Forum artHighlights From the Forum

September 23 through 29, 2001

(click on the number to go directly to that message)
1 Final Episode? Tom MM
2 Alternate Plans Ron Bright
3 Land Fall Dick Pingrey
4 Re: Alternate Plans Alan Caldwell
5 Re: Land Fall Alan Caldwell
6 Ric's Expedition Summary Ric Gillespie

Message: 1
Subject: Final Episode?
Date: 9/24/01
From: Tom MM

As I clearly recall, when we last heard from the intrepid voyagers, mountainous grey-green seas were crashing over the decks, horizontal rain was coming like machine gun fire out of blackened skies, and the wind was moaning through the rigging like a tormented demon. Ric was out on the foredeck, one hand clutching the forestay and the other the satphone, waiting for a lightning strike to boost the phone power so he could be heard at least as far as St. Petersburg (with or w/o the satphone).

Any further info? Hope he eventually went below for a spot of tea and a dollop of scopolamine.


I finally got a report on the final day on the island from Ric now that he's back on dry land. I'll be working on it this morning and getting it posted up, I hope, by lunchtime.

They are spending today packing stuff for FedEx.


Message: 2
Subject: Alternate Plans
Date: 9/24/01
From: Ron Bright

Dick Pingrey asserts that it would be logical for AE to have an alternate landfall if she missed Howland. I don't think anyone disagrees, but the only alternate landfall that has surfaced attributed to AE is in the Vidal interview. Vidal recalled she once mentioned reversing course to the Gilberts. [Not really must further than Niku.] No other alternate plan discovered by those at Lae, and those planning the flight or friends or relatives, that may have been aware of her plan "B".

The validity of Vidal's comment has been rehashed on the forum several times. The preponderance of oral evidence suggests that Gilberts were the alternate, but whether she made last minute decisions depending on where she thought she was, and headed elsewhere, say to Niku, or to the Marshalls, and made it, will only be resolved when something conclusive is found associated with AE or the Electra.

Ron Bright

Message: 3
Subject: Land Fall
Date: 9/25/01
From: Dick Pingrey

You are missing one big point in the difference between heading for the Gilberts and heading for Gardner. By heading for Gardner, which is on the LOP, she is still hoping to find Howland. Thus she is accomplishing two things. Holding out for the possibility that Howland is to her southwest and at the same time heading to an alternate if it isn't. She can't be certain if she was north of south of Howland when she reached the LOP. If she takes a short look to the north and then follows the LOP to the south (southwest) she may still find Howland but if she doesn't she should find Gardner or another island in the group.

We must keep in mind that finding Howland is extremely important. All the effort for the record attempt is lost if she makes a forced landing any where else. The only thing that is more important than finding Howland is survival. Following the LOP still keeps Howland in the picture but provides her with a place to land if Howland can't be found.

Dick Pingrey 908C

Message: 4
Subject: Re: Alternate Plans


From: Alan Caldwell

Ron, I think that was a good general summation of where we are on what happened that day. Just to muddy the waters we have a lot of theories -- some reasonable and some very difficult to support. I think most agree there is a lot we don't know for certain although we try to make some educated guesses.

The fuel situation is such a theory. Obviously we don't know exactly what her fuel was but I think we've come pretty close. I computed 139 gallons at her last message time and others computed 150 gallons. It doesn't matter much which figure is correct or closest. But I would be interested in any supportable computation showing more than that. Computing preflight and inflight fuel was part of my job in B-47s so I know how to do that. As I refine my data I am getting slightly less fuel remaining but not significantly so.

Here are some hard facts, however. Niku is 349nm from Howland. The nearest Gilbert (Nikunau) is 436nm. Mili Atoll is the nearest Marshall Island at 753nm. Giving AE the most fuel of 150 gallons at 38gph she would be dry tanks 240 nm short of Mili. To make it to the Marshalls Noonan would have had to be 240 or more miles off course. The strength of the radios alone dispute that. The report of an airplane flying over head at Tabiteuea in the Gilberts disputes that. So to get the plane to Mili FN had to be the worst navigator in the world. There had to be a radio skip for hours of a consistant degree. The flyover had to be a phony report. OR there were other airplanes in the area no one knows about. The reports from Nauru have to be all wrong. Tough to get the plane to Mili I think.

Did she have fuel to make it to the Gilberts? Just barely to Nikunau with about 10 or 15 minutes to spare. No reserve. No way to navigate accurately to the Gilberts with the sun behind and only giving speed lines not course lines.

But I'm with you, Ron. They could have done most anything logic or no.

BTW, you said something about "The preponderance of oral evidence suggests that Gilberts were the alternate,...." It's been so long ago we talked about this I have forgotten what oral evidence other than Vidal there is. Refresh my memory please. And if I said something incorrect tell me what I'm missing.

Alan #2329

Message: 5
Subject: Re: Land Fall
Date: 9/25/01
From: Alan Caldwell

Dick, I think we think pretty much alike on the events of the last few hours of AE's flight. Perhaps where we disagree with some other theories is that we are hard set that the Electra was close into Howland. Ron and others are suggesting we shouldn't be so certain of that. And if I'm putting incorrect words in anyone's mouth it's unintentional. The possibility of the Gilberts, the Marshalls and radio skip just won't go away easily. I'm not sure why but it may be because the Japanese angle was pushed so hard for decades and repeated so often that it became the "proven" solution to most everyone. Now it is hard to let go of even in the face of total lack of evidence and virtual impossibility.

I say there was no way to get the plane to the Marshalls and I say it with emphasis. But others think the plane was so greatly off course to the north that the Marshalls was the logical choice. Some even still think they made false position reports and flew to Truk and across but if they would sit down and run the fuel usage to fly that route they will quickly see AE would have run out of gas shortly after Jaluit or even before. I would never believe that could have been a plan. Besides it was night time thus eliminating any reasonable spying. It would have been a suicide mission and I just don't see the purpose. For another thing there wasn't anything to see.

To be so far North of course we have to assume they made a false call passing Nauru and the station ship was wrong in thinking an airplane flew over. We also have to assume the report of a plane flying over Tabiteue was also made up. We have to believe AE's position reports although strength 5 were actually being skipped from hundreds of miles North of where she claimed to be. And we have to assume FN navigated unbelieveably bad. That's a lot of evidence to discard to try to prove a theory that has no evidence or support at all. Or is there some I'm overlooking?

There are some who also believe she turned back way short of Howland thus giving her plenty of fuel to return to the Gilberts but we know by her postion reports she didn't turn back and kept going until she thought she was over Howland.

Once we agree she was very near Howland fuel becomes the deciding factor of what happened next. Was she almost out of fuel upon arriving at Howland? Running a fuel log with known factors says no. AE says no by flying around for another hour. In a previous post I attempted to show it might have been possible to make it back to the nearest Gilbert with a maximum of 15 minutes to spare. With a tail wind maybe a little more. I also attempted to show it would have been difficult navigation.In spite of this it is useful to keep the options open as Ron has implied. I don't think they went back to the Gilberts but what if they did?

I don't think they ditched but if so that makes all the post loss radio messages bogus.

Someone show me where my thinking is erroneous but think it through and show me WHY I'm wrong. Please don't mistake confidence for arrogance. I like being right but I'll happily (maybe happily is a little strong<G>) be the first to admit my errors.

I know I occasionally come down hard on unsupported statements but I suppose that's the lawyer in me. They don't fly in court.

I don't know what happened that day any more than anyone else but untrue statements only confuse folks who don't carefully read everything on the web site. Ideas and suggested possibilities don't need evidence or support as it keeps everyone thinking but they need to be thought through. They should at least be possible. If known information shows they are not they only confuse and waste time.

It must be obvious that I don't have much patience with posts that are erroneous or impossible because the poster does not bother boning up on the subject. I say things wrong and I have no more patience with me than I do with anyone else so I'll try to be easier on all of us - - sorta.


Message: 6
Subject: Ric's Expedition Summary
Date: 9/27/01
From: Ric Gillespie

It's great to be back! Pat has done a wonderful job keeping everyone up to date on the day-to-day progress of the expedition so this will be a just-off-the-plane, still-jetlagged impression of where The Earhart Project stands now that Niku IIII is in the record books.

Let's be clear about one thing right out of the gate --- this was the most successful Earhart expedition ever conducted. Whether or not it has produced the proverbial smoking gun remains to be seen, but there is no question that we have now identified and begun the clearing and excavation of a bona-fide archaeological site on Nikumaroro that is producing artifacts which have the potential of conclusively solving the Earhart mystery.

Thirteen years and five expeditions had revealed archival, photographic and artifactual evidence that strongly suggested that the island was where Earhart and Noonan met their fate, but the paramount question has always been, "Yes, but where?" A few airplane parts found in the village may well be from the Electra but were clearly brought there from somewhere else. The grave and shoe parts on Aukeraime looked promising for a time but the grave proved to be that of an infant, the shoe ultimately didn't fit, and a detailed look at that site revealed nothing but a campfire containing a 1970s vintage can label.

By contrast, the Seven Site has proven to be rich in a variety of artifacts. Like most archaeological sites it bears evidence of layers of activity over time. Clearly the Gilbertese colonists and the U.S. Coast Guardsmen were there at various times and left their respective debris behind, but there are also definite indications of an earlier presence at the site - indications that are consistent with the presence and residence of a person or persons who fashioned primitive tools from 20th century objects and subsisted inexpertly on local food sources (for example, bashing rather than cutting giant clams open). We know, of course, that a castway or castaways died on the island and was ultimately written off by British authorities as being "some unfortunate native". However, if initial indications from the the Niku IIII excavations at the Seven Site are borne out by subsequent research, the castaway or castaways exhibited "Western" rather than "native" behavior. If, in fact, any of the bits of lightweight metal technology recovered from the site prove to be from prewar aviation-related items there will be a distinct scent of gunsmoke in the air.

In addition to the very positive results at the Seven Site, the Niku IIII expedition answered several other important questions:

  • Do either of the grave-like features (Grave 3 and Grave 4) on the Nutiran shore hold human remains that match anecdotal acounts of bones found in that area? No.
  • Is the Triangle Site on the southern shore of Aukeraime a reasonable candidate as the place where the castway's bones were found in 1940? No.
  • Is the anomaly in the satellite photo the wreckage seen by Emily Sikuli? No.
  • Is there aircraft wreckage in the canyons or on the ledge off the west end of the island? No.
  • Is there shipwreck and/or aircraft debris visible on the lagoon bottom just inside the main ocean passage? No.
  • Does metal debris from the reef wash into the lagoon and around the corners of the passage to lie buried under sand and coral? Yes.

Some vital questions remain unanswered:

  • Where is all the Norwich City debris that must have washed into the lagoon? Buried in the lagoon bottom? Airplane debris from the reef should logically follow the same or similar pattern.
  • We've only scratched the surface at the Seven Site. What lies buried beneath the tangles of scaevola we haven't yet cleared?

Field work is data collection. In a search operation sometimes (read usually) the data are entirely negative --- that is, you only establish where something isn't. Niku IIII produced plenty of that kind of information but it also produced that rarest of commodities. It established where something is. We have recovered some of it and in the coming weeks and months we'll need a lot of help to discover the significance of what we have brought back.

Once we've had a chance to do some high-quality photography under controlled conditions we'll be mounting an Artifact Identification section on the TIGHAR website and publishing it in TIGHAR Tracks. We'll be seeking out all kinds of experts in specialized fields and commissioning a wide variety of studies and laboratory tests. It will be time consuming and it will be expensive. We will need your help. There will be those who will say that TIGHAR has once again returned from Nikumaroro without proof that Earhart was ever there. They will sit back in their chairs and say that the island has been thoroughly searched and that there is nothing there. You will know them by their words and accord them the regard you feel they deserve.

For my part, I want to thank you all for making this expedition possible. All of us out there felt your presence with us and you made us strong. I want to thank the team for their unflagging dedication, courage and hard, hard work. They gathered a tremendous amount of information with a lightness and good humor that belied the trying and often dangerous conditions under which they labored. They didn't break any equipment and nobody got hurt. They made it look easy --- and it isn't. I want to thank the captain and crew of the good ship Nai'a. They were as much a part of the TIGHAR team as any of us and they went far beyond their contractual obligations to give us the support that made our success achievable. There are many, many others I want to, and will, thank in due course but for now, let me say again how delighted I am to be back home with so much new information to digest, analyze, and interpret.

Love to mother,

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