOP on the map was the one thing Fred could do with considerable accuracy -- within 10 miles. What he couldn’t know was how far north or south of Howland they were. The one thing -- the ONLY thing -- he can do that will virtually guarantee landfall of some kind is to run southeast on the LOP.

What makes you think that heading back west will get you out of "these damn clouds"? There’s a scattered deck at about 2,500 feet (like there is just about every day out there). Heading west is not going to change that.


Message: 28

More on Radios

Date: 10/20/00
From: Mike Everette

Interesting idea, brought up in Frank Westlake’s posting, that maybe the only component of the AE radio setup modified for 500 kHz was the transmitter.

Normally, I’d dismiss this out of hand... here’s why:

The 500 kHz frequency was not only a distress channel, but also a "calling frequency." Steamship companies maintained communications with certain coastal stations and these actually were conducted on "working" frequencies like 418 or 425 kHz However, the ships all were required to guard 500. So, to establish initial communication, a common "calling" freq was essential ("I’ll call you on 500, then we’ll move off to 425" etc.) and 500 was the logical choice.

There was LOTS of traffic on 500, at all times.

"Silent periods" were, however, required to be observed... about every 15 minutes, for at least 3 to 5 minutes. During those periods, operators were required to listen for transmissions from ships (or aircraft) in distress.

Of course, a distress message could come at any time. If one was heard, everybody on the freq was required to QRT (cease transmitting) at once! Except for the station in distress, and whoever was in direct QSO (contact) with him.

Now, it stands to reason that one would want to be able to hear answers to distress calls, does it not? Because that’s likely where you’re going to get your answers... same frequency! And you need to hear what is going on, on the freq, before you transmit. If you key up on 500 while coastal station KLC is giving out a traffic list that takes 5 minutes to send, no one’s going to hear you over KLC, especially with that rig in the plane and its puny signal on 500.

Most of the time, emergencies do not occur during the silent period. That is too convenient.

And many ships did not carry HF transmitters, let alone with 3105/6210 installed (though AE may not have appreciated this). The commercial HF maritime bands were in the region of 4.5, 8.5 and 12 MHz.

I would at first think her receiver HAD to have been modified for 500... she had to have a way to listen... makes perfect sense.

But something else sort of bothers me about that scenario.

The WE-20 series receivers were NOT designed to copy CW, because they did not include a BFO (beat frequency oscillator) which is absolutely essential for doing this. Morgan lists a "CW Oscillator Adapter" which was an option for the 20 sets... but we have no direct proof that AE had one. Yet it seems logical that she would have.

If she was not planning to copy CW, though, there was no real need for the receiver to hear 500... this was a CW-only frequency... so maybe it is possible that the tuning range of this receiver was not modified....

BUT....!!! I DOUBT IT.

I hold that it was indeed modified to tune 500... however this was accomplished. And I believe the way it was done, was by changing the range on Band 2, just like Morgan says....

So if the thing did not tune above 1200 kHz, she could not hear KGMB on the WE-20B receiver. That is it.

Mike E.

From Ric

Holy Guacamole, Mike, this is supposition stacked on supposition. You’re saying that you don’t think that Earhart could have heard KGMB because it seems reasonable to you that her receiver would have been modified to receive 500 Kcs and that that would have been done in such a way as to remove her capability to received 1320 Kcs. If Cam Warren said something like that we’d hang him from the yard arm (again).

Message: 29

Re: Fred’s Plan B?

Date: 10/21/00
From: Kerry Tiller

Th’ Wombat woke me up with this one. From what I’ve read about the way AE did business, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if she didn’t have a "plan B" at all. Fred, the professional, on the other hand, may well have had one all along (and didn’t mention it to AE because she never asked).

OK, Mary Bea’s family won’t let us see the letters Fred wrote to discover if he mentioned a real plan B, but don’t you think if he had mentioned it in a letter to his wife that she would have told somebody at the time? And maybe she did? We know why the Navy went to look in the Phoenix Islands (same reason as TIGHAR), do we know why George Putnam thought the Phoenix Islands a good place to look? I can envision GP and MB consoling each other over their missing spouses, and MB says "you know Mr. Putnam, Fred told me in his last letter that if they missed Howland.........."

Do we know what Mary Bea was doing and where she was and who she might have talked to? If I have missed this piece of the puzzle, forgive me.

LTM (to whom my father always deferred the tough questions)
Kerry Tiller #2350

From Ric

GP did spend time with Mary Bea during the search. Paul Mantz was also right there and they all spent a lot of time at Coast Guard HQ in San Francisco. Had Mary Bea mentioned such a letter/plan it seems odd that we wouldn’t know about it.

Let’s remember that the happy coincidence of the LOP running from Howland to Gardner was just that -- a coincidence dependent entirely upon the flight taking place within a fairly narrow window of dates. Had the World Flight been on schedule, the sunrise LOP for the Lae/Howland leg would not have also provided a highway to Gardner Island. Fred could not have formulated that specific Plan B until AFTER the unscheduled maintenance delay at Bandoeng. Whether he wrote any letters home from Darwin, or Lae is unknown.


Message: 30

Re: Back to the Gilberts

Date: 10/21/00
From: Bob Brandenburg

The feasibility proof opportunity I offered to the proponents of the Gilberts hypothesis addresses the question of what Noonan "could have" done, as distinct from what he "would have done".

The feasibility hypothesis is eminently testable. It is only necessary to answer the questions I posed. Care to guess why no one has taken up the opportunity? Q.E.D.

Bob # 2286

Message: 31

Searching for Howland

Date: 10/21/00
From: Chris Kennedy

The logic of why Earhart would use the LOP to find an alternative landing site to Howland other than the Gilberts also could logically be used to argue why she would use the LOP to continue efforts to find Howland rather than the other Phoenix islands on the LOP. Here goes: The fact that Earhart said "must be on you but cannot see you" indicates to me that she thought she should be in visual range of Howland. Also, the fact that at Howland there is a landing strip, fuel and a support vessel provide powerful incentives for sticking around trying to locate it using the LOP, rather than flying to more distant islands using the LOP. This being so, my thought is that, at some point, Earhart must’ve thought she was within range of these other islands, but not within range of Howland. Otherwise, if she had faith in using the "fly the LOP" approach this logically (together with a consideration of the incentives mentioned) would argue for continuing to try and locate Howland.

It would appear to me to be the case that Earhart thought she must be north of Howland when she turned on the LOP. But how far? She thinks not far. So, she then heads south, expecting to find it, but doesn’t. Actually, she was south of Howland to begin with, and by turning south was heading away from it. By the time she realizes her error, she thinks she is so far south that she is beyond range of Howland, and so continues to the other islands that she thinks she is in range of. What do you think?

From Ric

Exactly. It is a common misconception that when AE decides to run down the LOP she is abandoning the search for Howland and heading for an alternate destination. Not so. As you say, it’s only much later that she (or rather, Noonan) figures out that they must have been way south to begin with and now they doesn’t have enough fuel to get back up north to Howland. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) Gotta go for the Phoenix group.


Message: 32

Re: More on Radios

Date: 10/21/00
From: Cam Warren

You ARE beginning to sound hysterical! And by your own admission, radio is obviously not an area of your expertise. (Nor physics!)

Firstly, your putting down the Pan Am radio techs is on a par with your insistence the Colorado pilots were inept. (I think you owe both groups an apology.)

Earhart’s WE communication system was modified to send/receive 500 kc for a very good and valid reason, as Mike has pointed out. Compromises had to be made, and the loss of a small portion of the upper broadcast band was one of them. Certainly a BFO would be part of the modification. That’s pure and simple.

And on the subject of antennas, they are adapted to the needs of the TRANSMITTER within the physical requirements. Example; the use of a loading coil if the wire length cannot be precisely matched to the transmitter. The COIL, does nothing for actual radiation, but makes the transmitter SEE a proper antenna length, i.e., resonant circuit. Resonance, if you’ve forgotten your physics, provides for the maximum transfer of power. (You want to shatter a champagne glass with a high note? You tune your fiddle to the RESONANT FREQUENCY of the glass. OK?)

Cam Warren

From Ric

I don’t recall calling either the Colorado pilots or the Pan Am technicians inept. Both groups were operating under considerable handicaps and, I’m sure, did the best job they could.

Do I understand you correctly that your insistence that Earhart’s receiver was modified to receive 500 Kcs, that a BFO was installed, and that Pan Am technicians were able to correct Gurr’s altering of the antenna length by use of a loading coil is not documented anywhere and we should should just take your word for it?

Message: 33

Plan B and Vidal

Date: 10/21/00
From: Cam Warren

To all those who feel I somehow abused your "rights," the sequence of events follows:

1) In 1997, following mention of Plan "B" by Goerner and Gordon Vaeth, and curious about what might be in the U. of Wyoming Vidal Collection (as were numerous other authors and/or researchers), I obtained a copy of the multi-paged inventory, and found little of interest involving Earhart, certainly nothing about the Gilberts alternate. (A couple of years of correspondence were missing.)

2) Recently on the Forum someone raised the question about the alleged quote in Doris Rich’s AE biography. Rich cited "Box 19" in the Collection. That was unsuccessfully checked out by Ron Bright and Laurie McLaughlin, prompting Ric to suggest Goerner and Rich were making things up.

3) I contacted Rich, seeking further information. At the time, she wasn’t sure what was in her notes, then not in her immediate possession. After further prompting, she was able to locate them and promised to send copies of same.

4) Appended to a message to the Forum about some other matter, I mentioned that was satisfied Rich indeed was speaking the truth re the Gilberts alternative. I did tease Ric by saying he should notify his new expedition sponsor. I apologize for failing to add a "smiley face". (At this point, I did NOT know exactly what Vidal had said).

5) Received Rich’s notes, and saw they referred to an "oral history." Aha! Maybe we should be looking for a TAPE, instead of a document. I pulled out my copy of the Collection inventory, and read through it all, continuing beyond the bulk of the Earhart material. On the penultimate page, there WAS a reference to "INTERVIEW" and Vidal discussing Earhart. Faintly inscribed in pencil in the margin was a note "Box 40". I immediately called the University and gave them the new reference. The next day I received a call describing the item as a partial transcription. They sent a photo copy of the 3 pertinent pages. I told Ric (who is a stickler for "first hand" evidence!) where he could obtain a copy for his files.

Note: my intent was to support Rich’s citation, NOT claim that Earhart did fly to the Gilberts, as I am perfectly aware that no wreckage or other evidence turned up there in subsequent searches in 1937 and later. And (except for Item 1 above) this entire business happened in the last few weeks -- I was NOT sitting on the information for months or years, as some of you have charged.

Of course, those of you who merely skimmed through the Forum, concentrating only on Ric’s "snappy comebacks", entirely missed the point, and accused me of various crimes against nature and even lying. There’s a lesson here for would-be researchers -- I’d strongly suggest to the skimmers to make hard copies of those messages of interest to you and don’t act entirely on the basis of what you thought you read (or heard). And heed the slander laws!

Let’s hope this will end the "Banishment" thread.

Cam Warren

Message: 34

Re: WE 13C Transmitter and "Harmonics"

Date: 10/21/00
From: Hue Miller

Cam Warren writes:

> Appropriate test equipment would be used, such as
> (most likely) a Standing-Wave Ratio meter, with which transmitter
> and antenna were precisely adjusted for maximum output on the
> desired frequency.

Mike and possibly others will support me in this: in 1937, no airfield technician had even heard of an SWR meter. You are thinking of coax-fed antennas and this was not standard in aircraft ’til decades later.

The transmitters were tuned by more basic methods: transmitter tube current draw, and RF current into the antenna.

> Definitely the result would minimize, even
> totally eliminate, any effective harmonic radiation.

Cam, oh Cam, you do not want to be saying this. This does not make you look good at all.

Hue Miller

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