Forum artHighlights From the Forum

April 24 through May 2, 1999

Subject: Re: Plane Wreckage
Date: 4/24/99
From: Randy Jacobson

Sea States run from 0 to 12 (Hurricane Force winds). SS 1 and 2 are below white caps, meaning winds less than 13 mph of 11 knots. This is considered mild, and FAC to oceanographers (flat-a_s calm). The ships in the area would have observed high swell at short periods for a storm anywhere nearby at 1000 mile range, and they did not for the entire month of July. So there! Phffft back! I agree that IF the plane was on the reef edge, then the surf hitting the island (don't forget the steep slope produces strong breaking waves ONLY at the reef edge during normal conditions), then it could have been broken up. But NOT such that it ended up on the island such as the photo suggests.

From Ric

How many times do I need to say this? The wreckage doesn't NEED to be up in the bushes in order for the search planes to miss it. A busted up Electra in the surf at high tide could be virtually impossible to see from the air. The Wreck Photo could very well show the effect of a later storm of sufficient intensity to deposit the main body of debris in the bush.

Subject: Wreckage Debate
Date: 4/25/99
From: Randy Jacobson

I still argue with Ric about the weather during the week of July 2, 1937. My response to his scenario:

> 1. Airplane is landed safely on reef-flat and radio signals are sent, off and on,
> for 2 to 3 days.
> 2. High seas and violent surf destroy the airplane, leaving only scattered wreckage
> on the reef-flat when the Navy flies over a week later. Surf obscures the wreckage
> from observation, but "signs of recent habitation" (footprints, a campfire, etc.) are
> visible on the beach."

was that there is contrary evidence that there were not high seas enough during that week to destroy the airplane, based upon ship's and nearby island's records of surf, wind, swell, and seas. Ric's further response was:

>"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."

I agree with Ric that IF the airplane was at the reef edge, that is could be broken up by the surf breaking at the reef edge, and that eventually, parts of the plane could be strewn upon the beach, and possibly inland with a large storm sometime after July, 1937. If you read Ric's scenario closely, it says that the plane is wrecked to pieces, sufficiently so that it cannot be seen by the Navy (due to surf action?). If that is the case, then Ric clearly does not believe the plane photo purported to be AE's is really hers, as that plane appears to be carried, placed, or taxied into the bushes, where it disintegrates and/or falls apart. A plane wreck on the reef edge would disintigrate pretty fast into many small pieces, and could not be carried intact to the shore and beyond as the photo indicates. Ric, you can't have it both ways, so which scenario is the one you truly believe? You should tell me and the forum why, and the pros and cons of each.

Your humble attack pig, Randy.

From Ric

First of all, the airplane doesn't have to be, and probably isn't, way out at the reef edge. When the swells kick up, as shown in the Lambrecht photo, surf runs a considerable distance toward the beach before it peters out. The bigger the swells, the more surf on the reef-flat, until eventually in really heavy weather you get breakers coming right up onto the beach and into the treeline.

At a time when the sea is calm, the airplane can be landed - say - midway between the reef edge and the beach, wherever the coral is smoothest. A few days later the swell can increase to where the surf is reaching the airplane. The Lockheed is buoyant so it doesn't take much surf at high tide to lift it up and plonk it back down hard enough to collapse the gear. All radio messages cease and it probably doesn't take much scraping around on the coral before it's not buoyant anymore. Once that happens, the highest point on the airplane is only about five feet so, at high tide with a surf running, all you see is white water.

You say, “A plane wreck on the reef edge would disintigrate pretty fast into many small pieces, and could not be carried intact to the shore and beyond as the photo indicates.”

Remember what I said about statements of what "would" happen? How fast and how much the airplane would break up depends entirely upon how much force it is subjected to. It takes far less force to render it invisible from the air in the surf than it does to reduce it to tiny pieces. The airplane in the Wreck Photo exhibits exactly the kind of damage I would expect from wave damage. The parts that are missing (upper fuselage, outer wing panels, cowlings of the port engine) are precisely the parts that might get literally blown off an airframe engulfed by great volumes of moving water. The apparent violent removal of the starboard engine and lack of damage to the port engine is just the kind of capricious damage that occurrs in natural disasters. The airplane in the Wreck Photo has not fallen apart or disintegrated in place. The cabin roof has not fallen in (airplane cabin roofs don't do that anyway, as evidenced in abundant photos of old abandoned wrecks). It is just flat gone. The starboard engine has not simply fallen off. It is just flat gone. The nose section is still present but has collapsed down and to the side. It is probably still attached to the center section by the thicker belly skins.

I don't want it both ways. The Wreck Photo looks to me like the natural result of logical series of natural phenomena.


Subject: The Lambrecht Report
Date 4/26/99
From: Phil Tanner

Even making allowances for the gung-ho approach of flyers 60+ years ago, it still reads to me as if the pilot(s) took it a bit lightly. Too much faith in his own sweeping assumptions - e.g. "In fact, on any of these islands it is not hard to believe that a forced landing could have been accomplished with no more damage than a good barrier crash or a good wetting".

He says "the lagoon at Gardner looked sufficiently deep and certainly large enough so that a seaplane or even an airboat could have landed or taken off in any direction with little if any difficulty", but he doesn't take the trouble to land, although he does so at an inhabited island soon after. Writing "Gardner is a typical example of your south sea atoll" suggests to me he is thinking in stereotypes of tropical paradise and not considering the possibility that people could be there but too distressed after a week to be able to make themselves known. I can well see why the top brass wanted the report toned down.

Phil Tanner

From Ric

A couple of comments: Lambrecht's landing at Hull made sense only because there were people there who could come in a canoe to talk to him. Landing a float plane in one of those lagoons leaves you stranded out in the middle of the lagoon, unable to get anywhere near the shore for fear of running aground, and forced to keep the engine running to keep from drifting into a coral head and holing a float (in which case you would really be screwed).

There is also reason to believe that whatever Lambrecht meant by "signs of recent habitation" he didn't mean huts, shacks, or buildings. When he sees those things on islands he specifically mentions them. At Sydney Island, for example, he says,

"There were signs of recent habitation and small shacks could be seen among the groves of coconut palms, but repeated zooms failed to arouse any answering wave..."

This is almost identical to the language he uses to describe what he saw and did at Gardner, except there is no mention of shacks on Gardner. So what does Lambrecht mean by "signs of recent habitation"? Author Fred Goerner was quite sure that it had nothing to do with Amelia. In an October 1991 letter to Tom King he wrote:

"There is no mystery about (what Lambrecht saw on Gardner). I knew Captain Lambrecht quite well, and we corresponded at length and spoke many times via telephone. Lambrecht told me there were what appeared to be stone walls on a part of Gardner that appeared to have been part of what were once houses. Gardner had been inhabited in the late 19th and early 20th century."

Tom gently pointed out to him that there were no stone walls on Gardner and that the place had been "inhabited" only briefly by some laborers in the late 19th century.

In a February 1992 letter Goerner corrected his recollection: "..I gave you a bad read in my first letter. John said he saw what appeared to be stone walls or some kind of old construction on McKean Island. On Gardner, he saw what appeared to be markers of some kind."

But in a March 1990 letter to me, Goerner had said of this same issue: John Lambrecht assured me that they were totally convinced that Gardner and the other Phoenix Islands with the exception of Hull were uninhabited. His "signs of recent habitiation" on Gardner were undoubtedly the markers left by HMS Leith in March, 1937."

In my opinion, John Lambrecht never told Fred Goerner anything about what he saw on Gardner. I suspect that the whole "markers" thing is Fred's own 1990 supposition coming back in 1992 as attributed to Lambrecht. HMS Leith left no markers on Gardner in March of 1937. On February 15, 1937 a shore party from Leith erected one flagpole onthe beach with a placard attached to it proclaiming the island as His Majesty's property. The log shows that the party was gone from the ship all of 20 minutes.

So if Lambrecht didn't see structures or markers, what did he see? There may be a further clue in something that was allegedly seen on Sydney. Although mentioned in neither Lambrecht's report or Bill Short's letter to his father, an Associated Press report from the correspondent aboard USS Colorado dated July 10 reads as follows:


After considerable consultations with language scholars, the reported words KELE FASSAU MOLEI really don't make any sense. Lambrecht saw shacks, etc. on Sydney but saw no people because Jonesy on Hull had recently pulled off the Tokelau laborers who had been planting coconuts there. But questions abound.

  • Did the pilots really see dozens of words written in the sand on Sydney? Letters in the sand are certainly temporary enough to qualfy as signs of RECENT habitation.
  • Or was this story just a gag the pilots were playing on the journalist?
  • And if not, why would laborers write words in the sand?
  • Most importantly, were there marks in the sand on the ground at Gardner?

Love to mother,

Subject: "The Last Flight of Noonan"
Date: 4/29/99
From: Tet Walston

I have a copy of The Last Flight of Noonan, and agree that the mixture of fact (minimal) and the author's fictional assumptions, is confusing and unconvincing.

However, my observations of the known details of the last leg of the flight, lead me to believe that the end was most likely a crash into the sea.

Even allowing for the "Offset" method of finding a small island, the lack of radio operating skills of both flyers was a recipe for disaster.

Gardner Island is a long way from Howland, even if it lies on or near the last reported LOP.

Did Noonan pick the wrong offset? Did he think that they were NW of Howland, thus he would order a turn to the SE down the LOP. Why did they say they were circling?

Noonan was used to flying with a Radio Operator to assist in D/F, and Amelia was not well versed in instrument flying. Mantz had tried his best to correct this, but time was against him.

I hope your search leads to a definite conclusion, it would be wonderful to prove that we know the final landing place of Amelia -- but what if the result is negative?


From Ric

The beauty of the scientific method is that you always know what to do next. If you test your hypothesis and it proves to be false, then you use that new information to formulate a new hypothesis. The most important thing is to make sure you're using the best informational available - and that's where you run into a little trouble with your hypothesis that she went down at sea.

  • There is no evidence that Noonan used any kind of offset navigation.
  • They almost certainly did not say they were circling. That word was added to the Itasca log over the partially-erased word "drifting." What she probably really said was "listening."
  • There's no reason to think that Earhart's disappearance had anything to do with any lack of skill she may have had at instrument flying. The weather was good.
  • Gardner is roughly 350 nautical miles from Howland and, as you say, on the line Earhart said she was on at a time when she should have had the capability of flying roughly another 520 nautical miles. To postulate that they did NOT reach Gardner is to say that they did not do something they were capable of doing and said they were doing, but instead did something else for four hours until they ran out of gas.


Subject: Amelia and Fred
Date: 4/30/99
From: Tet Walston

Noonan should have planned to arrive at the (now) wellknown LOP at the ETA for Howland, but made sure that he knew which way to turn to see/reach his destination. This was and is the safest way--arrange to steer either to the left or right of TRACK by adjusting the COURSE to STEER. When ETA is reached, turn in the direction planned.

Surely, if he was such a skilled navigator, he would have done this.

As for Amelia and Instrument flying, she would have to be careful during those long NIGHT hours I still think that a landfall of Gardner if it happened, reflects badly on the decisions possibly made by the crew.



From Ric

You're making the same mistake Weisheit makes. You look at what YOU would have done which is, of course, what any GOOD navigator would do, and because Noonan was a good navigator, it MUST be what he did. But you are not Noonan and you are not in the situation he was in.

Many theorists have proclaimed that Noonan MUST have used some kind of offset, but there is also a strong consensus among highly experienced navigators that if he felt that he had a solid fix on his position through celelstial observations during the night and every expectation of getting a DF bearing to help him fine tune his approach to the island once he got within a couple hundred miles or so, it is entirely reasonable to presume that he took a straight shot just as the Pan Am Clippers routinely did.

If Amelia needed help holding the airplane on course during those long night hours she had a Sperry GyroPilot autopilot for just that purpose.

The crashed-and-sank hypothesis looks great as long as you don't have all the facts.


Subject: Sextant Box Redux
Date: 4/30/99
From: Randy Jacobson and Ric Gillespie

We have discussed a lot about the significance of the numbers on the Sextant Box, but what about the use of the term "stenciled"? That is a quite specific term, meaning different from affixed label, handwritten, etc. What are your thoughts on the use of that terminology?

From Ric

I KNOW you Randy. This is some kind of a trap - right? Okay, I'll bite.

Stencil, stencil, stencil ... A stencil is a paper or carboard cutout which allows the rapid application of legible letters, numbers or symbols to a surface with paint without requiring any particular expertise on the part of the person doing the painting. Yes?

So what does that tell us about the box upon which a number was stencilled? Well, it seems reasonable to assume that it was one of many boxes or objects which required numbering. That implys that it was part of a large (or at least largish) inventory that was "charged out" by number.

By contrast, this was not a treasured, one-of-a-kind personal possession at time the stencilled number was applied. However, there was another number on the box which was (we assume) not stencilled. What does THAT mean? Well, it seems safe to assume that the number was applied by a different entity than whoever applied the stencil. If the box needs two numbers on it, why not stencil them both? For that matter, why put a number on the outside of a box except for accounting purposes? (We already discussed and dismissed the notion that calibration numbers would be permanently written on the outside of a box.) So why TWO accounting numbers apparently applied by different people? The answer that comes most readily to mind is two different successive owners, each of whom has his own accounting system. Because an organization large enough to require stencilled numbers also probably buys new equipment, the stencilled number most likely came first. A second owner, possibly an individual with a collection of instruments, seems the most likley author of the presumably handwritten number.

How'd I do?


Subject: RE: Sextant Redux
Date: 5/1/99
From: Tom Van Hare

Ric wrote, regarding the box and stencils:

> How'd I do?

Ric, not bad. Except that I rather think that it was two different divisions of a large organization -- one the original owner, the other a division to which or through which the box was transfered. There is also the possibility that it has to do with a second item in the box at the time of sign-out, say, the inverting eyepiece which was separately logged.

Thomas Van Hare

From Ric

Would a separate division within the same organization use a totally different accounting system? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the parent organization is Pan American Airways and they have so darn much stuff that stencil numbers on all the boxes of various instruments, special tools, etc. so that this sextant becomes Pan Am Item Number 3500. Now let's say that Item Number 3500 gets charged out to the new Pacific Division of Pan American Airways. Naturally, they need to keep track of the thing, but why don't they just call it Item Number 3500?

And if component parts (like inverting eyepieces) are accounted for separately (which, as far as I know, they normally are not) why aren't both numbers stencilled?


Subject: Sextant Numbers
Date: 5/2/99
From: Various folks

I was indeed surprised to learn that at one time, Pan Am regarded their Pacific and Atlantic Divisions as two autonomous airlines. As recently as the DC-6 operation, they published two distinct flight manuals. From an outsider's observation, I'm not sure the two Divisions even talked to each other. A modern-day corollary might be Boeing's Everett and Renton plants.

It would not surprise me if they did, in fact, have two separate numbers for the same piece of equipment.

Skeet Gifford

From Tom King

This is probably a silly idea, but what if the non-stencilled number has nothing to do with the sextant? What if somebody uses the box as a convenient surface on which to scribble a number for future reference? Does the non-stencilled number resemble any number that anybody on the island (like Fred) might have jotted down?

Re. Tom Hare's post -- isn't it interesting that nautical sextants were regarded as more accurate than those made for aerial use? Wonder if Fred thought so, too. And do we have anything, Tom, on numbers assigned to nauitical sextants?

LTM (who wonders where she is)
Tom King

From Ric

Well, the second number was 1542. Doesn't look like Lat or Long. Could be time. Any significance to 3:42 p.m. other than nearly tea time? It's also the year that Mary Queen of Scots ascended the throne and Fred could have just jotted the number down to jog his memory. No, that's probably not it. Other ideas?

From Randy Jacobson

No're too paranoid for me to lay out a good one. I brought up stenciling because so far, no one has identified a sextant box with stenciled numbers or letters. Pretty good, huh? That means that the stenciling is somewhat unique in the world of sextant box users, and might be a good lead to follow if we can ever find stenciling on another sextant box.

From Ric

You're just saying that to get me to let down my guard.

Yes, apparently stencilling of numbers on the outside of sextant boxes is not a terribly popular activity. It's also clear that neither the stencilling nor the numbers themselves were at all familiar to anybody who looked at the thing in 1941. The British authorities immediately focused on the sextant box numbers as the best means of ascertaining the identity of the castaway but despite their best efforts (including showing the box to Harold Gatty who had worked for Pan Am), they came up blank. At least we have the Pensacola box.

From Tom Van Hare

Ric, this whole sextant number puzzle is quite important if for no other reason that if the record can be found, the mystery of the identity could also be solved -- and it may be as simple as that.

With that said, I can now report, as of this week's final search through Archives, that the USN sextant logs and tracking numbers were not turned over to Archives and preserved. While they may be somewhere out there, it is quite more likely that they have been destroyed.

With that said, the importance of these numbers does not diminish, just the difficulty of solving the puzzle. At this point, my best guess on this is that the number of the sextant would definitely be placed on the outside of the box and that the very fact of it being numbered indicates clearly that this was organizational, meaning a bureaucratic function. This can only mean large business (ala Pan Am) or the US Government, including the Navy.

From Ric

'Xcept neither number on the outside of the Pensacola box matches the sextant inside.

Subject: USCGC Buttonwood
Date: 5/2/99
From: Tom Van Hare

Better sit down. The logs for the USCGC Buttonwood for the date in question are simply gone. We've pulled and copied everything from October onward, but all logs before that date have been removed and are nowhere in the Archives system or records. This is VERY STRANGE.

Thomas Van Hare

From Ric

NOW we've got us a mystery. Let's review it.

In "Episode One - The Wreck Photo" we come upon a mysterious photograph of a wrecked airplane in a tropical setting said to have been taken by British sailor Ray Elliot (Eliot, Elliott?) in "either the last week of 1946 or the first week of 1947" while serving in HMS Adamant, a large submarine tender. Trouble is, there is no record of a Ray Eliott (of any spelling) serving in Adamant and for this entire time period the ship was tied to the dock in Hong Kong. And yet exhaustive analytical work with the photo leaves us with the distinct suspicion that his could be a picture of Earhart's wrecked Electra on Nikumaroro.

In "Episode Two - The Children's Story" we are stuck in the tropical paradise (not) of Funafuti enroute home from our storm-tossed 1997 expedition when we come upon some former residents of Nikumaroro. An old man who had been the island's schoolmaster in the late '50/early '60s tells us of airplane wreckage he had seen along the lagoon shore. His daughter, who was a child at that time, tells us that she and the other children had played on airplane wreckage in the bush on the island's western shore. Just before we leave she says, " Some white people came once in a government take pictures of the airplane parts."

In "Episode Three - The Voyage of the Buttonwood" we receive a phone call from Dan Skellie of Toledo, Ohio who tells us that in January 1947 he was in the Coast Guard serving aboard the cutter Buttonwood. They sailed out of Honolulu for Canton Island, crossing the equator on Jan, 9th (he has his "shellback" certificate). From Canton they went to Howland and Baker to "dismantle lighthouses." He said that he and most of the shore party had to wait on the beach while an officer and some senior NCOs did whatever they did. It was real hot. At Howland they came back with a really thick piece of glass. (My guess is that it was the lens from the light - the only really valuable part of a lighthouse.) They returned to Canton and then went to Gardner Island where they dropped off an officer who had been with them since Hawaii but was not attached to the ship. Mr. Skellie doesn't recall the officer's name or exact rank but he was junior to the ship's CO who was a Lieutenant-Commander. Nobody in the enlisted crew knew for sure what this guy was about, but the scuttlebut was that he had screwed up big-time back in Groton (CG headquarters in Connecticut) and was to do 6 months disciplinary duty at a 2-man radar site on Gardner. Anyway, they left the guy on Gardner and continued down to Pago Pago, then returned directly to Hawaii. End of story.

This struck us as rather strange. The Coast Guard just doesn't do stuff like this. We're quite sure that there never was any kind of "radar site" on Gardner and the wartime Loran station was disassembled and packed up in 1946. We had previously checked out another visit to Gardner by a U.S. ship (the USS Swan in 1942) by examining the ship's logs and found nothing suspicious. But the date of the incident reported by Mr. Skellie - January 1947 - (supported by his "shellback" certificate) matches almost exactly the date ascribed to the Wreck Photo - "either the last week of 1946 or the first week of 1947" Perhaps the logs of the Buttonwood would explain what really happened.

And now we have "Episode Four - The Missing Logs." Tom says that the Buttonwood's logs for dates prior to October 1947 are missing. This does seem to be very unusual, especially for a ship which should be on a routine peacetime mission. We need to get to the bottom of this. Maybe all these things that look like they may be connected, aren't. But if we learned anything from the whole episode of the bones it's that, despite more than 60 years of fascination with the disappearance, there can be big chunks of the Earhart story that nobody knows about. Let's have some suggestions about where we go from here.

And it is at times like this that we must especially remember why we say,

Love to mother,

Subject: Clancys and Gallaghers
Date: 5/2/99
From: Vern Klein

Some good news... and a new puzzle. Simon Ellwood's latest report:

I've heard further from my researcher concerning Miss Clancy.

On her own initiative, she checked out four electoral registers for Worcester (the Malvern area) at the British Library covering the period 1938-1957. In the 1938 register she found our Miss Clancy of "Clanmere", Graham Road, Malvern.

The surprising part of the discovery was her full name :- "Julie Marie Clancy" !! This is very strange as this name doesn't match either of Gallagher's mother's sisters - indeed, this is the first we've heard of this lady. I'm not sure how we can reconcile this with Ric's information about Miss Clancy definitely being a sister. Clearly we're missing at least one piece of vital information here.

Further information yielded by the register is that "Clanmere" was a nursing home at the time and that Julie Marie Clancy was on the staff of the home and resided there. Four other names are given as ladies who also resided there (whether as patients or staff is unclear) - but none of these names seem to be of relevance to us (yes, I've checked - none of them have "Ruby" as a first name :-).

The same register for 1947 still has Miss Clancy there, but the 1952 one doesn't - indeed the Clanmere nursing home appears to have disappeared entirely from the register by then, so we can assume that the nursing home closed down between 1947 and 1952.

From Vern

So, it appears there's another sister we had not identified. Now our Miss. Clancy has a full name! She was on the staff at Clanmere. She may have been some sort of registered nurse, or a professional of some kind. That may lead somewhere. Of course, the question is -- where are all the Clancys now? Miss Clancy of Clamnere may be the only one ever to have been near Malvern.

And this seems to clear up the question of what Clanmere was, and is today. It was a nursing home but is no longer. Simon Wiseman went to Graham Road to find it and reported that it's now a run down old building housing some offices.

From Ric

Mysteries, mysteries.... okay, in Edith's letter to Sir Harry of December 20, 1941 she says,

"In these difficult days I know that it will be difficult to send home his effects - but I know they will be in safe keeping with you, so please keep them and send them when you think best. The address will be to:-

Graham Road

My sister's home. This address is only for Gerald's effects. I should be grateful my Bank address can be used for all letters please...."

Note that there is no mention of "Miss Clancy."

In the WPHC directive (dated August 7, 1945) to finally ship Gallagher's effects (in four tin trunks) home, the address specified is:

Mrs. E. Gallagher
c/o Miss Clancy
Graham Road
Malvern, Worcs., England

Yet we know that Edith's maiden name was definitely Clancy. Best theory would seem to be that we have a sister we didn't know about.


Subject: Clancys and Gallaghers
Date: 5/2/99
From: Phil Tanner

Maybe when Gallagher's mother says the effects should be sent to "My sister's home" she means "the [nursing] home owned by my sister"? I hadn't realized the shipment wasn't made until 1945, but of course this makes sense in the context of the times. It was apparent to Mrs Gallagher that getting his stuff back would take a very long time. And in those circumstances her sister's address wouldn't necessarily have been permanent enough to be passed on to the authorities in the Pacific as a destination for GG's things if her relationship with "Clanmere" was only as a live-in employee. My betting is she was the proprietor and the "Clan" in the house's name is derived from her own. I don't suppose any of the others on the electoral roll had the syllable "mere" in their names?

If we can find out when between 1947 and 1952 the house ceased to be a nursing home we might get closer to where Miss Clancy went next. The new info gives enough detail for a letter to the local property rating office, which I'll try and get off this week unless advised someone else has already done this. I have had a reply from the local county family history society, who point out that Malvern has its own FHS and give a contact address, to which I have a letter in preparation which can now be amended in light of the new background.

LTM, Phil Tanner

From Ric

Sounds logical to me Phil. Edith does describe the address as "My sister's home" rather than "my sister's address" or "my sister's place of employment." There is a clear implication of ownership. I betcha you're right. I like the Clan/Clancy connection too.

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