Forum artHighlights From the Forum

May 24 through 30, 1999

Subject: Pacific Tension
Date: 5/24/99
From: Don Neumann

While the Japanese had no direct interest in the Phoenix islands in the 1930's, they were concerned about U.S. & British incursions into that general area of the Pacific, which they regarded as being under their own sphere of influence ("Asia for the Asians"), which was the primary motivation for their refusing any U.S. or British Naval entrance into the Japanese Mandated Territories. The establishment of a seaplane refueling base for PanAm on the island of Guam (in the midst of the Japanese mandated islands) along with the a covert, advanced radio "listening post" established by the U.S. Navy in the 1920's, to intercept radio communications between the various elements of the Japanese Naval Fleet, created an atmosphere of suspicion among the Japanese Naval / Military & Governmental leaders, that the U.S. presence in that part of the Pacific was designed to hamper further expansion of Japanese influence in Micronesia & could also pose a threat to Japanese Military action already being pursued in China.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Japanese did not attempt to create any overt military forifications on the mandated islands until 1940 & in fact, the Japanese civil authorities supervising the mandated islands, were roundly critisized by the Japanese military leaders for failing to develop such fortifications in a more timely fashion. In fact, the Japanese were more concerned about what they considered "inordinate interest" about their mandated islands on the part of the Americans, fearing attempts by the Americans to occupy said islands in the event of any future hostilities over their China adventures, than they were about developing any fortifications on the islands.

Unfortunately, the American military leaders were not aware of the fact that no military fortifications were being established by the Japanese & assumed such preparations were being accomplished covertly, thus the "inordinate interest" in Japanese activities in the mandates, fueled no doubt by the Japanese refusal to permit U.S. Naval "visits" in the mandates.

While none of this underlying intirgue had any bearing upon the outcome of the Earhart/Noonan flight, it must be understood that the political & diplomatic situation in the South Pacific during the mid 1930's was much more complicated than a simple turf war between Britian & the U.S.

Don Neumann

From Ric

Your description of the situation regarding the Mandates is excellent.

Subject: Was AE in radio contact with Lae?
Date: 5/26/99
From: Hugh Graham

Happened to catch the last 10 minutes of a "Last Flight" documentary. I don't know the title of it, but it was English(U.K.), had many important credits at the end but not TIGHAR's, and was made in 1991 if I read the flash of Roman Numerals correctly.

My question is: This doc. claimed AE was in radio contact with Lae, New Guinea for several hundred miles into her last flight, and it wasn't until she attempted to switch to the Itasca that contact was lost. Is there any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that AE was able to hear Lae radio at any time into her last flight?, and if not, how come this otherwise accurate doc. claims this? (no conspiracy claim, no Japanese claim etc.) Thanks in advance.

HAG 2201.

From Ric

I'm not sure what show you saw but I understand that the PBS American Experience documentary about Earhart was recently rebroadcast. Despite its lack of conspiracy advocacy, it's riddled with falsehood.

The notion that Earhart was in contact with Lae comes from the decades-later recollections of Harry Balfour, radio operator at Lae. Prior to the discovery of the Chater letter in 1991 there was no contemporaneous written source to contradict that claim so, like so much of the Earhart Myth, it was accepted as fact. Chater's letter makes it clear that Lae transmitted some messages and Earhart made some transmissions, but Earhart never said anything to indicate that she had heard anything Lae said. The producers of the show simply didn't do their homework.


Subject: Location of Bones
Date 5/27/99
From: Kenton Spading

Tom King wrote:

>Actually, the only thing that DOESN'T fit is the distance from
>the nearest then-extant coconut grove, and that seems to me like a
>pretty easy thing to mis-estimate, particularly in a rather offhand comment.

Lets take another look at the whole coco issue again. Can we combine Gallagher's statements......"southeast corner" and.... "less than 2 miles away.......small grove of cocos" with information on extant (pre 1940) coco trees to narrow the bone search?

I am not aware of an attempt to really try and zero in on this. If someone has done this or if the data necessary to do it is not available......I will stand corrected.

1. What was the extent of the coco planting done by Arundel? For example, did Arundel plant any cocos east of Baureke Passage?

(From Ric: We don't know for sure, but it was Harry Maude's impression that Arundel's plantings were confined to the west end of the island. We do know for sure that, in 1937-1940, there were five small groves totalling 111 trees. These were mapped by the New Zealnd survey in 1939 and appear in aerial photos of that period. There are three groves bordering what we call Crab City near the village, and two groves on Nutiran. Nothing on Aukaraime.)

I envision that the cocos Gallagher spoke of were from the Arundel period.

(From Ric: Safe assumption I think. The only other cocos on the island in 1940 were the new seedlings just being planted by the settlers.)

Gallagher says "the bones look more than 4 years old to me" he is thinking the bones predate the arrival of the WPHC colonists. So, the only cocos that could have kept the castaway alive are Arundel cocos. What do we know about Arundel's operation?

(From Ric: Arundel had 20 Niue islanders working on Gardner in 1892. That's about all we know other than what is described above.)

Can the various stands of mature cocos (presumably from Arundel) be identfied in the 1939 aerial photos?

(From Ric: Yes. And also in the two 1938 aerial photos)

2. What was the extent of the British/WPHC plantings in 1940? I guess it does not matter. These would have done the castaway any good.

(From Ric: That's right.)

I lean toward Tom K's school of thought of the bones being found closer to the future Loran site than to Baureke Passage (shoe site not withstanding).

(From Ric: I don't. )

gotta go...
Kenton Spading

Subject: What's a dado anyway?
Date: 5/27/99
From: Andrew McKenna

Speaking of the dado, it seems to me that this artifact is one of our best pieces of physical evidence. Any further effort to positivly identify it as being from a L-10.

You might want to give a brief summary about the dado as we have not heard much about it in the forum for a long time and there must be many new folks who are asking "What's a dado?". (No, not a nesting Pacific waterbird.)

Andrew McKenna

From Ric

I think we've gone about as far as we can go with the dado. It falls into that frustrating category of  "it's consistent with a Lockheed 10, but we can't prove that it's from a Lockhed 10.

A dado is an internal non-structural aircraft component typically found in cabin-class twins. It's best described as a kick-plate; an aluminum barrier at the base of the interior cabin wall where it joins the floor. It protects floor-level features such as control cables which pass behind the fabric wall covering.

What is interesting about the dado found on Nikumaroro (TIGHAR Artifact 2-18) is that, although it is a complete assembled component 16.75 inches long by 6.5 inches wide, it carries no part number. Military aircraft components have part numbers stamped into them all over the place. Generally speaking, dados are not found on military aircraft anyway because they don't have finished interiors. This appears to be a civilian aircraft part. Artifact 2-18 has mounting holes that are 15 inches apart. The Lockheed 10 is a "15 inch airplane" with most of its transverse fuselage bulkheads (to which a dado could be anchored) spaced roughly 15 inches apart. When found, the artifact still had a tiny remnant of 1/4 inch kapok insulation attached. Lockheed 10s were insulated with 1/4 inch kapok.

It's a great artifact, but it's not a smoking gun.

For a complete description go to The Dado in TIGHAR Tracks.


Subject: How an Electra could disappear
Date: 5/29/99
From: Tom King

Interesting note in the recent "Protehi i Kuttura'ta," newsletter of the Northern Marianas Division of Historic Preservation:

World War II Pillbox Uncovered.

Staff of the Tinian HPO recently recorded a World War II Japanese pillbox that had been buried by beach sand for decades. The rock and concrete fortification was built by the Japanese military in 1944 to protect against possible American landings at Asiga Beach along the northeastern coast of the island. Although the pillbox is in an area subjected to previous archeological surveys, it was not visible until storm waves removed 2.5 meters of sand overburden.

The accompanying photos show a pretty impressive structure. If something that big could get sufficiently buried on Tinian that archeologists could walk right over it without seeing it, it's not too hard to imagine an Electra lurking under the sand and rubble of the storm surge ridges that back the beaches of Nikumaroro.

LTM Tom King

From Ric

2.5 meters of sand. Swell.

Subject: Radio & Landing Gear
Date: 5/30/99
From: George Kastner

I am not an expert in anything, let alone in the areas that TIGHAR needs for its Earhart investigations, but my wife is an historian and we have plenty of experience around here in how people and stuff and ideas get lost, stolen, or strayed. From an historian's perspective, I am very comfortable indeed with the way this project is being pursued.

But the battery power/starboard engine/wheels down/wreck photo chain remains a puzzler for me. Ric, you say that the post-loss radio contacts went on for two days (I accept), ''far longer than was possible unless the battery was being recharged periodically.'' Absolutely sure about this? For instance, when the individual characters received are counted and the inept sending rates are estimated, how many minutes was that KHAQQ actually on the air? (And of course we need to add some percentage to that, estimating possible transmissions that were not received.) Batteries of the mid-1930s didn't have any reserve capacity at all? Or they couldn't handle this much transmission with recharging? The generators only provided electricity for immediate use? (Then why have a battery at all?) They couldn't ''come back up'' like modern ''run-down'' automobile batteries do for a few moments? That is, how are we so certain about this battery capability issue?

G. Kastner

From Ric

Batteries then were not all that different from batteries now. Transmitting tends to pull them down very quickly ( I could illustrate with a there-I-was story involving a single engine IFR flight in a snowstorm with a slipping alternator belt and a stuck mic button - but I won't). The question, of course, is how much transmitting did Earhart do? The answer could be "none" or "lots" or anywhere in between. The impression everyone had during the first frantic days of the search was that she was sending lots of transmissions during the hours of darkness. Amelia's "faint calls for help" were a major factor in the early days of the search. The conviction that, wherever she is, she must be able to recharge her battery dates from that time.

Naturally, if no transmissions were actually sent, all bets are off about where the airplane was. If only two or three short transmissions were genuine, the airplane has to be above water but does not have to on it's gear. If, in fact, a considerable number of transmissions were made, then the airplane was above water, on its gear and able to operate ther starboard engine.


Subject: Radio & landing gear
Date: 5/30/99
From: Gordie Spruyt

Ric says:

>Recharging the battery means running the engine and
>you sure can't do that on the ground unless the wheels are down.

In The Lost Squadron by David Hayes, it shows a picture of a B-17 sitting gear-up on the ice with its number 4 engine running to charge the battery. This is explained by one of the original pilots from the flight that went down there. The prop looks like it is definitely bent, but it is visible on the running engine. I don't know how the surface of the beach on Niku compares to the snow in Greenland, but I'm assuming there is some soft sand around there. Is it safe to assume that a gear up landing along the beach is at least remotely possible? If a hole was dug below the engine, the prop would be able to turn without hitting the ground. I realize that with a bent prop the engine would most likely be vibrating quite badly, and the life of the engine would be very limited, possibly the reason the radio calls only lasted a couple of days. The engine most likely would have been shaken apart even before they ran out of fuel, but maybe long enough for some calls. I would much rather land with the gear up than risk a noseover on a soft,rough surface.

From Ric

Good point. Hadn't thought of that. Certainly seems like a theoretical possibility.

This is pure opinion, but I tend to think that AE would land wheels-down if at all possible. A successful landing would preserve the possibility that Itasca could bring her fuel and she could take off again, fly to Howland, tank up and continue the world flight. What a story that would be. A belly landing would mean failure and the complete loss of the airplane, her only real asset.


Subject: Explanation Needed
Date: 5/30/99
From: Dfarkaly

In order to ascertain the significance of the wreck photo, I am curious as to how one would explain this apparent contradiction, from the wreck photo. This from TIGHAR Tracks: "Perhaps the most important quantification of the airplane in the photo centers upon the relative proportions of the propeller and the cowling of the left-hand engine." ( Starboard engine is missing, probably broken off during emergency landing, unless removed later by natives with impressive tool sets and chain hoist i.e. unlikely)

Then, recently,

I can see how this would seem very confusing.

The radio in the Electra operated off the battery which was recharged by a generator on the starboard engine. The point is that the post-loss radio signals went on for at least two days - far longer than was possible unless the battery was being recharged periodically. Recharging the battery means running the engine and you sure can't do that on the ground unless the wheels are down.

Unless I am missing something, we cannot have this both ways. Unless (as I conjectured in an earlier post), the generator was removed from the torn off engine and installed on the left, intact engine, which was considered (by Ric) more than unlikely due to inexperience / ineptitude on the part of AE /FN, who would have had a little engineering to do to make this work. Point is, the evidence shows a wreck photo with a left engine attached and an intact propeller, which could possibly be started to charge the batteries. Alternatively, the official TIGHAR opinion is that the only generator was installed on the right engine, which is obviously missing. Ergo, no messages could have been sent from the aircraft in the wreck photo (if AE's plane), for the two days or so that they were received, (and considered genuine). According to published TIGHAR evidence, one of these must be untrue a.) post wreck messages were genuine b.) wreck photo is AE's plane I have not seen this discussed yet, but I haven't been around long enough to know for sure. Can anyone clarify this for me?

From Ric

I'll try. Here's the hypothetical scenario:

  1. Airplane is landed gear-down and intact on the dry or nearly dry reef flat.
  2. Radio transmissions are sent and, at low tide, the right engine is run to recharge the battery.
  3. Calm seas mean a relatively gentle rise and fall of the tide, leaving the airplane undistrubed until the early morning hours of July 5th when rising swell begins to generate significant surf running across the reef flat. (...WON'T HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER.....ABOVE WATER...SHUT OFF.) AE and FN are forced to cease transmitting and abandon the aircraft.
  4. The surf pounds the aircraft, separating the outer wing panels and tail surfaces. The flood of water engulfing the fuselage literally blows the roof off. What's left of the aircraft is swept shoreward in stages. At some point, the starboard engine snags on the coral and is ripped from its mounts. The left engine, by a not-so-unusual quirk of fate, remains relatively undamaged. The wreckage lies scattered on the reef flat beneath the surf, obscured from aerial view when the Colorado's pilots fly over on the 9th.
  5. Later that year, or the next year, whenever the next really big storm hits the island, the main body of wreckage is thrown up into the beachfront vegetation to be found and photographed at some later date by whoever took the Wreck Photo.

That's just one sequence of events that may explain the available evidence. It leaves a piece of wing out on the reef for Tapania to see in the late 1950s, and airplane parts in the bushes for the other kids to play on. It also leaves an engine on the reef for Bruce Yoho to find and carry off to Canton in 1970. Creative speculation or history? I can think of only one way to find out.


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