Forum artHighlights From the Forum

September 9 through 15, 2001

(click on the number to go directly to that message)
1 Report From the Expedition, Day 10 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
2 Crabs and Castaways Troy Carmichael
3 Firearms and TIGHAR and Expeditions Marty Joy
4 Report From the Expedition, Day 11 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
5 Re: Crabs and Castaways Craig Fuller
6 Report From the Expedition, Day 12 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
7 Report From the Expedition, Day 13 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
8 Amelia's Shoes and Betty's Notes Ross Devitt
9 Report From the Expedition, Day 14 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
10 Thoughts on Lambrecht Patrick Gaston
11 Re: Thoughts on Lambrecht Claude Stoker
12 Report From the Expedition, Day 15 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
13 Lambrecht Photo Claude Stoker
14 Re: Lambrecht Photo Pat Gaston
15 Report From the Expedition, Day 16 Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher
16 Re: Lambrecht's Search Mike Zuschlag

Message: 1
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 10
Date: 9/9/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

There was an adventure aboard Nai'a yesterday. A hot water line burst in the engine room and sprayed the port generator with water, causing it to fail. So they switched over to the starboard generator, which promptly quit. After about two hours dead in the water they got the starboard generator going again, and repairs were able to commence on the water line, but such are the joys of a life at sea –- something is always breaking. It didn't affect the team's activities, but did lend a slight air of desperation and reality to the whole day.

Tom, Kar and John (with camera man Mark in attendance) also had an adventure during their overnight stay on the island the night before last. It seems that the crabs on that part of the island are much more aggressive than elsewhere.

They went out to the ocean beach to build a little campfire and have supper. While they were eating, someone heard a noise, and on firing up a flashlight... were surrounded by hundreds of juvenile coconut crabs, creeping and rustling and watching for their chance to claw in on the meal. Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) have a lengthy juvenile phase during which they wear found shells, like hermit crabs, until they grow too big for the available stock of shells. Then they grow a hardened carapace of their own and just keep growing –- up to 50 pounds, in fact.

Needless to say, the Sand People decided to bed down elsewhere than near the food, which was guaranteed to be a source of noise if nothing else all night. So they went some distance away and prepared for a good night's sleep.


All the crabs appeared to say, "Oh, look! These people have died!" and spent all night tromping about and taking nips and fiddling with their hair and just generally being pests.

One crawled up inside Mark's shorts, which caused quite a stir in camp. John was awakened from a brief nap by the feeling of something playing with his hair, and when he reached back to swat the (he supposed) little crab away he was unhappily surprised to meet with considerable resistance and the awareness that this was not a juvenile, but a bruiser of massive proportions. The big guys can nip off your finger without even noticing it, so John found it convenient to hop up and use an implement, rather than tender flesh, to discourage Crabzilla. All in all, it was not what you'd call a restful night and an air-conditioned, crab-free sleeping cabin looked much more attractive than it had previously.

It is a sobering thought, however, to imagine how this scene would play out with a castaway, weak, perhaps incapacitated and unable to move. Would the crabs simply eat a person alive?

Ric has spent the last two days cutting a "tunnel" through scaevola from the top right corner of the "7" to the ocean beach. The scaevola is incredibly dense, and the path measured out to just on 100 feet. That's about 50 feet more than was the distance between the 7 and the beach in 1940 (per photographs), so the beach has built out there almost a foot a year. The path he cut is in the lower right hand corner of ER28.

After lunch Ric went on a solo mapping trek up the coastline on the lagoon shore. By capturing waypoints on the GPS that he can spot exactly on the satellite photo, the team can geo-reference the Seven site to the satellite map with great exactness and place a true grid on the area. The shore line he mapped runs through EQ29, EQ28, EO27 and EN26. It's treacherous work. The shore line is lovely, but you have to watch your step very carefully. There is quicksand, the sun is a hammer, the coral ledges on the edge of the lagoon are very sharp, and it's all too easy to get complacent and have blood running down your leg, or be stuck thigh deep.

If you look on your grid map at EQ29, you'll see a light colored area in the lagoon just off shore there. That area is full of clams. In the 1938 photo, there are a number of trails from the Seven site to there, which leads to the idea that the castaway was accessing a good source of food that couldn't run away.

A dead turtle (natural causes, apparently) was found on the beach, and Kar excavated it carefully, dissecting it and recovering the bones for comparison with bones found at the site. The team estimates that this turtle weighed between 200 and 300 pounds, a good size – and, of course, far larger than a castaway could manage. Probably the largest a single person could hope to deal with would be 100 pounds, and 50 would be more like it. You might possibly be able to kill a large turtle, but without help you wouldn't move it.

The Dive team got set up for the lagoon dive and was planning to begin that today, in the two foot visibility.

The work is brutal. People spend all day shoveling heavy coral rubble and dirt into buckets, carrying the buckets about 50 feet to the screening area, dumping the buckets in small increments into the screen that someone is shaking down and examining for artifacts... repeat, ad lib. The thermometer Ric had stuck in his pocket, soaking wet, in a breeze, read 100°F.

The entire team will stand down tomorrow for a much-needed rest. There is much work to do cleaning, photographing, and cataloging artifacts, and that is a job that must be done aboard ship. Ric and Skeet were going to begin that process today, and it will continue tomorrow.

Message: 2
Subject: Crabs and Castaways
Date: 9/9/01
From: Troy Carmichael

When I joined TIGHAR almost 2 years ago, it gave me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about being stranded on an uninhabited atoll in the middle of nowhere, slowly starving to death, eating raw clams to survive (I loathe all shell-animals). Compounded by being missed by search planes, a possibly severely wounded navigator, and the only tie to the outside world–a plane and radio–inevitably being washed into the ocean and losing electrical power, I could not imagine a worse scenario. The human side of this story is so tragic–just the hopelessness of it all. How long could one keep up hope in that situation?

Now, after reading the story of the crabs on Niku last night, it chills me more than any Stephen King fiction. The added possibility of being slowly eaten alive by thousands of crabs? Ohmigosh! It kinda makes one wish she went down at sea instead.....

If AE was in fact the castaway on that island, then her story is much more tragic than we ever suspected.

LTM (who hates a slow, lingering death)

Message: 3
Subject: Firearms and TIGHAR and Expeditions
Date: 9/9/01
From: Marty Joy

Pat wrote:

>And now for something completely off-topic... reminds me of the time a member
>(against strict rules) brought a .22 Derringer (sp?) to Maine during Project
>Midnight Ghost – a teensy little "lady's" gun, about the size of a small
>squirt gun... and about as effective against the bears he thought it would
>protect him from. 'Course, it woulda torn the h#$@ out of a person, which was
>why we confiscated it and then asked him to leave.
>Ah well. Some people just don't have the brains God gave geese.

Well Jeees, Pat, you're not suggesting that simply because we are gun owners we wouldn't be welcome on any expeditions, are you? BTW, the shell casings you found could have come also from a Ruger .22 auto, same action as a luger. Don't know if they were around on the 40's, probably not.

From Pat

Perhaps this is as good a time as any to clarify TIGHAR's policies on this subject: expeditions and firearms.

We have nothing against gun owners, we just have something against people bringing guns on expeditions. The cans of worms that would be opened just couldn't be re-canned. The aforementioned little twerp would have shot somebody in a trice with that popgun if he'd been scared or surprised, and while it wouldn't have bothered a bear much it would have played hell with a person's insides.

At least one of the people on the current team is a collector in a big way, but he doesn't seem to feel the need to tote his guns around with him... just as well, since he mostly collects rifles and shotguns!

If a place is so dangerous because of people as to need firearms for protection, we don't go there. If it's wildlife, we might go, but we'd hire local, experienced people as guards, who could spend full time doing that job. It's not for the hobbiest when people's lives are seriously at stake. We follow the same principle in hiring other essential services, from ships to search technology: leave it to the pros. It's a policy that serves us well and has for many years.

Love to Mother (who learned to shoot as a child but doesn't necessarily see it as a form of recreation),

Message: 4
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 11
Date: 9/10/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

The Dive team scouted along the edge of the sand bar at the lagoon side of Tatiman Passage to get the lay of the land, through blocks WJ16, WK15, WL14, WL13, and WK12. It's very tough going with visibility at only 2 feet. They are working off manta boards, which have their risks, but are safer than running headlong into coral outcroppings. At least this way the manta board hits the coral first.

They have found that the sand is only soft and permeable in the sand bar for the first couple of feet. After that, it is packed into a solid mass, impenetrable to probes. If there is anything buried there, you'd have to know exactly where it is to have much chance of finding it, and the sand bar has, we know, built out a number of meters since 1940.

Tomorrow they will begin sampling the area at intervals with probes and metal detectors in the hope of picking up a debris trail.

Bill and Jim went to Aukaraime South to take a look at an area Tom was curious about (dubbed Tom's Triangle). They found only one artifact, a .30 caliber shell casing. One interesting thing about this is that finding almost nothing there gives much more credence to the idea that something unusual was going on at the Seven Site.

At the Seven site it was another day of hard work without much result. The team has finished screening the backfill and is about half way down into the hole itself without result – not too surprising, as the assumption has been that anything detached from the skull would be in the bottom of the hole. That is, of course, if we're right about the hole. Once the work on the hole is finished, the manpower and screens will be turned to the other areas of the site which we know are productive.

Skeet and Ric spent the day aboard Nai'a cataloging artifacts, 47 in all so far, some of them bags of little bones from birds and fish. There are odd little objects, obviously technological in origin, parts of assemblies and things that were portable, but nothing clearly identifiable yet. It will take a lot of work to i.d. the things found so far.

Ric also did a site map of the features and metal detector hits at the Seven site so far, while Skeet got everything logged into an Excel spreadsheet, along with all the GPS waypoint data – essential for managing the site and keeping track of where everything came from once we leave.

Today is a day off. The Gallagher plaque rededication was to happen at about 10 a.m., and then back to the boat for R&R.

Tomorrow the team expects to finish screening the hole; to verify clam populations along the lagoon shore; and to move into the already established archeological sites in the Seven site. A small group will also break away and do some exploring between the Seven site and the Loran station to make sure that Laxton's "house built for Gallagher" isn't lurking about down there somewhere. The assumption has been that that "house" is whatever shelter was put up while searching the castaway's campsite at the Seven site, but it would be nice to be sure.

Message: 5
Subject: Re: Crabs and Castaways
Date: 9/10/01
From: Craig Fuller

So is the entire atoll over run by crabs? ie would it be possible for castaways to get a good nights sleep by moving father inland to get away from the crabs? How do the Kiribati and the colonists sleep on the island and not be bothered by crabs?

Craig Fuller

The entire island is alive with crabs, yes. Everyone who spent time there mentions it, and mentions various strategies for keeping them away –- hammocks, rings of fire, raised platform houses.


Message: 6
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 12
Date: 9/11/01
From: Ric Gillespie/Pat Thrasher

A day like today is the hardest part of an expedition to Nikumaroro.

When Ric calls, it's 5:30 in the morning his time. They don't get a lot of news... not too many NPR stations have enough transmitter power to get Morning Edition to the Phoenix Islands. Whatever news they get comes from me.

Two people aboard the boat – the film crew – live in New York City. Others have relatives and close friends who live there, or who work at the Pentagon. Several others have close ties to the airlines, including United, and know ... everyone.

And there's nothing they can do. Wait, get updates from me or others via satellite phone, wait some more. And try to do the work.

So far, the news is good – those with friends or relatives in New York or at the Pentagon will get reports tomorrow morning that all is well, and no doubt will be energized and ebullient at the news. But for today... they wait.

Yesterday the Dive team worked in Tatiman Passage and towards the mouth of the passage (into the lagoon) to get more of a feel for how the delta works and what it looks like. They are using metal detectors and probes and trying to acquire a profile view of the sand deposits in order to predict, if that is possible, where stuff might end up.

At the Seven site, the team took the "skull hole" down to 50 cm in a 2 meter square. The excavation was laid out oriented North/South with the apparent hole center at the middle of the square. In the southwest corner of the square, they discovered obvious sign of a much smaller excavated area –- white surface rubble down at the 50cm level, and the soil obviously disturbed. This is evidence of an original small hole (to bury a skull?) which was excavated (but the excavator didn't get the hole centered?) and then collapsed in on itself over time.

Sure fits our hypothesis. We aren't to the bottom yet.

Due to the fact that most of the news passed from me to Ric today, this report is short... on the other hand, nothing that much happened at Nikumaroro. We'll make up for it tomorrow.

Message: 7
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 13
Date: 9/12/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

Everyone on the team has had messages from or talked to the people they needed to know were safe. Ric tells me that there was, on the island, the same sense of stunned disbelief the rest of us are feeling. They worked and accomplished things and covered territory, but with a sense of unreality and inconsequence. But as Ric pointed out – by the time things are wrapped up at Niku and they have found whatever they have found, if the news is good, well, people need good news right now. So a real effort was made by all and much was done.

Yesterday the Dive team worked along the lagoon shore north of "Club Fred" – the place where, in 1989, we pitched our big tent as a headquarters. The coordinates are WH16 and WI17.

There is a lot of stuff in this general area, mostly from the Norwich City. Apparently, during storms, the debris goes around the corner and settles out in this neighborhood. The dive team will continue to work in this area as well as out in the lagoon proper.

At the Seven site the hole is down a further 10 cm. Nothing yet, but at this depth the hole is still very confused, with scaevola roots growing through and coral rubble from the surface mixed in with the dirt. The team plans to take the hole down until they reach undisturbed dirt. It's nasty work, very hot and heavy and picky... "the most mind-numbing job on the planet." ("Calvin & Hobbes")

Tom and his gang worked the animal bone sites, getting a handle on the depth and breadth of each deposit. There are all kinds of bones there –- turtles, birds, fish –- but each in a discreet small site, rather than one big midden. This would tend to indicate that someone (our castaway) was bringing multiple food items to the area and eating each separately, rather than a group putting on one big picnic. It would make sense to avoid, while eating, areas where one had eaten before, given the activities of the crabs and, of course, the certain smell that garbage would generate for a few days. There is also considerable evidence of crude implements fashioned from available objects.

John and Bill spent some time at the old Loran station. What they did not find was more interesting than anything they found. There were no rolls or stacks or pieces of green roofing material as was found at the Seven site; they found some screening, but it was quite different from that at our site. This suggests that the USCG fellows did not spend any time at the Seven site; it was merely a place they passed through, at best. The artifacts therefore almost certainly come either from Gallagher's search or our castaway.

I talked more than Ric did, again; they are hungry for news and it's hard to convey the current situation over a scratchy satellite link. But the team continues to work, and is making progress. Life goes on.

Message: 8
Subject: Re: Amelia's Shoes and Betty's Notes
Date: 9/12/01
From: Ross Devitt

> As you know, the sun hits down like a hammer, and I bet AE was in
> the deep cool shadows of the bush napping out getting ready for the sun's
> daily hammer when Lambrecht arrived. I doubt if she was capable of a jump
> and run to the beach and by then probably weighed only 80 pounds soaking
> wet. She prolly hit the beach just in time to see Lambrecht's tail feathers
> leaving Niku forever.

I was thinking about this a couple of mornings ago. Early morning, crystal clear, little wind and two Pratt & Whitney powered 1950's aircraft flying past at 500 feet. I didn't hear them until they were almost on top of me, and withing two minutes they were far enough away that I couldn't hear them, even though the exhausts were facing my way.

If Amelia was on Niku when Lambrecht flew over he could have zoomed several times and she may have been 2 miles away and not had time to get to the beach by the time she heard him. Even if she was on the beach, it's entirely possible neither aircraft crew saw her as they were quite a bit higher than 500 feet by the written account, making it harder to see her and harder for her to hear them.


p.s. Our thoughts here in Australia go out to all those affected by the terrible things that have happened in the U.S., especially those who have loved ones lost or injured...

Message: 9
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 14
Date: 9/13/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

There are four working days left in the expedition, and the heat is on.

Well, the heat has been on, really (who left that thermostat set to 120°?). It's always tough at this point, though, when there's been no EUREKA find, and people have lost their perspective. Those who've been through it before recognize the symptoms and have another drink of water, but the new folks have to experience it for themselves: the desperate urge to do something, anything, to rush about and look everywhere at once, try a new approach, flap around. The press before the expedition was so focused on the idea of finding some marvelous artifact out on the reef edge, and it's hard to put that aside and concentrate properly on the real work.

Now is the time when it is most essential to keep the faith, keep pushing forward with the plan, lose the desperation, and realize that the expedition has already been wildly successful, and that the final results will be whatever they are.

Even the most experienced people are not totally immune to this syndrome. The plan from the beginning has always been to completely excavate the hole at the Seven site to be sure it did not contain any human bones or teeth. This is painstaking, hard, heavy, nasty work, but essential.

Other work that could be done at the Seven site is to excavate the various "units" – deposits of animal bones and other items which might provide some general clues as to how the site was used. This would be useful information, but not essential.

Unfortunately, both things cannot be done at the same time, due to lack of assets – personnel, screens, and so on. Some would like to take the broader approach, and it is Ric's job to maintain the focus.

Another change that has come over the group is a sudden lack of enthusiasm for camping out on the island. After the Crab Experience a number of people suddenly found it slightly less inviting to sprawl for the night on the beach and bask in the moon light. Further acquaintance with Aukaraime North reinforces that lesson. Kar was playing with a four inch long centipede that Ric says is the ugliest thing he ever saw, and Jim hightailed it out of the scaevola after encountering a spider with a body about 3 inches across. He didn't wait around to see what it might eat, fearing that he might be on the menu himself. Add to these lovely creatures the crabs and the rats, and sleeping at sea seems truly desirable, no matter how one feels about boats.

Yesterday the Dive team worked in the lagoon off Taraia point (opposite the mouth of Tatiman Passage).

Ric and Bill took metal detectors and worked the lagoon shore just off the the village at Club Fred (see yesterday's report). They found village-related stuff there – bits of this and that, a Jeep tire, that sort of thing, out to about 20 meters off shore. After that, there was nothing until about 50 meters off shore, when they started finding big chunks of rusty iron, obviously Norwich City debris. These chunks were buried fairly deep, and required two people to excavate: one to dig with mask and snorkel, and one to chase away a five foot shark who insisted on participating in the work. He had brought two or three of his younger brothers along, and it was like trying to work with a street gang hanging around and snickering at you. At one point the big one had Bill treed on a coral head. And you never have a live feed camera when you need one...

Today the Dive team will abandon their visual search from manta boards, which wasn't working very well due to lack of visibility, and will start doing metal detector sweeps, hoping to pick up the debris trail. They will work in the area more than 50 meters off shore – beyond the depth Ric and Bill could work – and around the coral heads.

John and Van will install the Norwich City plaque while Ric collects tidal information out on the reef near the Norwich City. Then Van will rejoin the divers, and John and Ric will work the Taraia scaevola with metal detectors, which promises to be brutal. They will be in sectors WO10, WO11, WP12, and WP13. Everyone else will continue at the Seven site.

Message: 10
Subject: Thoughts on Lambrecht
Date: 9/13/01
From: Patrick Gaston

I'm not sure where Ross got the idea that Lambrecht's search was conducted from "quite a bit higher than 500 feet." Lambrecht's ris report says that the search planes circled M'Kean at 50 feet before being forced to pull up to 400 feet by the native bird population. This suggests to me that the Gardner search was conducted from a >maximum< of 500 feet, with swoops as low as 50 feet if the pilots thought they could get away with it. Maybe I'm missing something.

Lambrecht's report also speaks of "repeated circling and zooming" – which certainly indicates more than a quick circumference of the island, whatever the Forum may have decided ex post facto. His description of the Norwich City wreck is not only detailed but includes an estimate of the ship's tonnage.

And let's not forget that it wasn't just Lt. Lambrecht. There were three airplanes – six pairs of eyes – all straining to see signs of aircraft wreckage or survivors. At least, those were their orders.

I mention this only because it seems to have become fashionable on this Forum in recent years (I don't mean you, Wombat) to dismiss Lambrecht and his wingmen as incompetent, blind, derelict, or all three. To me this defames six men who are no longer around to defend themselves.

These guys were professionals, they knew exactly what they were looking for and they also knew that fame (and fortune – or at least a medal) awaited the men who found Earhart. To imply that they gave it less than their all is an affront to their memories.

Pat Gaston

Certainly I would agree with Pat that the search flight was not conducted by idiots or incompetents, but by people who were doing the very best they could, as a matter of desire, duty, and honor.

I think that to look at their search now, and judge it as incompetent, is forgetting that SAR techniques were barely in their infancy at that time. It was WWII and subsequent wars that enabled (forced) the U.S. military to develop the efficiency and thoroughness in SAR that we are accustomed to now.

However – motivations are not the issue here. The fact is, that with the best possible intentions, Lambrecht et al did not stay over Niku for anywhere near long enough to conduct a thorough search. Even had they stayed longer, they might easily have missed one or two people waving frantically on a beach if those people did not have the time or the capacity to create some sort of large-scale signal (like a smokey fire). It is terrifically hard to spot stuff on the ground from the air.

I think there is no disputing the idea that Earhart was findable, and was findable with the technology and resources available to the searchers. What was lacking was not the will, but the understanding of how and where to search, and with what tools, that seems so clear now.


Message: 11
Subject: Re: Thoughts on Lambrecht
Date: 9/13/01
From: Claude Stoker

Regarding air search, I don't believe even 6 pairs of 20/20 eyes could see a person on Niku unless they were out on the edge of the beach. If a person were in the bush or even at the edge of the bush they are invisible ("they all look like little black dots").

I have flown search for the civil air patrol, and for the local sherrif, in Supercubs at 60 mph and in Cessna 172's at 100 mph over deep forest and mountainous terrain from 500 feet down to treetop. A large ship is lots easier to see than a 5'7" person and to give a detailed description of the Norwich City indicates his eyes were being focused on the big picture rather than on the small details. When you're doing an aerial search your eyes move along with the passing terrain unless you force yourself to focus on detail. I have searched for known downed aircraft where you're sure there is going to be some visible wreckage and believe it or not even a complete aircraft can be invisible.

The only search pattern I can think of that would give maximum results was if Lambrecht slowed down to landing speed, and the other pilots followed in trail. Starting on a heading of 180 crossing the island and then making turns out over the water and recrossing back and forth over the island slowly moving from end to end. This would have taken maybe 30 minutes or more to do 2 complete circuits. (One circuit is usless 3 would be the best.) I don't get the idea this is what Lambrecht did, I'm thinking he flew at cruise speed up the north side and then down the south side maybe circling several times over the Norwich City. Any expenditure of efforts over the Norwich City was a total waste. A person standing up is only a little black dot with a visible area of maybe 200 sq inches. Lambrecht had a mission and Gardner was not his mission. The mission was to cover as much ground as possible before dark and then move on. Happy landings.

The Stoker

Search patterns such as you suggest are the product, of course, of decades of experience in aerial searching by many organizations. Folks just didn't know how to do it then.

Anecdote: In 1989 while we were at Niku a Kiwi P-3 came over looking for us. They knew we were there, and of course could see our ship. We were all (about 14 of us) standing out in the open, wearing brightly colored clothing, waving and jumping up and down. And the crew of the aircraft never saw us.

It is worth noting, too, that we did not hear the airplane until it was almost directly overhead, and a P-3 with two turning is certainly as loud as an Electra. Well, maybe not, but plenty loud anyway.


Message: 12
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 15
Date: 9/14/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

Yesterday John and Van installed the plaque on the Norwich City engine. A dedication is planned for later this week.

Ric walked the reef flat from the channel to the Norwich City at the same time, taking photographs and measurements for the tide observations we've been doing. The normal high tide, measured on the chunks of reef block sitting on the reef, and on the Norwich City remains, is about 1 meter above the reef surface.

The Dive team is switching from the manta boards and visual search, which yielded no results, to metal detector searches along the lagoon shore, tracing the flow patterns and picking up a debris trail. It is evident that material comes through Tatiman Passage, sweeping into the lagoon and around the ends of the channel opening, and works down the lagoon shore. They found a piece of aluminum yesterday, the first found outside the village. While it is small, and too generic to be identified, it does indicate that they are now looking in the right places. It was actually in the channel, about three meters out from the shore, in WI14.

They'll be doing more searching tomorrow in WI15, WH15, WI13, WJ13, WJ12, and WP15. If they can pick up the main debris trail from the Norwich City, they will follow it on the assumption that where ship wreckage goes, there too will go Electra debris.

At the Seven site, they plan to finish the hole excavation today. So far nothing has been found, but the unit certainly fits the profile for a place for a skull to be buried, and no other explanation for it has been found. The other units confirm signs of discreet eating events, sometimes with small campfires, which predate the construction materials found at the site – they are under the construction materials.

Skeet and Tom spent some time yesterday surveying out a swath at the Seven site from the lagoon to the ocean in order to get information for a good cross-section and accurate topography.

The Seven site will probably be wrapped up by Monday, and the team will shift to the village to attempt to match a few artifacts that are suspected of coming from the village to the Seven site.

At this time, they are planning to depart from Niku on Tuesday night.

Message: 13
Subject: Lambrecht Photo
Date: 9/14/01
From: Claude Stoker

I believe we can see exactly what Lambrechts crew was looking at by a close look at the photo. The first thing I notice is that the airplane is off shore maybe 2000 feet more or less. I expect this is exactly the path flown by the search team after the initial pass and bird encounters. The altitude of the picture appears to be maybe 500 feet, maybe 800 feet, but not lower than that. It looks like almost high tide, with breakers near the beach which means any remaining aircraft parts would be submerged with breakers washing over them. The idea behind a "zoom" is that you're pushing the nose down, picking up extra speed, and then pulling up. I'm not familiar with the speeds to fly on the type aircraft used, but a zoom could easily be 160 mph if cruise speed is 120. Zooming is not a good way to see stuff on the ground. He prolly zoomed at the yellow line or what ever they used as vne. The slant range visibility from 500 feet and 2000 feet offshore would be nearly 2100 feet from an object on the beach. Finally, the density of the bush is extreme, very thick vegetation. I'm not saying Lambrecht was incompetent, only that I think he was in a hurry. Creating a search pattern is not necessarily a modern idea. It's just a matter of how well an individual is tuned to the task at any given moment. Happy landings,

The Stoker

Message: 14
Subject: Re: The Lambrecht Photo
Date: 9/14/01
From: Pat Gaston

John Stoker's post typifies exactly the sort of Lambrecht-bashing I have been talking about. I would be interested in seeing the data behind Mr. Stoker's conclusion that "Lambrecht had a mission and Gardner was not his mission. The mission was to cover as much ground as possible before dark and move on."

Interesting also that, according to Mr. Stoker, Lambrecht & Co. "flew at cruise speed up the north side and then down the south side [of Niku], maybe circling several times over the Norwich City." Obviously, then, Lambrecht was lying when he said the search party engaged in "repeated circling and zooming" of the island.

Of course the search would have centered on the beach and lagoon, as the wreckage would have been impossible to spot in the jungle, and no pilot in her right mind would have attempted to ditch there. However, if the Electra did go down in the jungle, one assumes the inhabitants would have found it over the course of 24 years of colonization.

I realize that discrediting Lambrecht is central to the viability of the Niku Hypothesis, but that doesn't make it any more justifiable.

Pat Gaston

Re: your last sentence: I don't think that's necessarily true. In our opinion, Lambrecht did the best he could with a bad job. As previously stated, finding just about anything from the air is hard, and in a place like Niku it's beyond hard to almost impossible. The fact that he saw something that made him think the place was inhabited, or had been recently, meant he was keeping his eyes open in a big way. The only possible fault I can see being laid at his doorstep *might* be a failure to insist on going back, or putting a ground search party ashore... on the other hand, such insistence is a real good way of setting back your chances for promotion when the Captain thinks it isn't necessary to be all that attentive. And let's remember that as far as Friedell knew, the Lexington was going to come in behind the Colorado and look at the whole area again. The 1937 searchers did the best they could with the information and technology they had. The fact that they did not find Earhart doesn't mean she wasn't right there, just that they didn't look in the right place in the right way.

Which experience we've all had when we declare that we have looked everywhere for our whatchmajiggit and then someone else goes and finds it...


Message: 15
Subject: Report From the Expedition, Day 16
Date: 9/15/01
From: Ric Gillespie, Pat Thrasher

As a former cavalry officer, Ric is given to using cavalry expressions for everyday activities. So when he reported to me this morning that yesterday the divers were dismounted and fighting on foot, I knew what he meant.

They were in the water, but not diving. Instead, with the aid of two of the Seven site gang, they were searching along the shore line with metal detectors, out to about 50 meters – as far as wading /snorkeling will take you. They were working Taraia point and the bay to the north and west, from WP15 to WM11.

The farther north and west they went, the less they found of any kind of debris. Apparently that bay just doesn't collect stuff. So today they will skip the rest of the bay and begin work at WJ13, which is the north shore of Tatiman passage, and work along there.

Meanwhile, Walt and Andrew will go around to WQ15 and WR14 and begin metal detector work there.

At the Seven site, the team secured the hole. They were still getting fish and bird bones at 1.5 meters. Possibly that layer is prehistoric (prior to 1880, that is). They placed a tarp at the bottom of the hole, then a layer of aluminum cans (so as to find it easily another time with a metal detector); then filled the hole in with coral rubble to obscure its outline to the casual observer. Some small artifacts have been found that are not easy to describe, and may be identifiable; we will be posting photographs soon after the team returns to start the identification process.

Elsewhere in the Seven site they mapped and recorded two clam deposits. In each there were the remains of exactly 15 clams. In order to find out where the clams came from, the lagoon shore was walked and examined. No live clam beds are in evidence now, but a dead clam bed was discovered, about two meters in diameter, near the shore. In the 1938 photograph, there is a clear trail leading directly from the Seven site to the area of this clam bed.

During the excavation of the "food units" – places where fish and bird bones were found – Skeet found something rather odd. In 1996 we found some material that was like a combination of tarpaper and shingling, greenish with a rough surface. We assumed (oh, that word!) that it was a relic of the village and Gallagher's search. Skeet found a piece of that material, folded in half like a sandwich, with a "filling" of something softer, like padding. Hard to tell what the filling was, perhaps felt or some sort of moss type stuff. Most of the green scratchy layer was gone. This was found some distance from the other deposit of the "roofing" material. The item reminded people of a make-shift shoe. We may need to re-evaluate the assumption that the construction type materials (the roofing, the screen) necessarily post-dates the castaway. There is a chance that the construction materials, rather than being left over from the initial bone search, are actually salvaged from the Arundel coconut plantings – ca. 1890.

Today they were planning to wrap up the Seven site. Tomorrow, the plan is to take a look at the "European house" found on Niku IIIIP, which is from the Arundel period, and the village as well, and see if any of the materials found at the Seven site can be matched.

Message: 16
Subject: Lambrecht's Search
Date: 9/15/01
From: Mike Zuschlag

Here's how Lambrecht describes his search:

As in the case of the subsequent search of the rest of the Phoenix Islands [which presumably includes Gardner], one circle at fifty feet around M'Kean aroused the birds to such an extent that further inspection had to made from an altitude of at least 400 feet.
I take this to mean the planes made a single very low altitude circumnavigation of Gardner followed by study of unknown duration considerably higher up. There was also apparently some "circling and zooming" (low altitude passes?) but it's pretty clear from the report that this was only in reference to the "signs of recent habitation," not over the island in general.

The experience of Pat and The Wombat suggests that the only way the circumnavigation would've found the AE/FN is if they happened to out on the beach before the O3U's passed. By the time they could have run (or crawled) out from any cover, the planes would have been gone not to return low again. If AE/FN were near the signs of habitation, I think they would have had a much better chance. On the other hand, the experience of other forum members suggests that being spotted from 400+ feet would be just total luck. I conclude Lambrecht could have easily missed one or two people on the ground. Assuming there was anyone alive and ambulatory at that point anyway.

I have to agree with Don Neumann that it's harder to understand how Lambrecht could have missed the 10E when it was precisely the thing he was looking for. Possible to miss it due to surf and such? I guess. But at first blush it hardly seems probable. Of course, if the 10E were slam-dunked into a reef canyon, then it would've been missed but the recent dives have turned up no evidence of this.

But here's a question for those of you with experience in big radial singles: You're going to circumnavigate an island off its shore at an altitude of 50 feet. Which way around do you go? If I understand 30's era military singles right, I would guess you'd choose counterclockwise so that if you have to gun it and pull up for some reason the torque of the engine would take you way from the trees. The significance of this is that if the 10E landed where TIGHAR thinks it landed, then the Norwich City could obscure your view of the 10E wreck if you flew this way.

There's something else Lambrecht says that pertains to spotting the 10E:

Given a chance, it is believed that Miss Earhart could have landed her plane in this lagoon [at Gardner] and swam or waded ashore.
That's curious. Why would he say "what a nice lagoon for ditching," when a reef landing would clearly be preferred? To me this suggests that it did not occurred to Lambrecht that a plane might land on a reef. Flying around at 400 feet or so, maybe he never saw the 10E because he never looked at the right place.

Could've, would've, should've, whatever.

–Mike Z.

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