Forum artHighlights From the Forum

August 1, 1998 through August 15, 1998

Subject: Pilot Noonan
Date: 8/4/98
From: Ron Dawson


I enquired of the FAA concerning a possible pilot's license issued to Fred Noonan. Here is the reply, dated July 30, 1998, received today.

Dear Mr. Dawson:

Thank you for your letter requesting verification of certification on Frederick J. Noonan.

Frederick J. Noonan was issued limited commercial pilot certificate 11833 with ratings airplane single engine land, dated January 23, 1930. This letter may be used as verification that our records show the airman has passed all written and practical tests required to obtain the certificate and ratings....

Subject: Landing Choices
Date: 8/4/98
From: Dick Pingrey, 0908C

For Don Neumann


Having made two emergency landings due to engine failures in single engine airplanes during my 40 plus years and several thousand hours as a pilot I can assure you that landing on the best landing site is far more important than landing close to a ship wreck. If at all possible Amelia, or any other reasonable pilot, would land while the engines were still operating (before running out of fuel) and would land where the airplane could be kept intact if at all possible. Landing a twin engine, or any other airplane, without engine power would be a last choice regardless if the landing was made on land or sea.

Dick Pingrey 908C

Subject: Bone Detecting
Date: 8/4/98
From: Vern Klein

To Tom:

>It's too bad there's no such thing as a bone detector.

It wouldn't exactly be a bone detector but I've thought a lot about the kind of technology used in the hard-rock mining industry to separate desired minerals from huge amounts of ground up rock. Floatation and gravimetric methods, and even electrostatic methods used to separate titanium dioxide grains from sand.

I end up thinking there is probably not enough difference in surface properties or density of bone and coral sand to accomplish such a separation. Moreover, it would probably be more difficult, under the circumstances, than just sifting and looking.

On the subject of bones... We have measurements on the skull. Do we also have measurements on the long bones? Both Earhart and Noonan appear to be the tall, long-legged types. Is the "short, stocky" characterization actually correct?

Are we deluding ourselves in thinking these could possibly be the bones of either Earhart or Noonan?

From Ric

Before I reply to Vern's question I want to state that I have no formal training or expertise in what I am about to shoot off my mouth about.

Of the various guesses Dr. Hoodless made about the individual whose bones were found on Niku in 1940, his assessment of height and stature would appear to be the most shaky.

The human body has six types of long bones. They are:

humerus - the upper arm bone, shoulder to elbow
radius - the shorter, thicker forearm bone
ulna - the longer, skinnier forearm bone
femur - the thigh bone, hip to knee
tibia - the shin bone, the thick knee to foot bone
fibula - the thinner knee to foot bone

Of course, a complete person has two of each type.

Of these twelve possible long bones, the remains found on Niku included only six:
left humerus
right radius
right femur
left femur
right tibia
left fibula

As you can see, both ulnas (ulni?) were missing, and in no case were all the bones of any one limb present. In addition, Dr. Hoodless specifically stated that the bones were very "weather-beaten." Gallagher said they were damaged by coconut crabs. It is not unreasonable to expect that there was significant loss at the ends of the bones where joint cartilage might be particularly attractive to the crabs. It is my understanding that loss in these areas makes the accurate assessment of stature much more difficult.

Curiously (to me anyway), Dr. Hoodless chose to use only three of the long bones to estimate the person's height and stature:

the humerus measured 32.4 cm
the tibia measured 37.2 cm
the radius measured 24.5 cm

He didn't include measurements for either of the femurs in his notes.

He applied a standard formula known as Karl Pearson's Formula to the length of the humerus and got an estimated height for the individual of 5 ft. 4.3 inches. By the same method, the tibia indicated a height of 5 ft. 5.7 inches. The radius indicated a height of 5 ft. 6.5 inches. He averaged these and estimated the individual's height at 5 ft. 5.5 inches.

Amelia Earhart's pilot's license says she was 5 ft. 8 inches tall. Fred Noonan listed his height as 6 ft. 1/4 inch.

Karl Pearson's Formula is still in use but has been much revised since 1941. We have yet to have a forensic anthropologist review Dr. Hoodless's work.

Between the comparison of skull measurements with scaled photos of Earhart's and Noonan's heads, and a modern assessment of the reliability of Hoodless's estimates, we should be able to get a better picture of the liklihood, or unliklihood, that the bones found on Niku belonged to either of our friends.

Love to mother,

Subject: Sex Identification of Bones
Date: 8/6/98
From: Daniel Postellon MD

In addition to my M.D., I have a B.A. in anthropology. In theory, it is easy to identfy the sex of a pelvis by looking at the angle formed by the "Sciatic notch". In practice, there are always effeminate male skeletons and android female skeletons, so there is considerable overlap. Statistics and photos of the pubic symphysis (the place where the pelvic bones join in front) were collected from the re-patriated skeletal remains of Korean war dead. The characteristics of this area change with age, and you can get an approximate age as well.

From an archeological perspective, these would be considered "recent" bones. The sex could be dfinitively determined by DNA testing in most modern forensic pathology labs. If you had the bones!

Dan Postellon

Subject: Sex Identification
Date: 8/7/98
From: Tom King

The thing is, the best and easiest way to judge sex from pelvic bones is from the sciatic notches, which exist on both sides of the pelvis and are usually quite distinctive sexually. Ladies got wide open ones for having babies, while gents have narrower ones. So in the sciatic notch department, half a pelvis is almost as good as a whole one -- except, of course, that it's POSSIBLE to have significant disparity between the two notches in a single pelvis. Isaac and Hoodless certainly were well aware of sciatic notches and what they indicated. Hence their attribution of SEX is very likely to be accurate. Age estimates are PROBABLY pretty good because they had the skull (assuming the skull and the post-cranials were from the same bod), and suture closure in the skull is a pretty good (though only pretty good) indicator of age, also well known in the 30s. Stature may be an entirely different matter, though, and in all of this we need the opinions of honest-to-god forensic anthropologists.

Tom King
Project Archeologist

Subject: Noonan Birth Info
Date: 8/14/98
From: Jerry Hamilton

We always knew Fred was born, but we've had a hell of a time proving it. Now we can. The Archdiocese of Chicago has found baptismal records that verify his birth date and father's name, and clarify his mother's name.

He was born Frederick Joseph on April 4, 1893 as his maritime records indicate. He was baptised April 23, 1893. His parents are listed as Joseph T. Noonan and Helena Catharine Alice Egan. The church archivist says the mother's name is her maiden name. This is the first record we've uncovered with her full name which may prove important. It's doubtful Fred had any brothers and sisters (we've found zero evidence of any so far and his mother had died by 1900) so we need to track surviving women from his mother's sisters, if she had any, for dna testing. With an accurate name, the search begins.

Blue skies, -jerry

Subject: Wreck Photo Progress--Tachikawa Ki-54
Date: 8/16/98
From: RAAF Museum

Dear Sirs,

The RAAF Museum is receipt of a request from one of your Australian Associates in regard to a Tachikawa Ki-54. The RAAF Museum Point Cook does possess the fuselage of such an aircraft. This particular aircraft was the one that flew the Japanese General Baba around the Pacific at the end of the War for the signing of surrenders. It made its way back to Australia and subsequently to the Museum.

Can you supply the Museum with some photographs of the wreck and we will endeavour to answer your questions.

The Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Gary Westley and myself are avid readers of you web page. A most intriguing mystery. Any other assistance please do not hesitate to drop a line.


David Gardner, Senior Curator

From Ric:

To which I have replied:

G'day David,

Thanks for replying to Rob Williams' request and contacting me directly.

I've attached a JPEG copy of the infamous Wreck Photo for your perusal. If we can do this electronically it will be easier and quicker for everyone, but I'm also happy to post hard-copy photos if need be.

Here's the puzzle in a nutshell:

The aircraft in the photo is clearly a multi-engined aircraft of stressed aluminum construction which uses two-bladed, non-feathering propellers. That, alone, narrows down the field considerably. The nose section of the aircraft is constructed with at least four circumferentials or bulkheads and has a windshield that features a thick centerpost which flares at the base and has a bead or flange across its entire bottom edge. Behind the leading edge of the right-hand inboard wing section (between the fuselage and engine) is a sheet metal structure which features two large lightening holes.

At this point, the aircraft in the photo seems to be most consistent with the Lockheed Model 10 (about which we know a great deal) and the Tachikawa Ki-54 (about which we know only what we have been able to glean from the scarce literature available). The opportunity to have knowledgable people compare the structures visible in the photo to a real-life Ki-54 is a rare and unique opportunity.

Please let me know if the photo comes though okay or if you need more detailed views from the photo. I'll be very interested to have your comparison.

Thanks again for your help.

Ric Gillespie
Executive Director

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