Highlights From the Forum
November 18 through 25, 1998
People keep asking why the Coast Guardsmen on Gardner didn’t find something. I keep saying, “Because we didn’t look.” Pat’s comment suggested that we may not have had much freedom to roam around. We had plenty of time and freedom to do anything we felt like doing but we did nothing.
Perhaps you would enjoy a description of a typical day on Unit 92. I was a Loran operator. From the time we went on the air, I never went longer than 12 hours that I was not on the scope. For several months I stood the 4-to-8 watch. My day started at 3:45 AM when the radioman woke me up. I would go to the galley and drink a cup of coffee. Coffee that had been brewing since the previous morning at 6 AM. Needless to say it was delicious. Then it was down to the Loran Shack and onto the scope. This consisted of four hours of watching a green line. As long as it didn’t move, you did nothing. I would move maybe three times in four hours. The rest of the time you sat there.
At 8 AM relief came. I would go up to the galley and eat breakfast. Scrambled powdered eggs one day; oatmeal the next. Then I would hit the sack until around 11 AM. At that time I would walk around a bit, maybe go to the galley for a fresh cup of coffee, usually sat down and read a magazine.
At 12 Noon we had lunch. Canned meat and vegetable hash every day of the week. From noon until 4 PM I would resume the reading, or sitting around. Once or twice a week I would go swimming. Usually took a shower.
At 4 PM it was back on the scope watching the green line. On this shift we got a big break that would make the watch much more exciting. At somewhere around 5:30 our scheduled relief would relieve us temporarily while we went for supper. Usually some form of Spam where the cooks knocked themselves out to give us something different. After a year, there wasn’t much of anything different.
At 8 PM we were relieved. At this point it was back to the galley and write letters – 10 or 20 a week. We got mail once a month and usually received 50 or 60 letters so we answered them. There was absolutely nothing to write about since nothing ever happened. I once wrote 7 pages describing eating an apple. Read some more of the 50 magazines we were supplied and around 10 PM went back to bed. At 3:45 start over.
The area where natives have reported seeing plane wreckage was at the other end of the island, about two miles away, and we never went there. The only time we went close was one time when we had an undentified sub and two of the seamen were sent about half-way down the beach with flare guns to watch for a vicious attack by Japanese submariners. None came. That moring when Ted Hiatt and I came off watch, we were sent down to relieve the seaman. But we stayed on the ocean side of the atoll and never went into the the lagoon side where the plane is supposed to be. The really fascinating part was that we found two sea turtles up on land for mating. We turned them on their backs on the way down and rolled them back on their feet on the way back. This was undoubtedly the most exciting thing that happened during the entire stay on our South Pacific paradise. After 50 years, it is still a joke.
The really stupid part of this entire business of searching the island is that if someone had told us there was anything to be found, we would have had been happy to search that entire rock with a rake – just for something to do.
Love to father
For decades, many have speculated and some have alleged that there are secret U.S. government files which tell the true story of what happened to Amelia Earhart. Those allegations may, in fact, be true – but the government is British, not American and the files, although once secret, are now merely secreted away. Kenton Spading TIGHAR #1382CE and I have just spent a week reviewing those files, and the story they tell is both fascinating and tragic.
The files are in the archives of His Majesty’s Western Pacific High Commission which are now held by the Archive and Library Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office facility in Hanslope Park, England. Situated in a story-book English village about 60 miles northwest of London, the compound stands in stark contrast to the stone cottages and hedge-lined farms which surround it. Security at “the Park” is not tight. It is obsessive. Tall steel fences topped with razor-wire ring the area and not just the buildings, but nearly every door inside every building, requires a swipe-card for admittance. Access to any section is on a strictly need-to-know basis and Kenton and I had to be escorted everywhere we went (which was limited to: to and from the office where we worked, the cafeteria, and the bathroom – thank you very much).
Within the Library and Archive Section, however, we had the complete and eager cooperation of the staff who never hesitated to drop their official work to answer questions, make inquiries (sorry – enquiries) of other departments on our behalf, or help us order up documents from the storage facility. Eventually we ended up with – oh, I would guess – probably two hundred pounds of bound indexes, correspondence registers, and battered folders brimming with yellowed paper. Thanks to Kenton’s careful preparatory work, many files were already pulled and waiting for us when we arrived, as were our security clearances.
We really had no idea how many more documents of interest remained to be seen at Hanslope Park (they had copied and sent the Hoodless report earlier this year) and we were prepared to move on to other possible sources of information elsewhere in England the very next day. As it turned out, we spent the entire week at the Park, buried in paper from about 8:30 to 6:00 every day and discussing our discoveries over a pint in a pub far into the night. The facility is closed on Saturday so we spent our last day at the Public Record Center in Kew, just outside of London. By the time we boarded our respective flights to head back across the Atlantic on Sunday we were both in an advanced state of information overload. It will take months to fully digest the pages and pages of notes, and the roughly 600 pages of documents we photocopied, but here are a few of the more significant facts which have emerged.
There is much more to tell but those are the high points.
Love to mother,
I don’t want to pick semantic nits, but I think we might tend to mislead ourselves if we started referring to the bone-box as a “coffin” (though admittedly, Gallagher does). While a box could certainly be pretty small, a coffin is generally pretty big, and of a pretty definitive shape. There’s no reason I can think of to assume that the Kanawa wood box was any bigger than it needed to be to hold the few bones they’d found, wrapped up in something for protection (cloth, I’d guess, in the absence of newspaper or styrofoam peanuts [or ping pong balls]), and no particular reason to think it’d be coffin-shaped. You’d need a box maybe 18 inches long to accommodate the long bones, maybe about the same width or a little narrower to handle them plus the cranium, and maybe a foot high to accommodate the latter. Maybe bigger if you were really packing them well.
Apparently the shoe parts and the corks-on-chains travelled with the bones, but we don’t know (unless the England Expeditionaries have found out) whether they, the bones, and the sextant box all travelled in the same container or in separate boxes. If everything went in one box, then we probably are talking about something approaching standard coffin size, but I still think we need to keep our minds, and eyes, open.
It’s quite clear from the files that the shipment from Gardner was comprised of two separate containers:
I don’t think that the bottle ever made it to Suva.
I see nothing in Ric’s Preliminary Report to rule out the possibility that the sextant box is Fred Noonan’s sextant box. I believe any “respectable” box of this sort would have dovetailed corners, regardless of its country of origin. In any case, Noonan might have had an old marine sextant from anywhere. And I persist in the belief that those numbers are PAA numbers. I’ll have more to say on that later.
If the castaway was, in fact, a Polynesian, then the question simply becomes: Where did he pick up Fred Noonan’s sextant box? In that case, the Gallagher’s bone site is of only secondary interest. It’s not necessarily the place to look for other Earhart/Noonan artifacts. It had been about three years since Amelia and Fred came up missing. How long may the castaway have been carrying Fred’s sextant box around with him before he perished there on Niku? May he have even brought it with him when he arrived on Niku? And there are the shoe parts... Male and female! Very interesting indeed! Gallagher also found both male and female shoe parts, as did TIGHAR, in 1991! These items seem to further support the idea that Niku is, indeed, the place where it all happened.
Polynesian? Nobody said the bones were Polynesian except that screwball Isaac. Hoodless says they’re European or possibly mixed-race. Macpherson agrees. Our eminent modern forensic anthropologists say they’re most likely female, white and of Nordic extraction. A woman’s shoe and man’s shoe at the site rather strongly suggests that a man and a woman were there. If the sextant was indeed Fred Noonan’s I think that it is most likely that the guy who had it was Fred Noonan.
Congratulations on your successful dig at Hanslope Park. Archeologists just want to have fun, eh? In true TIGHAR fashion you have served up some tasty nuggets that are very promising, I just hope you’re prepared to field all of the questions we TIGHAR fans have.
Just a couple of observations that lend evidence to your theory that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, . . etc. Gallagher, on the other hand, came to a different conclusion. In paragraph #6 of your report, Gallagher surmised that the skeleton “was that of some unfortunate native castaway” who had managed to save “the sextant box and other curious articles found nearby.&Rdquo; If in fact this was a “unfortunate native castaway” didn’t it seem strange to Gallagher that this native would have a sextant box? How many islanders had sextant boxes in the 1930s? I would be hard pressed to believe this item was a normal accoutrement on the South Pacific islands in 1937.
Gallagher continues, speculating that the “native” died of thirst even though there was a coconut grove less then 2 miles away, albeit just beyond an impenetrable belt of bushes. Would not a native immediately set out for the coconut grove had he been stranded on an island? My suspicions are that a native’s chance of survival would be fairly high on Niku, especially since it is his home turf!
All of this raises a couple of points. What does Gallagher means by “native”? Is it a local islander – not necessarily from Niku – or just a colonial that’s been around too long? I take native to mean a local islander. If that is also Gallagher’s definition, then he sure dropped the ball by not questioning a native having a sextant box and dying of thirst in his own back yard. Native, indeed!
I guess this one incident goes to show how firmly denial can mislead us. Wittingly or not, Gallagher apparently played right into the hands of the – oh-oh, here’s that word – conspirators who wanted to keep this stuff under wraps for whatever reason. I know it is unfair to second-guess Gallagher, et. al. 60-plus years later, but, oh boy! it is such great fun!
Mom always did love you best. Good job!!
You’re right Dennis. Gallagher’s comments don’t make a lot of sense until you understand the political situation he found himself in when he wrote them down. He is the one who got everyone all excited about Amelia Earhart, and now here he is at headquarters back in Suva and the bones have turned out to be those of a man and all of his superiors seem to agree that whoever this is, it is not Amelia Earhart. Gallagher is, by far, the junior man in this whole affair. He is like a lieutenant in a room full of colonels and the general. He is a bit embarrassed about the whole affair and eager to go on record as agreeing with the party line.
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