Highlights From the Forum
April 19 through 18, 1999
This is a response to a query from Bob Brandenburg:
>What do you know about the generator and battery on AE's Electra?
Not enough to get you the kind of information you need. Ideally, we need an Electra that is set up with the same engines, generator and battery as Earhart's and then run some tests. Trouble is, the only 10E in captivity is the one Linda Finch flew around the world in 1997 sponsored by Pratt & Whitney. It's billed as an exact replica of Earhart's. It ain't, but it's fairly close. It's also for sale but I don't know where it is and who has custody of it.
> I know that the
current theory is that the word "circling" was a radio operator's mistake,
All I can tell you is that it is very clear that the word "circling" was added to the log after the word "drifting" had been erased. I'm pretty sure that the original word was "listening" (not "whistling"). I'm also not at all sure that it would have made sense for Earhart to circle. Circling is the only way an airplane can more or less stay in one place while the crew waits for something. (A "holding pattern" is nothing more than organized circling.) In Earhart's situation, circling would mean that they needed to wait until they figured out what they should do next. I think Noonan was a lot sharper than that.
> He convinces himself,
and AE, that they must be Northwest of the island, and AE sets out on
Here's another scenario: He gets to the advanced Line of Position and, to his disappointment but not surprise, no island or ship is in sight. He knows that Howland is either off to the left (337 degrees) or off to the right (157 degrees), but which way to choose? He knew this problem could come up and he already has a plan. He knows he is not hundreds and hundreds of miles off. He also knows that at the time Earhart says "We must be on you but cannot see you" he has roughly 5 hours of fuel left. Happily, there are four islands on or very near his LoP - Howland, Baker, McKean, and Gardner. Howland, however is on the left (NW) end of that string which means that all of his other options are to the SE. He can afford to search northwestward along the line only a short time because if he is already NW of Howland there's nothing out there but water. But as long as he turns and starts heading southeastward along the line when he still has about four hours of fuel left he is virtually guaranteed to find land. If he's off to the NW he'll find Howland. If he's off just a little to the SE he'll soon find Baker and should have enough fuel to backtrack the 40 miles to Howland. If he's further off to the SE he reach either McKean or Gardner and least not have to put the airplane in the drink. It's a failsafe contingency plan provided that 1). He really is on the LoP he thinks he is on; and 2). He heads SE when he still has 4 hours of fuel.
I suspect that this is what AE was trying to say in her final message received by Itasca at 08:43 when they should have had just about 4 hours of gas remaining. Itasca logged the transmission as "We are running north and south." but that doesn't make much sense and it's clear from the log that the transmission caught the operator by surprise when he was doing something else and he's not entirely sure what she said. The actual message may have been something like, "Were running northwest, now southeast."
> So, by considering the bounding variables, we can estimate how much fuel she had remaining on landing at Niku.
But it's going to be a rough estimate.
> That suggests
that her optimal strategy was to start the engine, make her radio transmissions
As noted above, I think that these are going to be difficult data to come by.
> With that information,
or even just max/min estimates, we can estimate when AE would
It may be that the termination of attempted transmissions was dictated not by battery or fuel, but by sea conditions. The "281" message makes reference to "won't hold with us much longer", "above water" and "shut off." These could be references to rising water interfering with the prop or they could refer to rising surf forcing an abandonment of the aircraft.
Don Neumann wrote:
> What still puzzles
me is why this same wreckage was not seen, a week
It is at moments like these that I am thankful for my background in search and rescue.... So, from that background, I would like to discuss the photograph of the island taken by the USS Colorado pilot during the search (if indeed it is a valid image).
Here is what we know and what we can surmise, based on that single image:
1. The photograph was taken from an altitude of greater than 1,000 feet and probably close to 1,500. This is assuming a standard lens (non-telephoto). If the pilot had used a telephoto lens, very unlikely due to weight and space limitations, the altitude would have been even higher. There is no chance the crew used a "fisheye" lens -- there are no noted distortions and it simply would not have been there based on need in aerial recon.
2. The USS Colorado pilot either a) circled the island at that altitude (fairly likely); or b) climbed to altitude to take the photograph so that he could get the entire island, or most of it in any case, in his viewfinder.
3. The USS Colorado pilot, nor any of the other flight crews, were trained SAR experts -- they were instead trained in procedures to spot enemy ships and aircraft. They're best altitudes for these missions would have been above 1,000 and probably in the 5,000 to 10,000 foot altitude. This leads me to believe that they "did the island" (as we would have said in the plane) at around 1,000 to 2,000 feet.
4. You cannot see anybody or much of anything from an altitude of even 1,000 feet when searching an island. When we used to patrol the Cay Sal Bank in the Straits of Florida, our altitudes were between 200 and 300 feet, the lower the better.
5. Thus, unless the pilot climbed up to take that photograph, which I think is unlikely -- the evidence is right there. They missed rescuing Earhart and Noonan, assumption being that they were still alive and on the island, simply because they didn't know how to look. They flew overhead too high and passed them right by.
I cannot imagine what it would have felt like to see the plane fly overhead on a circuit of the island and then watch it fly away. Heartbreaking....
Thomas Van Hare
On the morning of 9 July the three Corsairs were catapulted from the Colorado at 07:00. According to Lambrecht's report (the complete text of which is mounted on this website as Document of the Week) they flew first to McKean Island. Lambrecht says, "As in the case of the subesequent search of the the rest of the Phoenix Islands one circle at fifty feet around McKean roused the birds to such an extent that further inspection had to be made from an altitude of at least 400 feet."
Just what altitude was used at Gardner is not mentioned. Randy Jacobson is of the opinion that the photo of Gardner was taken not during the search but as the flight was returning to the Colorado after having taken a look at Carondelet Reef.
I think there are some other clues to what happened during the search of Gardner contained in Lambrecht's report but I'll let the Forum form its own opinions.
The current theory about what happened to the airplane between the time it landed in fairly good condition (good enough to run the right engine and operate the radio) and the search flight nine days later seams to hinge on the presence of wave action sufficient to break the airplane up, and wash the pieces up among the trees. Even a cursory search would presumably have found an airplane sitting out on the tidal flat, particularly since that is what the searchers were looking for. (or should that be "... that for which the searchers were looking.", or even "...that for which the lookers were searching."?
At any rate, they found "signs of recent habitation", but not the Lockheed. So we have to presume wave action which can destroy and move an airplane, but leave camp fires, tracks and lean-tos (or whatever signs they saw) undisturbed.
I think a more likely theory can be constructed from the available information. The natural (unspoken) assumption when reconstructing the incident is that the fuel tanks were empty. After all, she landed because she had run out of fuel.
First, since the right engine was apparently run for some period, there must have been some fuel.
Second, even if there was no fuel available for the engines, there was fuel on the aircraft. There is a difference, sometimes a large difference, between total fuel in a tank, and total useable fuel. Because of the design and construction of fuel tanks some fuel can not be picked up by the pumps. In many cases this is deliberate as water, crud and contaminants which are heavier than fuel will settle to the bottom. You don't want those being fed to the engines. Good filters will protect the engine, but they will clog and not allow any more fuel to pass, resulting in that very loud silence which all flyers hate.
I assume that NR16020 was set up with engine main tanks in the nacelle or inboard wing area that each fed their respective engine. These would probably have both electric booster pumps, and direct suction pickups from the engine driven pumps (so the engines would stay running in the event of an electrical failure). The other fuel tanks (including the long range tanks added inside the fuselage) would have electrical transfer pumps. There would possibly also be a manual pump (a so called "wobble pump") and a set of valves and piping to manually transfer fuel from the long range tanks to the mains. Either the manual, or the electrical pumps would be used to transfer fuel to the main tanks, where it would subsequently be fed to the engines. The long range tanks probably were set up to feed from a normal flight attitude (floor level) with fuel pickup points in the center. The mains should have had dual pickup points, so they would feed from a normal flight attitude, or while sitting tail down during ground ops.
The point of all this is, there was probably a considerable amount of fuel in the tanks, pumps, piping, valves and filters which was not useable while sitting on the tidal flat. AE and FN may have wanted to get this fuel out for a variety of reasons. They may have wanted to manually transfer it to the right main tank by draining it into a container, and then pouring it back in through the over wing filler caps (been there, done that). They may have wanted it for cooking, or to fuel a water still, or for a signal fire. AVGas, engine oil and green foliage makes a dandy smoky fire.
For the fuselage tanks, they may have disassembled the fuel transfer manifolds (draining them, there pumps and filters) and/or cut a hole in the back bottom corner of the tanks to drain residual fuel. Either way fuel will be spilled. They have the fuel out and close the airplane back up for the night. The tide rises, floats the spilled fuel, and whatever is left in the now open tanks. The tide reaches the backup battery, shorts it out, ignites the trapped fuel vapor, and presto, you have a disassembled airplane. An explosion of even a small amount of AVGas trapped in a closed space should be sufficient to shred the fuselage structure. (Is this consistant with the damage pattern of the big skin piece?) The normal wave action now has much smaller pieces to hide.
If the design of the fuel system is known a pretty close estimate could be made of how much unusable fuel there was in the plane. Lockheed test reports or CAA documents might specify.
The damage to the big skin piece (Artifact 2-2-V-1) appears to have been caused by an abrupt and very poerful fluid force applied from the inside of the airplane outward. That force could have been a fuel/air explosion as you suggest. It could also be simply a big wave hitting an already-busted-up airplane.
You make a good point about wave action strong enough to throw an Electra centersection up into the bushes also obliterating "signs of recent habitation" on the beach. I can think of a couple of possibilities:
1. The surf action was sufficient to break up the airplane but it remained on the reef flat obscured by the surf itself. (Take a look at the Lambrecht photo on the website and ask yourself whether you'd be able to see airplane wreckage on that reef.) The big storm that ultimately flung wreckage up into the treeline might not have happened until much later.
2. Or alternativley; The more credible post-loss radio signals ceased abruptly around midnight on July 4th. Let's say that the wreckage was deposited in the bush at that time. The Navy overflight didn't happen until July 9th. Five days is plenty of time to leave signs of recent habitation.
The scenario you describe is possible, but it also relies upon a fairly complex sequence of events. I don't want to get into the whole Occam's (Ockam's, whatever) Razor thing again, but in general I think that the simpler we can keep our hypotheses, the better.
Yes, we did have dogs on Atafu. Three dogs, Rosie, Diesel and Hill. The last two were named after the generators used to furnish power to operate the Station. I checked with others stationed on Atafu and they tell me the natives were not interested in eating dog meat. I was not sure. I know the dogs were there when I left and were there when they closed the station.
Keep up the good work.
I'm assuming that the dogs were there when you got there (i.e. you didn't bring them with you) and that the local residents had other dogs of their own. Yes?
How big were the dogs? Most similar to what breed that we might recognize? What did they eat? Did they wander free around the island or were they restrained in some way?
It took me several emails and phone calls and a few days to find out that dogs on Atafu were not on Atafu when the Loran Constuction Group arrive in l944 to build the Atafu Cost Guard Station. The dogs may have come with the Construction Group or later with the manning crew. The natives did not have dogs on the Island before the Coast Guard arrived. The dogs were terrier size, short hair and were white and black. They were fed left overs from our galley. They stayed at the Coast Guard Station and did not wander to the village. They were left to wander around the station. When the station was closed, the dogs were left with the natives. The only other animal on the Island were pigs. We had two pig roasts with the natives (it took several pigs to feed the 500 or so) which was an all day picnic. Played baseball and other games while the food was being prepared. They also had chickens. The pigs and chickens were fed mostly pieces of the dried coconut meat. I have pictures of two of the dogs.
My Dog Theory might be in trouble. Your description of the Hounds of Atafu sounds exactly like the photo I have (via Dick Evans) of the two Coastie dogs on Gardner. Clearly there was an ample supply of terrier-sized, shorthaired, black and white dogs that were adopted as pets by Coast Guard Loran stations. But where did they come from? It's hard to believe that they came all the way from the States. Canton maybe? If so, how did they get to Canton? Is this a typical type of dog in Micronesia? (AKC registered Carrion Terriers?) And the question remains, did the Gilbertese settlers on Gardner bring dogs with them?
And then there's the pigs. We know there were pigs brought to Gardner but we're not sure that happened before 1940. Did the pigs roam free? I can tell you that they do on Funafuti. Do pigs go off with bones the way dogs do? Not that I know of, but I've never been that intimate with pigs. (Don't start.)
Something scattered those bones, gnawed on the ends, and tore apart the shoes - and I still have trouble accepting that it was only the crabs.
Love to mother,
I don't want to stir up any "stuff" on the forum with this, unless you think it may somehow be relevant; but, in discussing the matters of bones, etc. with a friend, she brought up a point about why they may have been incomplete and scattered.
I dismissed this as more than likely impossible, but will ask the question in light of your recent response to a posting, "we may have something unusual and violent on Niku."
Is it even conceivable that the island may have been visited by a band of cannibals from some place else, who might be responsible for this? Or, is this too Blue Lagoon or Robinson Crusoe, as I told my friend (who watches a lot of movies, and insisted that Yes It Could Be!).
If you consult with any anthropologists who may know an answer, it might be that they will ask if anything was found on Niku which resembles native religious-ritual artifacts.
This is something totally out of my areas of expertise, but maybe the question was worth asking. Don't post it unless you think it would be productive.
It's not a stupid question and if you thought of it, chances are that others have thought of it. Few of us have had the opportunity to have first hand exposure to Pacific island cultures and we only know what we've read in popular books and seen in movies.
I'm not an anthropologist but I know that we have some excellent ones on the forum so I'll leave it to them to sink their teeth into this one.
OK, I'll bite. Fijians and some other Pacific islanders used to practice cannibalism, but it's been a long, long time since they did. While there's always the possibility of a Melanesian Charlie Manson doing kinky things with bodies (I know, CM didn't eat 'em; I just can't think of a better example), the chances are a whole lot smaller than that some carnivore that's less selective than humans did the deed.
LTM (who has a great
Yeah, but remember that big pot Van and I dug up in the village?
I was doing some thinking based upon Ric's response, and came up with a few questions that may plug in to the coral-landing scenario, as follows:
1. Given that some fuel must have been yet present (since the statistical odds of AE just spotting the island as her engines sputtered out are fairly remote) for her to run the engine containing the magneto which charged the batteries, she would have been able to run the engine at its lowest possible speed and still charge said batteries while conserving available fuel, wouldn't she?
2. If a fuel/air explosion took place inside the fuselage, distorting the big skin piece as indicated, would such a detonation have had sufficient explosive force to render gross structural damage to the plane similar to that sustained by the plane in the "wreck photo," minus, of course, any subsequent scavenging/deterioration?
3. Could such an explosion also have been a source of injury (flashburns,etc, even fatal ones, over a day's time) to AE and/or FN? It would seem that attempting to operate ANY kind of electrical equipment in the presence of confined fuel vapors from damaged lines or pumping would be a major danger. I do know that one gallon of vaporized gasoline alone has the explosive force of 33 sticks of dynamite. I have no guess as to what such forces are with aircraft fuel. It might even be enough to blow an engine off, huh?
Food for thought!
I'm also glad to be back, having been away doing lots of spring musical performances. Contrary to any speculation, I was not lost on an island or anything.
Way to go Ric, a genuine hypothesis followed by determined research. Obviously, the search must exist on land at this point in history, it's the only practical venue.
IMO, the Canton engine is worth finding at all cost, it's the best clue you have.
About the Wreck photo, we all can see this exists, whether or not it's Lockheed 10. There would be immense credibility if it can be found, no matter what it turns out to be.
The Sextant box. The numbers are probably written by a calibrator, a rebuilder of precision optics. Can you find out who repaired sextants for PAA?-- airlines just send this stuff out for rework, hence the unknown numbering system.
Are you absolutely positive that only right hand engine had a generator? TCDS list generators as options. If you were Mantz or anyone involved, would you not install generators on both engines since you could? ( see wreck photo ) If not, a desperate attempt might be made to remove the blanking plate and remount the existing generator on the operable engine. If it has an opposite rotation, the brush plate can be rotated 90 degrees for reverse rotation--the fields will work either way. There's plenty of wire available, and it's simple enough if there's no other option. Also, the generator could be rigged to turn by hand to charge batteries (laboriously!) if there are no engines operable.
I claim to be no AE expert, just humbly asking questions.
This puzzle humbles all of us. Welcome aboard!
About the Canton
About the Wreck
only on right-hand engine:
modifications or repairs by AE and FN:
I don't think a dog (or pig) theory is absolutely needed to get the skeletons dispersed:
I read somewhere on the site, that Gallagher in one of his official messages to his bosses, specifically stated that the coconut crabs chewed and scattered many of the bones. For what we know of Gallagher, chances are that this was not an idle speculation, but likely if was common knowledge amongst his Gilbertese people. Quite possibly they knew that's what happened to bones left over from a pig roast. May be that knowledge of the interaction of coconut crabs with bones is still around in the islands nowadays? Anybody knows?
Another point I didn't quite see brought forward is the location of the 2 skeletons: I don't really have any experience with starving to death; I would think that 2 people in such circumstances are unlikely to pass into a coma at the same time (say a few hours...)
Then, if I was the survivor, I think I'd do the following:
1==if left with
enuf strength and with tools, I'd bury the other guy. Or:
I'd think the 2 skeletons said to have been seen by the first Gilbertese in 1938 were some distance apart.
It's also quite possible that one of the 2 was injured in the landing and died soon afterwards.
How would that fit with everything else, Ric???
Generally speaking, it's better to accept the word of the primary source than to assume that the contemporaneous observer is mistaken. So, in principle, if Gallagher said that crabs did the deed, they probably did. An exception would be in the case where better information is available today than was available to the contemporaneous observer, as in the case of Hoodless's evaluation of the bones. Was Gallagher drawing on Gilbertese expertise in blaming the crabs, or was he making an assumption baseed upon his own perceptions about coconut crabs? I don't know. So far we haven't been able to come up with a documented instance of crabs moving bones. We do have one documented instance of a skeleton (cat type) remaining intact on Niku.
About the two skeletons:
I agree absolutely that the simplest theory is the best. Sir William of Occam (British mathematician and logician), in his Principle of Parsimony said; "Do not include in a theory one more element than is absolutely necessary to explain the observed facts". This does not mean that your theory will be correct, merely that it will be less likely to be incorrect. The principal came to be known as Occam's Razor because it allows you to shave off unnecessary elements. At each step ask yourself if the general theory will still work with this element removed? If so, leave it out.
The current scenario includes a miraculous wave which can move an airplane and drop it among trees without so deranging the foliage as to arouse comment by the search pilots. It also must either leave signs of previous human habitation, or leave survivors on the island to produce new signs. That is an unsupported element which is not necessary to explain the observed facts.
The gas explosion idea includes only elements which are known to have been present at the time. If you need an alternative ignition source, you mentioned that the transmissions cut off abruptly at around midnight on July 4. Fumes could have been ignited by the aircraft radio or electrical system.
As to the possibility of the search pilots missing the airplane pieces on the tidal flat, I think they could have missed small enough pieces, but anything approaching a whole airplane would have been seen, that's what they were looking for. Also, incidentally, if the aircraft was so destroyed as to be hidden in four feet of water then the wreck photo is definitely invalidated. The remains in the wreck photo could not have been covered by the water.
Korzybski's General Semantics is a text which deals with "the meaning of meaning", or, perhaps more clearly, how we know what we know. It is a highly recommended book for anyone involved in physical or historical research, or criminal investigation.
Actually, that's not what Occam said and what he did say has been taken waaay out of context and applied in ways he never intended (we had a huge and excruciatingly erudite discussion of this on the forum several months ago). But that's beside the point. (See Forum FAQs.)
We're trying to construct a scenario which would:
The real problem with postulating speculative scenarios is that we end up making judgements about things we really don't know squat about. How would big waves break up a Lockheed 10? How much of the wreckage would be visible from the air? How hard is it to see wreckage on the reef if there is surf running? How hard would it be to get that airplane to blow up? Could anybody survive such an event? etc. etc.
As a general rule I always remind myself that any time someone (including me) uses the term "would have" what they're really saying is "I don't know, but based upon what I think I know, I'm guessing that....."
The explosion scenario is one I've argued for myself. It could have happened. But when I'm looking for forces that could disassemble an airplane on or near the shore of that island, it feels more comfortable to use something that is always right there (moving water) than something that requires a complex sequence of events (an explosion).
Shame on you Ric! How many times have I told you there was no nasty weather or surf during that time frame (the week she disappeared)? It is easy to check via all available ship logs, which denote swell and sea conditions, along with wind. The first two are excellent diagnostics for large area sea conditions, and the conditions were calm! The conditions are also checked via the Baker, Howland, and Jarvis diaries. Calm, I say! Quit ascribing events to nature that are not realistic!
(Don't worry folks. We fight like this all the time.)
Calm? What's calm? On the morning of July 9 when Colorado is standing a few miles off Gardner her deck log shows a sea state of "1" (defined as "moderate swell - calm or light sea"). Now look at the photo of the reef-flat on Gardner taken that morning. (The Lambrecht Photo). There is clearly surf breaking all across the reef-flat. I can tell you that you sure as heck wouldn't want to be standing on the coral in those conditions. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. In fact, it's impossible to stand on the coral in those conditions. What do you think would happen to a little Lockheed 10 in that environment? Rolled up in a ball is the answer. The surf in the Lambrecht photo is not sufficient to toss the main body of wreckage up into the treeline, but it is (in my opinion) sufficient to break up the airplane and obscure the wreckage from overhead observation. The true storm that ultimately puts big chunks of wreckage up in the bushes can come along much later - maybe months later.
What were the sea conditions at Gardner around midnight on July 4th when I speculate that the surf became bad enough to force abandoment of the aircraft? I don't know. And neither do you. The closest vessel recording sea conditions that day was Itasca which was about 500 miles north and experiencing sea state "1" and "2" which, based on the Lambrecht photo, was more than adequate to cause the damage speculated. (Phfffft.)
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