Forum artHighlights From the Forum

May 27 through June 2, 2001

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What's In a Name? Dick Evans
What's In a Name 2? Dick Evans
Re: What's in a Name? Chris Kennedy, Tom King
Re: What's in a Name? Chris Kennedy, Ric Gillespie
Objects on the Reef? Chris Kennedy, Ric Gillespie
Gary the Lurker's Posting Marty Moleski
Dot-Dash Randy Jacobson
Ghostbusters at the Edge of the Reef Chris Kennedy
Recovery and Restoration Dick Evans
Finger Food John Pratt
Re: Finger Food Lawrence

Message: 1
Subject: What's In a Name?
Date: 5/28/01
From: Dick Evans

Some interesting questions --- after all these years.

First, the ladders were in excellent condition so we had no problem crawling up the two ladders to the top deck. From the peak we could look back 30 or 40 yards across two hatch covers. The deck was slanted quite steeply so we didn't walk around on it. Behind the covers was a white bulkhead that extended to both sides of the ship with a hatch at each side. There appeared to be two or three levels with the bridge on top. We could see quite a lot of the ship behind the bulkhead but it was badly twisted and would have been very difficult to walk on so we didn't try. The stack and the fantail were gone and we could see from walking the shelf that some of the wreck was hanging out over the edge of the shelf. At low tide we could walk to the edge of the shelf to where the fingers were forming. Ric says he has a picture that shows the bridge and other structures were already gone before we got there. I wouldn't argue the point. All I know is what we saw.

The ship was grounded on the extreme northern tip of the island coral shelf. If there had been any wreckage there it would already have sunk 2 miles to the bottom so we saw nothing there.

You mentioned that someone standing on the forepeak would have been easily seen from a search plane. With the location of the ship at the edge of the shelf it is highly unlikely that anyone would have had time to walk out there and climb to the forepeak while a plane was flying over --- assuming anyone was there.

Dick Evans

From Ric

Thanks Dick. Interesting memories. I have no reason to doubt your recollection of climbing ladders and seeing what you saw but, as you can see on the map at Nikumap and in any number of other maps and photographs, the ship is not at the extreme northern tip of the island. It is, in fact, at the extreme western end.

Message: 2
Subject: What's In a Name, 2
Date: 5/28/01
From: Dick Evans

Regarding Emily's comments about seeing airplane wreckage "north of the ship."

Just north of the ship was the Pacific Ocean. The ship was grounded on the northern most tip of the island with some of the remaining wreckage sticking out over the edge of the coral shelf. Anything north of that would have sunk to the bottom. If she meant airplane wreckage at the north end surrounding the ship, we saw nothing. Of course, we didn't look very hard. We keep coming back to the same question: How come 27 guys on the island for a year and a half never found anything of importance in the Earhart mystery? Again, we didn't look. We spent "4 on- 8 off" on the Loran scopes and spent the rest of our time trying to figure out when we would get the hell off that island.

Dick Evans

From Ric

Again, your recollection of where the ship was is in error. Don't feel bad. We all remember stuff wrong or it may be that you had a skewed impression of the island's orientation at that time. It's not easy to keep track of when you're there on the ground.

You may have indeed found something of importance in the Earhart mystery --- you just didn't know it. Your story of seeing the "water collection device" on the windward shore eventually led us to the Seven Site which we now suspect was where Gallagher found the bones. The fact that none of the Coast Guard veterans we've talked to ever heard the story of the bones being found (which we know happened) or airpane wreckage being seeing (which we know was at least a story among the colonists) probably says more about the relationship between the service men and the settlers than about events on the island. Coast Guardsman Floyd Kilts did hear the bones story but he was there later than you and the others and operating in a very different context (dismantling the station). PBY pilot John Mims heard about the airplane and some of the pieces from it but, like Kilts, he was a visitor to the island rather than a resident. It would seem, therefore, that the locals were more willing to discuss the matter with transients than with people who lived on the island with them. Seems like it should be the other way around --- but there it is.


Message: 3
Subject: Re: What's In a Name?
Date: 5/28/01
From: Chris Kennedy, Tom King

Thank you, Mr. Evans, for your reply (and, as I believe you are a veteran, thank you on Memorial Day).

--Chris Kennedy

From Tom King

Dick's recollection that the Norwich City was on the extreme north end of the island when it's really on the NW shore gives some perspective on the range of areas that Gallagher could have meant when he talked about the bones being at the SE end. Similarly, Maude refers to Kanawa Point, which is sort of midway along the SW shore, as being in the SW corner. As we've experienced ourselves, it's oddly easy to get disoriented on Niku, especially if you don't have a good map to navigate by. So the fact that the Seven Site can be described as being at the SE end but is on the north shore of the SE end doesn't need to bother us much -- though there's still a lot of territory that's embraced by the term "SE end."

Tom King

From Ric

The impression that the Norwich City is at the northern point is easy to understand. You can't see it from the village but if you cross over to Nutiran and walk up the beach it becomes visible off to your right as you begin to round a the western point of the island.

By the way, Charlie Sopko, the CO of the Loran station, swore there was no shipwreck at Gardner --- but he also talked about the "black volcanic sand."

Remember the old 281 Message?

"281 north ....Howland call KHAQQ....beyond north.....won't hold with us much longer....above water....shut off."

In our interminable games of fill-in-the-blanks with this message we've often wondered if "beyond north" was "on reef beyond north edge of island."


Message: 4
Subject: Re: What's in a Name?
Date: 5/29/01
From: Chris Kennedy

Mr. Evans' recollection adds to an already curious situation---even though he was not searching for anything, it does appear that he went out to the edge of the coral ledge itself near the ship and saw nothing which looked like aircraft wreckage. Perhaps this was located farther away from the port side of the Norwich City and was not visible from where he stood. From Emily's interview, we place it about 100 meters north of the ship along the edge. Yet, he was able to get onto the main deck of the ship, and from the forepeak look around towards the stern of the vessel and the edge of the reef. My guess is that he was probably about 25 to 35' above the reef, which should provide a fairly high vantage point to see objects low in the water, a good distance either side of the vessel, which would not be visible from reef level. Yet, nothing stuck out as aircraft wreckage. Of course, whatever "it" was that the colonists identified as aircraft wreckage may have gone by the time Mr. Evans was there.

But, that leaves the problem of the New Zealanders. They were there shortly after Earhart would've been and well before the colonists and Mr. Evans, and we know from pictures that they frequented the area around the ship moving supplies, etc. Indeed, they set up camp onshore roughly in a straight line with the bow of the Norwich City. Emily reports that what she saw was seen by her from the beach. Also, their vessel stood-off the stern of the Norwich City, providing a platform from which to see objects lying on the edge of the reef either side of the Norwich City. They were also there for several months, I recall. At least one picture we have has them taking a photo from inside the ship through the break in the hull on the portside . This means that they likely discovered the ladders Mr. Evans reports as being in excellent condition several years later, and, I suspect, they probably climbed up to the forepeak as well and looked around much the same as he did. If there were aircraft wreckage, there would probably have been more of it at that time, before the colonists and before Mr. Evans' visit. Yet, we haven't been able to locate anything which indicates that anything was found during the visit (or that confirms that nothing was found). Also, whatever Emily saw from the shore was not seen by Maude/Bevington, who were there even before the New Zealanders as I recall, and are still alive and able to confirm this. Any ideas?

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

We've actually been doing some fairly detailed research into this subject via the new satellite imagery. We now have the ability to see the submerged reef-edge much better than ever before.

What we're finding is that there is a "surf zone" at and near the actual lip of the reef that has a couple of interesting characteristics:

  1. At anything but dead low tide on an unusually calm day, the last several yards of the reef flat are behind (i.e. on the ocean side of) the surf line and therefore submerged, as they are in the satellite imagery.
  2. The reef edge is cut by "spur and groove" features. These are crevasses of various lengths and widths that run 90 degrees to the shoreline. They're typical of this type of coral reef and they're a very high-energy environment because they act line drainage channels.
A swell will come rolling in, the reef edge will "knock its feet out from under it", and the wave will break well inside the reef edge. As the water retreats it naturally seeks the lowest route and funnels into the "grooves". Anything on the reef being dragged seaward by the retreating water is likely to end up in a "groove" and if the crevasse if narrower than the object it could easily become jammed there.

Emily's description of seeing wreckage "out where the waves break" makes a lot of sense. No part of a Lockheed 10 (or a 747 for that matter) is massive enough to sit on that reef through storms without being held in place by something. However, the one place where wreckage could logically be (jammed in a groove at the reef edge) is also the place that is almost constantly obscured by surf or submerged under water. It's also an extemely dangerous place to go wandering around on foot. We've certainly never gone there.

In short, it must have been an unusually calm day at low tide when Emily's father pointed out the wreckage to her and it's not surprising that only Gilbertese fishermen would venture out close enough to identify it for what it was.

We're presently considering the possibility that it's still right there. For several weeks now there has been an intensive study going on of not only the satellite imagery but also the many historical photos we have that show that area. The jury is still out and we're not likely to get anything better than a few possibilities to be checked out on the ground, but is sure is interesting.


Message: 5
Subject: Objects on Reef?
Date: 5/29/01
From: Chris Kennedy

Interesting. You might want to post some of these pictures at the same time you post the satellite photo.

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

We'll post photos showing anything of interest once we have reason to believe it really may be something of interest. I can tell you now that there are features visible in various photos that are easy to interpret as possible objects on the reef but, having been down this road waaaay too many times, I'm not going to spread around my own amateur speculation, get everybody excited and spouting their own amateur speculation, and then have to backtrack once the experts have rained on the parade.

The "dash-dot" feature in the 1937 Bevington photo is a classic example. After much speculation (on my part) that the object is photographic corroboration of Emily's story, it turns out that it's position on the reef is quite different than I supposed it was and it is, in fact, in the same location as a chunk of Norwich City debris visible in the photos taken by the New Zealand survey party. Forensic imaging, like forensic anthropology, is not a hobby, it's a science. Fortunately, we have highly qualified scientists in both fields who are helping us with our investigation.


Message: 6
Subject: Re: Gary the Lurker's Posting
Date: 5/29/01
From: Marty Moleski

Simon Ellwood wrote:

> ... Conversely, finding the smoking gun on Niku - an engine or piece of
> wreckage with a s/n would almost certainly prove beyond reasonable doubt
> that Niku was the place of landing. ...

It would prove it to the people who found the Any Idiot Artifact (AIA).

Everybody else who was not on site at the time of the finding has to take the word of the search party.

I do not doubt Ric's integrity at all.

I predict that even if the AIA is found, some people will theorize that Ric or someone else planted either the real thing or a convincing counterfeit on Niku.

Archeological proof always depends upon the integrity and trustworthiness of the archeologists. You can read about Piltdown Man, the Cardiff Giant, and other fossil hoaxes to see why this is so.

So, in this case, proof depends upon testimony, and accepting testimony is an act of faith in the witnesses of the discovery.

I don't care how many video cameras are on at the time. Video cameras are no better witnesses than the videographers are. To accept the video as proof is to accept the word of the videographer that the tape has not been tampered with.

It is only a small act of faith in accepting the testimony of the archeologists or the camera operators, but it is an act of faith.

Let me make it perfectly clear: I have put my money where my mouth is--as much as I can afford, given my other vital hobby expenses (I crashed a relatively new plane on Sunday morning)--and I trust TIGHAR's integrity.

It's great to hear that the aerial photo is proving so useful, too!

Marty #2359

From Ric

That's a really interesting take on the whole issue of "proof." I wonder if TIGHAR qualifies for Faith Based Intiative funding.

Message: 7
Subject: Dot-Dash?
Date: 5/30/01
From: Randy Jacobson

Regarding the dot-dash features just north of the Norwich City.

Either I've lost the bubble (by missing it), but when was it discussed that the dot-dash features picked up by Bevington and the Kiwi photos were part of the Norwich City, and not possible Electra wreckage? I have not seen a discussion of Photek's analysis of the photos anywhere...

Could you elaborate for those of us interested?

From Ric

I've been meaning to write up a research bulletin on this and just haven't gotten to it. In essence, the question of whether the "dot/dash" feature in the Bevington and Kiwi photos could be Emily's Object relies upon determining just WHERE on the reef the feature is (was). Doing that requires first figuring out where Bevington was when he took the picture. Based upon what island features can and cannot be seen in the background, I had placed the camera out on the ocean off the western end of the island perhaps a half mile from the shipwreck. That put the dot/dash feature on the reef several hundred meters north of the Norwich City and, therefore, in a location consistent with Emily's reported wreckage.

Jeff Glickman at Photek had previously spotted a chunk of something on the reef not far from the bow of the Norwich City in a 1938 aerial photo taken immediately prior to the New Zealand survey. Photos taken by the Kiwis on the ground during that survey show that chunk to be a slab of hull plating from the shipwreck. Jeff said that the dash/dot feature in the Bevington photo was in that same location. I said that my own analysis placed it much farther north on the reef. That's how it stood for the better part of a year. Jeff was busy on other projects and we didn't have the funding to pursue it further.

Earlier this year we finally had the money and Jeff had the time to get back into it. Jeff patiently explained to me that in the 1938 aerial photo, the distance from the bow of the ship to the chunk of something (which we know to be shipwreck debris) is almost exactly equivalent to the distance from the bow of the ship to the funnel. That relationship will stay the same in any photo no matter what angle or distance the photo is taken from. If you look at the dot/dash feature in the Bevington photo you can see that it's the same distance from the bow of the ship as the distance from the bow of the ship to the funnel. Bingo. Same object. The calculations he did on the Kiwi photo were more complex but the result was the same.

So where did my amateur analysis go wrong? Turns out that Bevington was using a wide-angle lens (probably 35mm) that distorted the horizon. Jeff could tell from the very slight curve of the horizon and the base of the clouds. Bevington was actually much closer to the shipwreck than I had supposed which, of course, invalidated my conclusions about what he could and couldn't see.

I'll still put up a research bulletin explaining the above with pictures, but that's the story of my lesson in forensic imaging.


Message: 8
Subject: Ghostbusters/Edge of the Reef
Date: 6/1/01
From: Chris Kennedy

I guess I'm curious---can you tell me what your ethnographers and cultural head told you the reaction of Gilbertese children would actually be, i.e., would they stay away from the site? I read your response to be that Gilbertese view ghosts differently, which is fine, but tells nothing about reactions and leaves the ultimate conclusion hanging. The reason what they told you is relevant and important is that in the interview you mention with Tapania Taiki, below, after she says the adults tried to scare the kids away with ghost stories, she adds "The kids would play with the pieces on the reef and near the European permanent house" (Source--"I Saw Pieces of an Airplane.....TIGHAR"). She also mentions playing with the pieces another time in the interview. Also, to the extent that we think that colonists were using the airplane to make combs, fishing lines (Mims story) etc., the ghosts didn't scare them away either. Now, who you gonna call?

--Chris Kennedy

From Ric

Ghosts played a huge role in traditional Gilbertese religion and a general acceptance of the existence of the spirits of the dead as active agents in the world of the living survived the transition to Christianity. That's the main difference between the Western view and the Gilbertese view. In our culture, there are still plenty of people who believe in ghosts despite the conventional wisdom and popular attitudes that deride such belief. In Gilbertese culture, not everyone believes in ghosts but nobody thinks you're being silly if you do.

Grimble describes a general Gilbertese belief that, if the deceased expired without receiving the proper "lifting of the head" ritual (which showed the soul the way to way to the afterlife), the ghost could get lost and wander around in this world causing trouble. They could cause bad dreams, evil thoughts and even strangle the living.

Kids, of course, can disregard warnings in any culture, but I think it's safe to say that for a Gilbertese kid to say "I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts" took more guts than it did for us when we were kids.


Message: 9
Subject: Recovery From the Edge of the Reef
Date: 6/1/01
From: Dick Evans

For what good it will do anyone, let me comment on the business of the Japanese taking the Lockheed off Gardner and all the speculation about whether or not it would have been possible or practical.

As one note comments there was an occasion when a bulldozer fell into a crevasse and had to pulled out with another bulldozer. This occurred after we were there about 6 months when the CG, for some senseless reason, decided to replace our one DC generator with two more AC generators. A crew was sent down with the equipment on a net tender from Hawaii. They towed a landing barge (LCM- Landing Craft Mechanized) hauling a bulldozer that was two or three times bigger in size than the one we had. There was no trouble bringing the equipment ashore. They used the usual technique of running the barge up onto the shelf and unloading the gear. When the weight was taken off the barge it immediately popped up in the water and they could manuever it under its own power. Getting a loaded barge off the reef was another story.

When they were done making the generator switch, which took about a week, they loaded the equipment on the barge and the big bulldozer pushed the barge into deep water and it returned, under its own power, to the net tender. Now came the tough part. How do we get the bulldozer back to the ship? The first attempts tried to push the barge with the bulldozer on board into deep water by using the small dozer that was part of the manning station equipment. This was done by pushing on the front end of the barge while the coxswain revved up his engines to top speed when a wave was rolling under the barge. But every time they tried that the front end of the barge stayed on the shelf and the rear broached to. Now the small dozer had to push the barge back into line with the fingers (what Ric refers to as "spur and groove features") and try again. Same results. It was on one of these attempts to turn the barge that the small dozer tipped into the crevasse. Now what?

The net tender signalled that it would shoot in a line and pull the barge off the reef. The problem with that was that the reef prevented them from getting close enough to the barge for the line to carry. We formed our usual line of guys walking out onto the finger about 20 or 30 feet past the barge and they shot a line over our heads. Someone grabbed the line, ran it over and handed it to the crew on the barge. They began to pull it onto the barge and we could see that there was about a 3 inch hawser attached. They looped the hawser over the davit on the end of the barge and with each wave lifting the rear of the barge the net tender was able to pull the barge a couple of feet closer to the deep water. After 4 or 5 waves it popped into deep water and went out under its own power. The barge with the dozer on board must have weighed 10 or 12 tons and pulling it off the shelf took about 10 or 15 minutes after the line was attached.

But now what do we do about the small dozer which the manning detail needed? This was taken care of the next morning while I was on watch so I did not see it being done. I was told that the barge brought the dozer back onto the shelf and was pulling a tow rope. The big dozer pulled the small one out of the crevasse, rolled back onto the barge, and the net tender pulled it off the reef.

How long did this take? By the time I got off watch at 12 Noon the small dozer was parked beside the generator hut and the big dozer, the barge, and the net tender were over the horizon and out of sight.

So it is not a matter of weight; it is a matter of buoyancy. Now, would a sealed aircraft body with empty gas tanks provide enough buoyancy to enable someone to pull the plane off the shelf --- even with no wheels? My suspicion is that it would but I was wrong one other time in my life but that is another story.

That is why we must send an expedition back down and hope that they can come up with something that will prove the situation one way or the other. If the Lockheed was in fact dragged off the shelf it undoubtedly suffered some damage and perhaps a piece of the plane can be found. I the wing was torn off during this, the Japanese probably pulled it off the shelf and took it along. There is, of course, the possibility that some of the parts dropped between the fingers but I hope nobody is stupid enough to try to go down there and look. On the other hand, if they find aircraft parts it may raise more questions than it answers.

Does all of this yacking suggest that a ship coulld have pulled the Lockheed off the shelf? I will leave that to the experts --- but in my opinion it could. Does all this yacking with unexpert opinion added prove that this is what was done? Good Lord NO! And although the search party, being human, will undoubtedly go with specific expectations the ones I know will have open enough minds to realistically consider whatever they find. So good luck Ric. I hope you find something definitive and I'll see you on TV --- again. And it won't be a dress rehearsal.

Dick Evans

From Ric

Thanks Dick. Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to have to find somebody stupid enough to go down and look in the fingers in the area north of the Norwich City, and I'm the only one that meets that qualification.

Message: 10
Subject: Finger Food
Date: 6/1/01
From: John Pratt

I know that you do these things very carefully and safety is a major consideration in these expeditions (notice the accounts in the Nai'a webpages), but the area seems potentially dangerous.

Maybe there is some better way to investigate these features. Can you provide a description of the "fingers" and let Forum members suggest alternatives?

John Pratt 2373

From Ric

Our knowledge of them is limited to what we can see in the aerial photos and satellite imagery (which isn't much) and videotape taken by our divers in 1989 when they did a preliminary exploration of one or two of these features, but not in this exact area.

In the tape, the diver swims up a crevasse or crack in the reef face that is perhaps ten feet wide at the mouth and gradually narrows and shallows the more shoreward you go. There are surely crevasses that are bigger and smaller. Overhead you can see the breaking surf rolling by and with each wa ve the diver is alternately propelled forward then sucked backward. The further he goes and the narrower and shallower the crevasse becomes, the more pronounced the surging effect. It's not clear from the tape whether the surf was relatively calm or about average, but I don't think it was unusually rough on this particular day (hard to tell when viewing it only from below).

The bottom of the crevasse is sand, some of which can be seen surging back and forth with the water. The walls of the crevasse are irregular and jagged. There is no living coral in the crevasse as there is along the reef face outside.

The diver turned around before he got to the really shallow area where he would be hit with the breaking surf. It's my impression that, as long as the surf wasn't unusually big, a diver could explore these crevasses from the seaward side without undue risk up until a depth of maybe ten feet. Beyond that he may be able to see up ahead to the end of the crevasse but it would probably be too narrow and violent for him to go there.

I wasn't down there myself, so the above is just my impression. I'll check with Tommy Love who was on our Dive Team in '89. If my impression is correct it may be that the best way to check out the grooves is from the seaward side and only approach from the landward side if there is something interesting that needs closer inspection. For one thing, if you're approaching underwater from the seaward side, the predominant force (the seaward surge of water draining off the reef flat) is moving you away from the hard stuff.


Message: 11
Subject: Re: Finger Food
Date: 6/2/01
From: Lawrence

Diving in canyons, caves, reef crevasses can be a very risky ordeal. As an amateur S.C.U.B.A. diver for over thirty-years, I urge you to reconsider. If you are still "Hell bent for leather" then hope for a mild, mild day Mr. Starbuck. Lawrence

From Ric

Thank you. One of our bumper-sticker axioms for these trips is: "It's never worth hurting live people to search for dead ones."

I have a very high regard for my own butt and, if anything, a higher regard for the safety of the expedition team. We have an exemplary safety record on all 36-plus TIGHAR expeditions from New Guinea to Newfoundland and it's not because we never deal with hazardous environments, or because we're unusually lucky (Lord knows), or because we're Crazy-Brave.

I suspect that we'll find a way to deal with the reef edge inspection within acceptable parameters of personal risk. If we can't, we won't do it.


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