Forum artHighlights From the Forum

April 8 through 14, 2001

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HMS Achilles Roger Kelley
Re: HMS Achilles Roger Kelley
Facts vs. Assumptions Alan Caldwell
How Did it Start? Rick Seapin
Galten’s Log Entry: A Tale of Uncertainty Pat Gaston
Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low Chris Kennedy
Re: How Did it Start? Dennis McGee
Low Fuel Dick Pingrey
Pilot Elitism Ric Gillespie
The Forum and Membership Andrew McKenna
Paying Dues Bob Sarnia
Re: How Did it Start? Ron Bright

Message: 1
Subject: HMS Achilles
Date: 4/9/01
From: Roger Kelley

Ric wrote: “H.M.S. Achilles, steaming northward several hundred miles east of the Phoenix Group, later reports hearing the following during this same time period....”

I'm not familiar with the type of ship sailing under the name of H.M.S. Achilles at that time. Therefore, I assume she was a British warship. If she was a warship, I also assume she had a max speed of over 15 knots.

If H.M.S. Achilles had been requested to assist in the search, one would think she might have been on scene in less than 24 hours.

The fact that the H.M.S. Achilles was in the general vicinity of Howland and Gardner, provokes me to ask if other ships or search assets were in the area at the time of Earhart's disappearance? If so, did they participate in the search for Earhart? If other search assets were in the area, why weren’t they utilized? If the British provided no assistance in the search, do we know why?

LTM, (who always likes to know who or what is lurking over the horizon)
Roger Kelley

From Ric

Ah – a very touchy subject. HMS Achilles was a light cruiser. With her sister ship, HMS Ajax, she would win fame early in WWII by bottling up the German “pocket battleship” Graf Spee in the harbor at Montevideo where it was ultimately scuttled. Achilles was plenty fast and she carried a Supermarine Walrus seaplane on her afterdeck. Had she been asked, she could have had eyes over the islands of the Phoenix Group the next day. Why wasn’t she asked? Nobody knows, but it’s not hard to guess.

Just a month before, there had been a diplomatic incident at Canton Island between HMS Wellington (another cruiser) and the American seaplane tender USS Avocet. Both nations claimed ownership of the Phoenix Group and the two warships had unexpectedly met at Canton, each supporting a scientific expedition to view the solar eclipse on June 8, 1937. There had been some ludicrous performances on the island involving flags and some pretty tense diplomatic exchanges between Washington and Whitehall. Perhaps, in the wake of all that, the Americans were not about to ask a British ship to conduct a search in that same island group.

In any event, no request was made. Instead, one of the new PBYs was dispatched from Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor and the battleship USS Colorado was commandeered to head south and conduct the search.

Message: 2
Subject: Re: HMS Achilles
Date: 4/9/01
From: Roger Kelley

Your explanation as to why British ships were not involved in the search for Earhart and Noonan is most logical in view of the disagreement over the ownership of the area.

I’m disappointed in our government for not making a humble request for assistance to the Brits. After all, human life was at risk. If a request for assistance was made, I’m disappointed that the Brits did not respond in a positive manner.

If the British had responded, it’s very possible that the Achilles would have had her Walrus over Gardner within the time frame in which the post loss radio signals were received. Which means that the Electra was still intact on the reef and would have been sighted by the Walrus’s crew and rescue effected.

It won’t advance the efforts to prove TIGHAR’s hypothesis, but it would be nice to know who is responsible for such a blunder.

Roger Kelley

From Ric

I’ve never seen any evidence that a request was made for Achilles to aid in the search.

Message: 3
Subject: Facts vs. Assumptions
Date: 4/10/01
From: Alan Caldwell

Bob Sarnia wrote:

> Only one thing we know for sure – her 0742 message – “gas is running low.”
> And, to me, if I understand English correctly, “gas is running low” doesn’t
> mean “we’ve still got four hours remaining.” That is what bugs me!

I don’t think anyone, including myself, denies there are a multitude of possibilities to this mystery. My problem is that without suggesting some rational reason for a deviation from what we believe happened it is a waste of time. ANYTHING could have happened. Secondly suppose there was some deviation. Where does that get you? If there is no evidence to support a speculation then why not go with a theory that IS supported by some evidence? Now, you might counter that the evidence on Niku hasn’t been proved and you would be correct but at least there is some whereas there is NONE anywhere else.

As to the low fuel, I’ve called low fuel on downwind at Saigon with half my boost pump lights on. I have also called low fuel over Topeka with hours of fuel remaining and low fuel over London with 6 hours left as England and western Europe were fogged in making me go to Madrid. Low fuel to a pilot simply means there is enough to get where you need to go but not a whole lot more. It was a pilot who said it so you need to think of it as a pilot would use the terminology not what a non pilot would like to construe it.

As to your other mysteries I have the same interests if you would like to discuss some privately. All but the Ramsey case are fascinating to me.


Message: 4
Subject: How Did it Start?
Date: 4/10/01
From: Rick Seapin

I have been a subscriber for sometime now and heard amazing tales and revelations of Amelia and Fred. However, I have not heard of the tale that led you to Niku. Just what was your evidence that made you decide to spend money and time going to this tiny atoll?

From Ric

For years we felt that the most logical answer was that she simply ran out of gas and went down at sea, but in 1988 two TIGHAR members, Tom Willi and Tom Gannon, both of whom were experienced navigators, explained the navigational logic that suggested that there was no reason for her to go down at sea even if she failed to find Howland. They saw McKean and Gardner islands in the Phoenix Group as the most likely places for the flight to have ended up and they told us that, as far as they knew, no one had ever looked for her there. The navigational logic made sense and the suggestion that no one had ever looked for Earhart in "the most likely place" was intriguing.

That was a long time ago.

Message: 5
Subject: Galten’s Log Entry: A Tale of Uncertainty
Date: 4/10/01
From: Pat Gaston

Well, let’s take a look at the various accounts of What Was Said at 7:42 am:

  1. Galten: “Gas is running low,” but remembers it 25 years later as “half-hour left.”
  2. O’Hare: “Half-hour left.” (The fact that the log was “smoothed” tells me he had time to think about it.)
  3. Hanzlick: “Half-hour left” (in two separate dispatches)
  4. Carey: “Out of gas”
  5. Cmdr. Thompson: Reports both versions, but at the time is so certain Earhart said “half-hour left” that he weighs anchor 1.5 hours before estimated fuel exhaustion and commits the Itasca to a surface search.
  6. Cooper: Wasn’t there, but makes sense that his bridge log would be based upon the “official” (Bellarts/Galten) log, which says “gas is running low.”
So let’s throw out Galten, whose memory is at odds with his typing; Carey, whose “out of gas” could be a paraphrase of either “gas is running low” or “half-hour left;” and Cooper, who wasn’t in the radio room. That makes it 3-0 in favor of “half-hour left.” As for corroboration, Thompson calls in the shore party, leaves Howland and sets off looking for the downed aircraft. Actions, in this as in most cases, speak louder than words.

All of which is not to say that AE actually had a half hour’s worth of gas left. Obviously, if she thought that, she was wrong. But it does suggest to me that Earhart’s 7:42 transmission conveyed the general impression that her fuel situation was critical. If this interpretation is “irrational,” then the Itasca’s subsequent actions are equally irrational. And before we engage in another round of Thompson-bashing, remember that he was aware of the estimates giving AE as much as 24 hours’ flying time. Armed with that knowledge, for Thompson to leave his post early must have required some pretty persuasive evidence that the Electra was no longer aloft. Ric posits that Thompson simply believed O’Hare over Bellarts. Why? Why blow off the “official” Earhart radioman in favor of a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be logging her? Is it just barely possible that both Thompson and O’Hare heard AE say, “Half hour left?”

How could Earhart have been so low on fuel at 7:42? I don’t know. Nobody does. But as more than one Forum contributor has remarked, neither do we know how the plane was actually flown. All we know is how Kelly Johnson thought it should be flown. What specific external factors might have led to increased fuel consumption? Hey, I’m a non-pilot (and therefore somewhere between orangutans and toasters on the evolutionary scale), but the following thoughts do come to mind:

  • How often did AE have to fly around storms?
  • How often did she have to climb above the overcast so Fred could get his star fixes?
  • Were her Cambridge exhaust analyzers working properly?
  • What if, as Roessler & Gomez speculate, one of her propellers became jammed in something less than high pitch? As I understand it, this would require adjusting the other propeller to the same pitch and the resulting increase in fuel consumption could be enormous.
  • Would a fuel leak necessarily have been discoverable immediately? What if AE starts pumping from tank “B” into tank “C” and – uh-oh – nothing to pump?
Of course you would have expected AE to report such problems as a propeller jammed in low pitch or a serious fuel leak. But AE seldom reported anything of value, especially problems. As I believe Ric once observed, it’s as if she viewed the radio as a public-relations tool rather than a communications device.

Heck, maybe she did have four hours of fuel left. Maybe they did make it to Niku. TIGHAR deserves respect for trying to prove its theory with pick and shovel rather than endless computer modeling. But I resent the statement that any alternative course of action was irrational, or that those of us who choose to hedge our bets are irrational in so doing. (However, being a non-pilot I am pretty proud of the fact that I can spell “irrational”!)

Pat Gaston

From Ric

And present a real tour de force of irrational reasoning. You throw out Galten’s real-time transcription because he remembers it differently decades later. You accept as accurate the one part of Hanzlick’s and Carey’s later accounts you like and ignore their other inaccuracies. You reason that because Thompson obviously based his actions on the belief that Earhart was about to run out of gas, he must have had a good reason to believe that.

However, the record of what Thompson did describes a man who was indecisive and panicky. Sometime between 7:40 amd 08:20 O’Hare says he heard her say she only had a half hour of gas left. Maybe the reporters think they heard that too, or maybe they just pick up on O’Hare’s alarm. In any event, when the half hour is up Thompson decides that the plane is down and calls the shore party back to the ship so that he can go look for her. But then she calls again after she’s supposed to be out of fuel and she doesn’t say anything about running out of gas. Thompson regains his composure and holds tight. At 10:15 he radio his superiors in San Francisco that he’s going to stay at Howland until noon – the airplane’s expected endurance – but twenty-five minutes later he orders the ship to get underway, leaving his station an hour and a half early and not telling his superiors about it.

We could fight about this forever but it would accomplish nothing. My point is, when you’re doing this kind of investigation there are rules you follow. One of those rules is that when contemporaneous written documentation and anecdote disagree, anecdote loses. Another rule is that a real-time record beats a later recollection. If you’re going to throw out the rules you can make the answer come out any way you like.


Message: 6
Subject: Re: The Facts: Gas is Running Low
Date: 4/10/01
From: Chris Kennedy

Actually, Ric, your observation about eyewitness testimony doesn’t surprise me at all. Frequently, eyewitnesses are wrong to begin with, and/or re-think what they’ve seen or heard later for any number of reasons – some principled, some not. For example, many eyewitnesses change their story when they perceive that others disagree with what they saw or heard. It makes no sense, but lots of people don’t want to be seen as odd-man-out and will change a story (“go along to get along”) for that reason only. I suspect some of this may have occurred with the radiomen and logs aboard the Itasca concerning Earhart’s fuel comment (from what’s been posted about what went on in that radio room and later interviews, the whole thing looks like a muddle to me involving people who didn’t have much opinion of each other, and I discount everyone’s statements about what Earhart said on this one). That’s a danger in “ranking” or prejudging the value of different types and classes of information. For example, I note that Emily’s story is anecdote (the islanders told her what she saw was an airplane), which is a type of information we often discount or reject, as in the account of Noonan using offset navigation into Wake, yet in this case we consider it to be reliable anecdote after speaking with her and we value it as important information for the Niku hypothesis.

–Chris Kennedy

From Ric

No. We take Emily’s story for what it is – anecdote. We consider it to be no more and no less reliable than any other anecdote unless and until we can establish its veracity with hard evidence.

Message: 7
Subject: Re: How Did it Start?
Date: 4/11/01
From: Dennis McGee

Ric said: “The navigational logic made sense and the suggestion that no one had ever looked for Earhart in the most likely place was intriguing.”

The U. S. Navy looked there in July 1937 also using the “we on the line 157/337” message gathered from the Itasca, right? And weren’t there several others (Paul Mantz? PVH Weems. etc.) that also used the 157/337 message as a basis to encourage the government to continue looking?

I’m not demeaning the contributions of Tom Willi and Tom Gannon, but it is my understanding that the 157/337 idea (i.e. the bearing to Niku) was not original to them and had in fact been bouncing around since 1937. Their main contribution, as I understand, it is to have resurrected the concept and – perhaps most important – convince TIGHAR to reinvestigate the whole matter.

LTM, a credit to her gender
Dennis O. McGee #0149EC

From Ric

I didn’t mean to imply that Willi and Gannon were the first to understand the significance of “157/337” or even the first to see the islands of the Phoenix Group as “the most likely place.” They were merely the ones who brought that information to TIGHAR’s attention. As we started looking into the whole thing we soon realized that this was not at all a new Earhart theory, but one of the oldest.

Message: 8
Subject: Low Fuel
Date: 4/11/01
From: Dick Pingrey

Alan Caldwell is right on in his explanation of the meaning of the term “low fuel” to an experienced pilot. Low fuel is, in no way, an indication of actual fuel quantity left in the tanks. It is an expression used in relation to the over all mission. In general, once you start into the alternate or reserve fuel you are in a low fuel situation be it for ten minutes or four hours. Those of you that do not fly on a regular basis will find this a difficult concept to understand but it must be looked at from the standpoint of the pilot and not taken out of that context. If you ask nearly any group of professional pilots I feel confident they will agree with the way Alan has explained the term.

I have seen a low fuel situation prior to takeoff from Tokyo going to San Francisco due to ground delays after engine start and knowing that projected weather at San Francisco was to be at or below landing minimums. It was knowing that we could go to several alternate airports above minimums that made it possible to continue rather than go back for additional fuel. None the less, we considered ourselves to be in a low fuel situation and that is exactly the way we expressed it.

Dick Pingrey 908C

Message: 9
Subject: Pilot Elitism
Date: 4/11/01
From: Ric Gillespie

From time to time discussions on this forum may give the impression that the opinions of airplane pilots are, in all cases, to be valued over the pathetic mumblings of lesser mortals. Allow me to here dispel any such notion.

As a member of that august fraternity for the past 36 years (aaargh!) I can tell you that pilots are NOT inherently, brighter, braver, bolder, more physically adept, more insightful, more logical, or more responsible than everyone else. The truth is, you can teach a monkey to fly. I have met pilots who are retired after long and successful careers as captains on major airlines who, frankly, have the intellect of a bag of hammers.

What a career as an aviator DOES require is the acquisition and development of a specific skill-set that is, by nature, quite different from that called for in other lines of work. The same can be said of a plumber. The opinions of experienced pilots are therefore valuable WITHIN THE CONTEXT of discussions pertaining specifically to those skills and the experiences associated with acquiring them. Of course, some pilots are also unusually bright or brave or logical or insightful, etc. but being airplane drivers did not make them that way.

Just wanted to clear that up.


Message: 10
Subject: The Forum and Membership
Date: 4/11/01
From: Andrew McKenna

Ric wrote:

>Forum subscribership is now almost 700.

Yeah, but how many of the 700 Forumites are MEMBERS? What is the current membership, and where do we stand on our campaign to have 2001 members in year 2001?

C’mon folks, computers don’t run in a vacuum (tube) anymore, and Ric is tired of eating bread and water. If you don’t get your $45 membership dues worth of entertainment from the Forum, you’re lurking in the wrong place. Even if you don’t agree with the TIGHAR hypothesis, it still takes MONEY to keep the Forum going.

Seriously, if you have been lurking for more than a month, you’re hooked. It is time to pony up and support the project.

LTM (who’s paid her membership dues)
Andrew McKenna 1045CE

From Ric

Roughly 40% of forum subscribers are members. Some of the biggest time-eaters are not.

Membership has grown some since we launched the “2001 TIGHARs” campaign (we’re now up to about 800 members) but, at the present rate, we won’t have anywhere near 2001 members by the end of the year. On the other hand, if I really lived on bread and water I wouldn’t be this tubby.

An honest assessment of TIGHAR’s financial situation is that, if present levels of support continue and all the pledges actually become donations, we’ll be able to conduct the expedition as planned, but just barely. We still need all the help we can get.


Message: 11
Subject: Paying Dues
Date: 4/12/001
From: Bob Sarnia

The e-mail just posted by Andrew McKenna – evidently a canny Scot – really got to me, and I felt as guilty as hell. You’d better hire him as your financial advisor.

I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Whether we believe in TIGHAR’s hypothesis or not, I believe we all get some kind of enjoyment out of the forum, or else we wouldn’t have stuck around for so long.

Also, thanks for tolerating my oft-times contentious e-mails, despite the fact that I was just a non-member. Even though we may never see eye-to-eye, I owe it to the forum for all the info. I gleaned, which no doubt was acquired through much effort on your part.

Paying $45 p.a. is not going to force me to stand on corners selling pencils or apples, so my check will be in the mail "tout de suite."

Regards, Bob Sarnia

From Ric

You’re a gentleman and a scholar .... and now a TIGHAR.

In spite of appearances, this is not a cult. There are no belief requirements other than a commitment to logical, fact-based inquiry and the merits of open and honest peer review.

Message: 12
Subject: Re: How Did it Start?
Date: 4/13/01
From: Ron Bright

As I recall Willi and Gannon got their initial information from our friend Hardon M. Wade Jr aka Don Wade who does not have kind words for them. Wade advanced the theory way before Willi and Gannon that Amelia went down in the Phoenix and landed at an atoll, but not Niku. He won’t tell which one. Maybe we should give him credit too. He relied a lot on Dick Strippel’s book.

Ron Bright

From Ric

The question was how TIGHAR got started in the Earhart game. When Willi and Gannon first came to us they said nothing about Wade. Much later, I learned that Willi had advised Wade on navigational issues but they had a falling out when Willi started to get more press than Wade. My understanding is that Wade was focused on Hull Island and based most of his conclusions on the post-loss radio messages, which Willi and Gannon never mentioned at all.

Trying to assign “credit” for the hypothesis that the airplane came down in the Phoenix Group is petty and pointless. The logic was laid out in U.S. Navy radio messages the day after the plane vanished. Wilhelm Friedell, captain of the USS Colorado, first articulated the theory in his July 13, 1937 search report. He says it was the product of a discussion among line officers and aviators from Fleet Airbase, Pearl Harbor in Honolulu the evening after Earhart went missing. The theory was later espoused by Paul Mantz and George Putnam, among others. It represents no flash of genius by anyone. It’s a no-brainer.

I can only claim to have grasped the obvious.


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