Forum artHighlights From the Forum

May 20 through 26, 2001

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Post-Loss Messages Ron Bright
Re: Post-Loss Messages Mike Everette
Worst Nightmare David Brake
Metal Detectors Doug Brutlag, Ric Gillespie
Re: Metal Detectors John Rayfield
Re: Metal Detectors John Rayfield, Danny Brown
Aerial Survey Gary

Message: 1
Subject: Post-Loss Messages
Date: 5/21/01
From: Ron Bright

Here is something either new, old, confusing, misreported, or two corroborating signals from Earhart.

In Pellegreno's book,World Flight, p. 201, she writes that sometime after AE's last msg of the LOP, "WKT, a coastal station in California, heard a fairly strong voice...words were indistinguishable owing to either bad modulation or the speaker's shouting into the microphone. The voicing was similar to that emitted from the plane [the Electra] with the exception that now there was no hum from the plane in the background."

Compare with page 207, that further post loss transmissions were heard by radio Nauru (which we have established as an evening broadcast around 6:00pm Howland time, not morning) that was "interrupted in the middle." Nauru radio reported, "Speech not interpreted owing bad modulation or operator shouting into the microphone but voice similiar to that emitted in flight last night with exception of no hum of plane in background." (From Safford's report of "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight: A tragedy of errors.")

These descriptions are nearly identical.

So either the folks from the California station WKT heard the same transmission from Earhart as did Radio Nauru, or came from the same school of radio reporting. Maybe the TIGHAR radio people can identify WKT, where located.

Did in fact two stations receive the alleged Earhart transmission as describe? That would be powerful corroborating evidence.

Ron Bright

From Ric

My 1937 "Berne's List" does not show a WKT among "Coastal Stations."

I can't imagine that WKT heard what Nauru heard and used the exact same phrases to describe it. WKT must have intercepted Nauru's report and repeated it and somebody misunderstood that it was WKT who had heard the putative Earhart transmission. For one thing, how could WKT know what transmissions from the plane in flight sounded like? Nobody outside the Central Pacific was monitoring Earhart's inflight transmissions.

Message: 2
Subject: Re: Post-Loss Messages
Date: 5/21/01
From: Mike Everette

Ric writes:

>My 1937 "Berne's List" does not show a WKT among "Coastal Stations."

U.S. Coastal station call letter assignments followed the pattern for Standard Broadcasting stations, in that stations east of the Mississippi used "W" calls (examples: WCC, WNU, WLO) while those west of the Mississippi used "K" calls (examples: KLC, KFS, KPH).

Navy and Coast Guard land stations, wherever the location, all used 3-letter calls beginning with "N" (examples: NAA, NSS, NMN, NMO).

"WKT" must be a misnomer of some kind if it was supposed to be a West Coast or Gulf Coast station west of New Orleans....

LTM (who keeps a list on everything)
and 73
Mike E.

Message: 3
Subject: Worst Nightmare
Date: 5/22/01
From: David Brake

I read with some interest your recent post regarding the person who attempted to retain your services in connection with a commercial venture. I have always been confident that your integrity will not be compromised by those with self centered interests.

I have been concerned about people using for individual gain the immense wealth of knowledge that has been generated through the hard work and dedication of those associated with TIGHAR. One of the strongest attributes of TIGHAR has been its openness to all of its discoveries, revelations, plans, theories, etc. This policy gives the organization credibility that can be obtained no other way. The risk of such openness, however, is the possibility of misappropriation.

Such concerns are reduced by what I understand to be two significant factors:

  1. Niku is at the end of the Earth and close to nowhere. It takes considerable effort and resources just to get there.
  2. Niku, while a small island, is still a large area when you are searching for something as small as a human bone or an aircraft part.
Nonetheless, I recall references to evidence discovered on past expeditions of visits from private yachts. During past trips, have you ever encountered anyone in the area who might be inclined to pay a visit ? Are there people with a lot of time and money who visit obscure islands just for the heck of it ? Do such people subscribe to the Earhart Forum ? If so, how do I become such an individual?

It would seem that the gains from the openness policy outweigh the risks, but it can be worrisome at times.

Good luck on your upcoming trip.

Best Regards,
David R. Brake

From Ric

In all the times we've been out there we've never seen another ship within hundreds of miles of the place nor have we seen evidence on the island that "yachties" had been there. Generally speaking, visits tend to be "official" and we can usually find out who was there and when.

Message: 4
Subject: Metal Detectors
Date: 5/24/01
From: Doug Brutlag

Woody's got a good point. With all the survivable metal in a pair of R-1340's I'd think a metal detector would go nutz in the reef if they are there. Is that on the agenda for Niku IV?

Doug Brutlag #2335

From Ric

Yes, we'll have metal detectors -- but bear in mind that what a metal detector does is compare the electrical conductivity of an object with that of its environment. Sensitivity with respect to distance to the target drops off to the sixth power. In other words, the signal you get at one foot away is six times stronger than the signal you get at two feet away. From a practical standpoint, metal detectors are good for finding metallic objects that are buried or hidden by vegetation ( coins on the beach or a wedding ring dropped on the lawn). For something like an airplane engine on a reef, you should be able to see it long before the metal detector has a clue that it's there.

Magnetometers compare their immediate environment to the Earth's magnetic field. They only work on ferrous (magnetic) metals. That signal drops off to the third power with distance, so you can cover a bigger area from farther away but in the case of an airplane engine you're still going to see it first with the Mark One eyeball.


Message: 5
Subject: Re: Metal Detectors
Date: 5/25/01
From: John Rayfield

Ric writes:

>From a practical standpoint, metal detectors are good for finding metallic
>objects that are buried or hidden by vegetation ( coins on the beach or a
>wedding ring dropped on the lawn). For something like an airplane engine on
>a reef, you should be able to see it long before the metal detector has a
>clue that it's there.

Actually, some of the newer detectors can pick up coins and rings as far down as 6 to 8 inches (and maybe a bit more), depending upon the amount of mineralization in the ground. Larger objects can be detected even deeper. I was just visiting with a metal detector 'enthusiast' last night (he lives a few miles from me), and he recently found a penny, buried at 8 inches, and that was in very mineralized ground. He's using a brand new model from White's Electronics. Now, I'm speaking about 'land' detectors, NOT detectors designed for underwater use. I have no experience at all with such 'water' detectors. I would think that one of these newer 'land' detectors might come in VERY handy on your trip to the island.

By the way, some metal detectors do NOT work well in some sand (what's referred to as 'black sand') because of the high mineralization of that particular type of material. Some of the newer detectors use multiple frequencies, and they seem to do much better in 'higher-mineralized' ground.

As to how far an engine could be detected -- I've never tried looking for anything that big, so I wouldn't have a clue on that... :-)

John Rayfield, Jr.
Springfield, Missouri

From Ric

In the past we've had very good luck with White's PI 3000 series underwater metal detectors, specially modified by the company for our use both on the island and in the water.

Message: 6
Subject: Re: Metal Detectors
Date: 5/25/01
From: John Rayfield, Danny Brown

Ric wrote:

>There is one little advantage for us in using the White's Electronics
>equipment. We get as many of anything we want for free. They've been a
>wonderful sponsor of our work for many years.

THAT sounds pretty good. :-)

Their new Spectrum DFX is a multi-frequency unit, for land use. It does take some practice (actually, a LOT of practice) to learn how to use it, because of it having so many adjustments in its operation that can be changed. I'd suggest that anyone who plans on using this particular machine, use it for at least a month (getting out with it several times a week, at the very minimum, preferably more), to get the 'most' from it.

Maybe you should take both an underwater machine, and the DFX along? That would give you the best chance of finding anything worth finding.

John Rayfield, Jr.

From Ric

One of the hard lessons I've learned in the course of five expeditions to Niku is to never bring technology that we don't already know how to use expertly. That means sticking to tried and true low technology (like cold steel) or high technology that is so dead simple to use that even we can use expertly (like the White's PI 3000). The image of somebody standing on the beach at Niku studying a manual with a piece of miracle technology at his feet is a picture of frustration and wasted time.

From Danny Brown

Just a comment on metal detectors. I know you and I have previously discussed different brands and their capabilities and agreed White's will do the job for you. But I want to add that I have actually been in on the recovery of a buried airplane engine (from a crashed WWII P-47). During the war, two P-47s collided on a training mission near Baton Rouge, LA and one went down next to the Mississippi River. The engine sat for more than 40 years near the river in a wooded and sometimes flooded low area. In the mid-1980s, a local historian wanted to recover the engine, clean it up, and put it on display at the local airport as a memorial to the airman stationed there when it was a fighter base during WWII. The historian and I are both expert metal detectorists. But we first searched without metal detectors because the landowner said he knew about where the engine was located and would show us. He described it as lying on the surface with the prop sticking out above ground one or two feet. This landowner was the one who had found the pilot of the plane after he had parachuted. Unfortunately, the pilot's arm had been severely injured and he had bleed to death by the time the landowner got to him.

Our initial search failed to find the engine. Realizing that perhaps it was now silted over by the river, we used our metal detectors on the second trip (in this case Fisher's with very large coils). We never did not get what I would call a definite recognizable signal response, but there was one area that we both agreed gave us something akin to a signal. Forsaking (perhaps foolishly) any kind of secondary test to assure us that this was the engine, a backhoe was brought in through the courtesy of a local town's mayor. Digging produced the engine and most of its associated components, but the depth to the top of the engine WAS A MEASURED 13 FEET! Now wet river silt is not the same as a coral reef in salt water, but it does demonstrate that modern detectors in the right hands CAN find large objects at depth. Because metal detectors are small and easy to handle, I think a metal detector survey of particular reef areas (in grids) would be useful in pinpointing areas where a large object might be buried. A magnetometer could be used later to double check for ferrous readings. Then it would be a matter (perhaps) of a test boring to decide if the object needs to be excavated. Of course, all of this would not be that easy or accomplished in a single trip. But at least it gives you some alternative options.

Danny Brown #2426

From Ric

If an airplane engine sat in a paved parking lot for 64 years, how deep would it be buried now? That's pretty much the situation on the reef. The shipwreck debris that arrived there in 1929 is still right on the surface.

Message: 7
Subject: Aerial Survey?
Date: 5/26/01
From: Gary

I don't know how much useful info might be gleaned from its use but what about the idea of perhaps getting a radio-controlled hobby type airplane and strapping a light-weight autofocus camcorder to the bottom? A couple tests flights would probably show the best way to angle the camcorder and, for that matter, it seems a light-weight gimbaled bracket might allow for adjustments. I'm not a radio-controlled flight hobbyist but with so many pilots and such on the forum it seems likely someone will have an idea if one of these jobs could carry a small camcorder's weight. I imagine you'd just set the camcorder to record, send up the plane and review the tape when it gets back down. Whether it would show much would require a test or two but it's certainly cheaper than an ultra-light and since no one goes up in it, no one can come down from it.

Meanwhile, I'm STILL wondering if there is any remote and reasonable consensus as to what the fuel usage/flight time from Lae to Nikumororo by way of Howland would be. It seems reasonably certain Earhart and Co got within shouting distance of Howland (no pun intended). My recollection is that flying time from Howland to Niku was estimated 3 to 4 hours. If you figure the time and fuel consumption outbound from Lae across the water to Howland, turn right at Howland and south to Niku, whatever is left AFTER that is the maximum time that could have been spent searching for Howland.

This number seems important to me because if it's 5 minutes, my guess is they ended up in the water. I cannot prove it objectively but my gut feeling is that no one would spend 19-20 hours en route to a destination, then give up looking for it after a few minutes. I also understand that TIGHAR's position is not that they flew to Niku with intent, but rather stumbled on it while searching either for Howland, or for ANY possible landing site as the fuel ran out. If they arrived south of Howland on the LOP then whatever time they spent looking north has to be doubled going back south. Searching 20 minutes north equals 40 minutes time and fuel before you go an inch south because you have to make up the distance you already traveled. Seems to me that it would be VERY easy to use up fuel quickly and fail to cover much ground (or water, as the case may be) in this fashion.

Call me an Any-idiot artifact hound if you like. The fact is, while I am intrigued by what TIGHAR has found, I remain very skeptical because of what hasn't been found. Conspiracy-theorists aside, I doubt anyone swept in after the fact and sanitized the island of all major traces of Earhart/Noonan's presence. It seems significant evidence remains from all other documented episodes of occupation in Niku's history. The event of the castaway(s) is puzzling, to be sure and while there is certainly the possibility it could have been Earhart and/or Noonan, objective proof of the truth of who that person was or those persons were remains unknown. To ask "who else might it have been" if it was not Earhart or Noonan doesn't get any closer to proving it was either of them. If it wasn't either of them, then it was a person or persons unknown, thereby being consistent with it having been an undocumented and unknown event. Just like the business with the "Love to Mother" message, which becomes a simple, innocuous and completely reasonable series of happenings once the facts were known, without objective proof otherwise that it was Earhart or Noonan, the misfortune of the Unknown Castaway could YET have a simple explanation. But if the plane made landfall at Niku then where are the Electra's props? The engines, the struts, the tires? What happened to the radio equipment? Why not one single PIECE of the plane with a serial number or otherwise committing marking remains? Did ALL of them wash into the ocean? Were they all swallowed by the lagoon? What are the odds that EVERY scrap of the plane left behind would be an ambiguous artifact that COULD have come from the Electra but also, because it cannot be demonstrated beyond a certainty that it DID come from the Electra, COULD have come from another source? Sure, if the plane had been there the colonists would likely have cannibalized it for the metal and parts. But did they then take virtually every FRAGMENT away when the island was depopulated? I don't know how interested the Powers That Be or the colonists would have been with returning the island to its pristine state. Concern for the natural environment has gotten a bit more momentum in recent times, I think. So what DID happen to Fred's belt buckle, his lighter? Any coins? Did he even have any of those items? Perhaps a post-mortem inventory of items known to have been on the plane that might have survived open exposure for these many years might be a handy item to have on the next survey.

I hope the above doesn't come off as adversarial. That's not my intention and I understand TIGHAR is going back to Nike PRECISELY to seek confirming evidence that it believes is there but has not yet been discovered. The fact that it has not yet been found is what discourages me most about the possibility of TIGHAR's theory being correct. I strongly suspect if Earhart and Co ended up at Niku, then there is some evidence remaining of the fact. The Norwich City foundered there and there is no mystery chasing to that. It's right there on the beach for all eyes to see. Einstein claimed that God doesn't play dice with the universe. Neither does nature play mindgames with humanity. My opinion is that if the Electra had ended up at Niku then MORE evidence should already be apparent. There is another possibility, of course--that the Electra set down on some as yet unknown piece of real-estate and waits to this day for someone to stumble by and recognize her. Of all the things I've seen thus far on the forum, the work that's been done on the possibility of post-loss messages, including the mystery of Betty's notebook seems to hold the most promise to me that Earhart and Noonan set down SOMEWHERE other than in the water. I DO believe what TIGHAR has done thus far is good work and the traces so far discovered are compelling. BUT they are FAR from conclusive to me. I do remain interested and OPEN MINDED also. I have no agenda because I am a spectator to the proceedings. I grant the TIGHAR scenario is far FAR more plausible than ANY conspiracy scenario, but until objective proof--that is in my case at least, an Any-Idiot-Artifact--is discovered, I'll retain my open mind.

Thanks--Gary (a usually silent lurker)

From Ric

Thanks Gary. That's an honest assessment. Some of the things that bother you have been bothering us for a long time. A few years ago we held an expedition team meeting at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT where they have a Lockheed 10 under rebuild. The thing was partially disassembled and gutted. You wouldn't BELIEVE the boxes and boxes of junk that came out of that airplane. Tubes and panels and wires and Lord-knows-what-all. If Earhart's airplane landed at Gardner, where did all that stuff go?

Then we look at the Norwich City. Earhart's Electra represented about 7,000 pounds of aluminum and some steel. Norwch City was over 3,000 TONS (that's 6 million pounds) of iron and steel. How many boxes of Lord-knows-what-all do you suppose were aboard her? Today, perhaps 10 percent(?) of the ship's steel structure survives. Everything else is gone. Our current hypothesis is that the airplane was in that very same environment. If any of the handful of suspicious parts we've found in the village are actually from the airplane it's a bloody miracle that they survived at all. Very few parts on a Lockheed 10 had part numbers stamped into them and fewer yet had serial numbers.

There are a few components that SHOULD have survived (based upon what we see of other aircraft in similar environments). The engines and possibly the props should still be around and the gear legs may also have survived. The engines and props had serial numbers. That they would still be discernible is extremely doubtful. The gear legs had part numbers cast into them but the shape and form of a Lockheed 10 gear leg is distinctive enough to be obvious anyway.

I don't think its reasonable to say that IF the Electra was ever at Gardner we SHOULD have found conclusive proof by now. We have, in my opinion, more than enough clues to merit further searching but I don't think we're going to find our Any Idiot Artifact until we look in exactly the right place.


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