Forum artHighlights From the Forum

July 13 through 19, 1999

Subject: News from Fiji
Date: 7/13/99
From: Tom King and the Fiji Team

We're continuing to tick off likely locations, with no luck as yet, reaching a point of diminishing returns with physical searching, I think, in the absence of evidence from further archival research or interviews. Kris Tague has arrived, and will give increased emphasis to archival research. Lots and lots of archives to search. Lots and lots of buildings, too, but we're running low on obviously likely ones. Yesterday did work at a couple of the venues where the Central Medical School/Fiji School of Medicine has been located. Basically got thrown out of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (a story in itself), but inspected the FSM facility at Tamuvua, with emphasis on a tunnel thought to have been used for storage. Kris and Barb, along with three brave volunteers, investigated the tunnels at length. Immersed in endless darkness, they followed the twisting underground paths seaching for something of importance, only to find metal boxes of rusting hardware and a large rat or two.

Today we have a second interview with Foua Tofinga (thanks Peter MacQuarrie and Kent Spading for first putting us on to him). He's also talked with Emily Sikuli, who he says is the daughter of the Nikumaroro village carpenter who built the kanawa wood box, remembers its construction. We hope to interview her soon, hopefully before I leave tomorrow (Kris will be here for two more weeks, Barb for a few more days).

Re. Tom Van Hare's suggestion to get Foua to draw the sextant box -- ordinarily a good idea, but he's already seen the picture of the Pensacola box (has read TRACKS with great interest since we gave him copies). Good in that it was seeing the picture that triggered his memory, bad in that any description he gives of the Vaskess box now really can't be assumed not to be influenced by what he's seen. But I'll ask, and definitely plan to ask him about numbers.

We've pretty well decided, if the Museum agrees, to post a reward of F$500 (ca. US$300) for information, whether it gets to us before Kris leaves or to the Museum thereafter. We're running out of places for US to search, but we've gotten enough people interested that if we post a reward now, telling what we're looking for in some detail, we'll have lots of people looking in places where we can't, or haven't thought to, look. And so far, we're under-budget, so have the opm to spare.

LTM (who hates tunnels)
Tom, Barb, Kris

Subject: Re: Wreck photo
Date: 7/14/99
From: Mike Muenich

I have been reviewing a number of the old books on AE's disappearance. If this ground has been plowed, I apoligize. Goener states on page 66

"I remembered that Amelia had written in her notes which were mailed home before the final take-off from Lae, New Guinea, that she had been amazed to find a sister-ship to her own Lockheed Electra 10-E in service with the Guinea Airways Company at Lae"

Is there such a note and is the statement accurate? Has this aircraft been accounted for?

From Pat.

I don't know much about the note, but Guinea Airways did indeed have three Electras in service. Two were sold some time later, it isn't quite clear what happened to the third; we suspect an accident of some kind. Guinea Airways was serviceing the gold fields of New Guinea.

He then writes at page 286, referring to the contents of a State Department file

"Two other letters concerned equipment aboard the plane. The engines carried by the Lockheed were not those listed in publicity releases to the public. Two new Pratt & Whitney Senior Wasp military-version engines had been installed instead of the 550 h.p. Wasp Juniors. The new engines gave the plane halfagain as much power and a cruising speed of 200 or more miles per hour."

Were there letters in a State Department file, if so, to whom and from whom were they written, are they accurate and what effect would they (the engines) have on fuel consumption, time and distance equations? Would these engines have a effect on cowling configuration?

I *think* Goerner had this all messed up. Can someone please rescue me here? I just don't have all this stuff at my fingertips the way Ric does.... :-(


Subject: Re: Wreck photo
Date 7/14/99
From: Jon Watson

Pat, This has come up before, and I believe Ric has copies of the documentation which shows which engines were on the airplane. Besides, the L-10 E was never equipped with Wasp Jr.'s - it was factory equipped with 1340's. Finch's plane, when it was rebuilt, was changed from an earlier model (10 A?) with the smaller engines, but AE's was a factory 10 E. Not scientific, but I hope it helps.

jon 2266

I was hoping someone would remember what was what. IIRC, Goerner has a *lot* of the technical airplane stuff messed up.


Subject: Re: Wreck photo
Date: 7/15/99
From: Mike Muenich, Wiley Rollins

> This has come up before, and I believe Ric has copies of the
> documentation which shows which engines were on the airplane. Besides,
> the L-10 E was never equipped with Wasp Jr.'s - it was factory equipped
> with 1340's. Finch's plane, when it was rebuilt, was changed from an
> earlier model (10 A?) with the smaller engines, but AE's was a factory
> 10 E. Not scientific, but I hope it helps.
> ltm
> jon 2266

Does someone have Goerner's records and documentation? Goerner may well have made mistakes, but on the other hand he appears to have done some detailed research. He claims he observed a letter in the State Department's files substantiating an engine change. If the letter doesn't exist-that's one possiblity, if the letter exists-its in error-that's a second possiblity, if the letter exists and is accurate-some assumptions which have been made and logically developed are in jeopardy. The existence or absence of the letter and, if existing, accuracy needs to be established.

The Admiral Nimitz Museum has Goerner's files, IIRC, and someone (who? a Forum member, please identify yourself ) went and looked at it all, with what exact results I'm not sure.

I do know that Goerner claimed to have seen lots of documents that he could not produce copies of when pressed. Given the evidence provided by the photographs taken of the aircraft on its trip around the world, which clearly show the 550hp engines, I am inclined to think this is one of the things that he said he saw which he didn't see.


From Wiley Rollins

About a year ago I had access to Fred Goerner's papers at the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, TX. There are about 70 audio cassettes, 20 or more 11 x 14 manila envelopes stuffed with newspaper clippings and miscellany, 5 letter size file drawers containing Fred's correspondence. The correspondence files have been indexed and I made a copy of this index and forwarded it to Ric (I didn't keep a copy) If the index indicates some reference to the State Department and/or the engines, I'll certainly go take a look.

Wiley Rollins #2090

I have absolutely no idea where to even begin to look in Ric's files, so we'll have to wait on this until he gets back. Thanks, Wiley, I couldn't remember who went but I knew someone did.


Subject: Report From Tom, Returned from Fiji
Date: 7/16/99
From: Tom King

Bula to Pat and the Forum. I'm just off the plane in San Francisco and back on AOL, so before I crash for the night, a quick update.

Foua Tofiga continues to be a perfectly fantastic informant and collaborator; thanks thanks THANKS to Peter MacQuarrie and Kent Spading for putting us on to him. Though both Tarisi Vundilo at the Museum and Metusilia Moa at Fiji Intelligence knew just where to contact him, I don't think anyone would have thought to do so if we hadn't asked specifically.

Yesterday (more or less) he set up a meeting for us with Emily -- well, I'll find the full name when I unpack and find my notes -- anyhow, daughter of the Nikumaroro carpenter. Wonderful lady, with wonderful stories, all in Tuvaluan, which Foua translated. Taping wasn't appropriate, but we all (especially Barb and Kris, while I asked questions) kept extensive notes. Report to follow. Anyhow, she started right off telling us that in ca. 1940 there was airplane wreckage on the Nutiran reef, consisting of big steel struts and spars. She indicated thickness with her hands; similar to that of the landing gear on an Electra, but of course, similar to lots of other things too. She also reported that to her knowledge, the bones that went in the box actually came from Nutiran, near the putative plane wreck. Also reported several other skeletons there, but closer to the Norwich City and back a bit into the bush. There's a lot to be sorted out here, and of course all this is anecdotal only, but it's something that can help guide fieldwork.

As for the bones themselves, on my next-to-last day we were permitted into the cellar of Government House, which was full of all the kinds of stuff that accumulates in such places (furniture, etc.), but no sign of boxes or bones. Ditto with a bomb shelter on the GH grounds. To broaden the search, we've posted a F$500 reward for information. There are only a couple of other more or less obvious buildings to check, so Kris, who'll be there till the end of the month, is turning to more interviews and archival work to see if she can find other leads. Buildings can be searched as needed, however; she has our three sturdy volunteers to call on to leap into attics and crawl into tunnels.

I'll be doing a full report, subject to revision as Kris continues and concludes the work, but here are some preliminary thoughts:

  • I don't think the bones returned to the Government until sometime well after WWII, if then; I think it's most likely they remained with Hoodless. Vaskess, the keeper of the bones file, is described as a very meticulous, thorough record-keeper; it seems very unlikely he would have received the bones back without minuting the file. And he was around until after WWII, and then retired in Fiji.
  • A lot of stuff of historical interest (e.g. the collections of the Museum) got housed in caves during WWII. It's possible the box of bones went there. A lot of this stuff was destroyed or damaged by water, but it's not clear what was done with those elements that aren't now active parts of the Museum's collections. Kris and Barb are pursuing this angle, per a suggestion by Foua.
  • The bones are clearly NOT in some of the obvious seeming possible locations -- the Central Medical School attic, the buildings to which the Med School moved in 1953 (though there's some ambiguity there), the Gov't House cellar, etc. In other words, we've struck off some possibilities. This doesn't mean they're gone, however. In fact, the general impression I got was that it's very unlikely they'd just be thrown away. Burial is possible; Kris is going to be checking cemetery records.
  • Suva is FULL of old buildings, many of them with government connections. A point of diminishing returns comes at which one's just sort of blundering around blindly trying to search them. This is where the reward comes in. If we can get more people to look, including the maintenance people and occupants of buildings, we can get a lot farther than continuing to wander around on our own peering into attics and cellars.

That's it for now, and all I can do before falling over. Bottom line: no bones in hand yet, but the adventure continues. Some good leads, some of them quite unexpected. Lots more to be done. Thus far we've performed a reconnaissance. If Kris and Barb don't come up with something, and the reward doesn't bring something in, we'll have to regroup, but right now I don't at all think it's a lost cause.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Fiji Museum, the Government of Fiji, and everyone else there who's helped us. More about that later, too.

Love to Mother (who INSISTS that I go to bed now.)

Subject: Re: Tom's Report from Fiji
Date: 7/17/99
From: Don Neumann

Thanks for posting Dr. King's preliminary report on the Fiji expedition.

If Emily's eyewitness report of wreckage on Nutiran reef (just 3 years after AE/FN disappearance) is true, the obvious question remains: How come none of the previous visitors to the island reported seeing the wreckage (or did they simply assume it was debris left over from the wreck of the Norwich)?

Indeed, if Ric's theory is correct, that wave/storm action pushed the wreckage onto the reef, after first sweeping the intact plane off the reef, (into deeper waters surrouding the reef) the rest of the plane has to be somewhere in that same area, especially the engines (obviously much heavier than the parts described by Emily & not as easilly washed around by wave or storm action as the lighter, aluminum parts or even the landing gear assembly of the Electra).

Also, was any attempt made to identify any of the teaching staff or administrators of the Medical School, who may have been in residence around the time the bones may have been deposited at the Medical School?

Many thanks to Dr. King & the others involved in the Fiji expedition. Even though the "smoking gun" has yet to surface, forensic investigations are always tedious/time consuming efforts which are valuble endeavors, if only eliminating those unproductive areas of inquiry & do oftimes provide new or different avenues to be explored.

Don Neumann

Subject: Purple, but on topic
Date: 7/19/99
From: Bob Brandenburg

As promised, I have reviewed Captain Whitlock's paper "The Silent War Against the Japanese Navy". It is an excellent summary of the U.S. Navy's efforts to penetrate Japanese naval codes during the two decades preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor. I recommend it to all forum members as an interesting historical treatment of crytptology, a complex subject that is still shrouded in secrecy - - - for very good reasons, I might add.

Although PURPLE is an interesting subject in and of itself, it is irrelevant to our search for Amelia. As is clear from Captain Whitlock's presentation, encrypting and decrypting messages in ANY code during the 20's and 30's was a slow, tedious, manual process. All users of encryption, regardless of nationality or service affiliation, were constrained by the cumbersome nature of the process and a pervasive shortage of code clerks - - - the people who actually translated clear-text message into coded form for transmisson, and who decrypted received messages into plain text - - - and consequently used encryption only for the most important matters. It is difficult to imagine that the Japanese regarded Amelia's flight as a matter of sufficient importance to justify using scarce resources to communicate in PURPLE or any other code. But even if they did, we'll never know about it. The Japanese would be unwilling to disclose any details of encoded message traffic for security reasons that are beyond the scope of this forum. If they did discuss Amelia's flight in coded traffic, and if those messages were intercepted and decoded by any U.S. intelligence organization, that information is likely to remain forever classified and thus unavailable. Information about codes and the breaking of codes is jealoulsy guarded by every nation that uses codes.

For forum members who would like to know more about the history and techniques of coding and code-breaking, I recommend "The Codebreakers, The Story of Secret Writing", By David Kahn. It was published by the MacMillan Company, New York, in 1967, and to this date remains a valuable resource on the subject.

LTM (who is very cryptic about codes)
Bob Brandenburg (2286)

Subject: Re: Tom's Report
Date: 7/19/99
From: Tom King

Jon -- Re. your questions:

> >1. Does the Nutiran reef location match the previous anecdotal accounts of
> > airplane wreckage?

No. The previous anectodal accounts placed wreckage SOUTH of the Norwich City. Emily's anecdote places it NORTH of the shipwreck. It's also different kinds of wreckage; Emily was quite specific that it did not include aluminum; it was heavy steel pieces. The wreckage reported earlier was quite explicitly aluminum.

> >2. Did Tom have direct contact with Ric?

Not exactly. We talked with Emily the day I left. We immediately called Nai'a with a very brief report designed for radio transmission, which got through; Ric then called on the sat phone and talked with Kris and Barb; I was en route home. As soon as I got to LAX I called Pat with a fuller report.

> >3. Pat, you did discuss this with Ric, of course.

She did, and Ric's also now in direct sat phone contact with Kris for any further updates.

The Fiji venture certainly has been productive, even if the bones don't appear, and there's still a decent chance that they will. If nothing else it was a good recon; we have a far better idea of what opportunities and obstacles there are in Fiji. The scariest thing is how many of the important sources are disappearing. Time and time again we were told that if we'd only been able to talk with Mr. X or Ms. Y or Sir Z, they might know something, but they'd died last year or the year before. Thanks to Foua Tofinga, we now know the identity of virtually everyone whose name is on a note in the Bones File, and it's POSSIBLE that one or two of them may still be alive. Of course, even if they are, and remember anything, that doesn't deliver the bones. Lots to be done -- unless the bones turn out to be among those Kris and Barb have now seen in the previously unexamined Museum collection, which Kar will check before she returns to the States.

LTM, who says to keep boning up

Subject: Re: Tom's Report
Date: 7/19/99
From: Tom King

Re. Don's questions:

There weren't all that many visitors to Niku (other than the colonists) before the Coast Guard folks arrived, but my question about Emily's report is, if the bones were really associated with the reported airplane wreckage, why doesn't any of this show up in Gallagher's reports? My top-of-the-head guess is that she's compressing a couple of stories into one -- a common enough problem when one's recollecting things like this. But we questioned her from a couple of different directions about this to see if she'd begin to remember things differently, and she didn't. Quite certain that the bones were near the wreckage and that as a result Koata told everyone to stay away from the whole area. It's a puzzle, as is a lot of stuff surrounding the period from the bones discovery through Gallagher's death to the beginning of WWII (which almost precisely coincided with Emily's departure). By now Kris should have interviewed another Niku veteran, the daughter of the wireless operator, so we may have another perspective.

Re. medical school personnel: we've got the names of Hoodless' immediate successors but no locations for them yet. We just missed his lab manager, who died just a few years ago. We've talked with the lab manager who started in the late '60s (and who saved the anatomy collection -- another story) but he had no specific knowledge of the bones. The President of Fiji, His Excellency Ratu Mara, was himself a medical student around the time the bones were there, as was the Speaker of the House. Hopefully Kris will get to talk with them, but as you might expect, this isn't a real easy thing to do.


Subject: Report From Fiji
Date: 7/19/99
From: Kris Tague

I called Dr. Margaret Guthrie in New Zealand (Hoodless's daughter) and asked her if she had any memory of the Kanawa box. No dice. I asked her what she thought her father would do with the bones and box ... and she thought he would have kept them at the medical school.

Later we went to see Mrs. O'Brien and went through extensive interview questions. Turns out she was only on Niku for 2-3 days en-route to Manra on the trip dropping the settlers off. Remembered stories of the plane but couldn't remember seeing a ship. We will go to see Emily again on Wednesday and among other things ask her if she has any surviving siblings that lived on the island longer than she. (she was the eldest).

From there Tofinga and I went to a meeting he had arranged with the Chief clerk of St. Andrews parish. Seems he remembered in the old days there was a storeroom there and that Hoodless' succesor attended there. She agreed to bring the request up at the board meeting on Wednesday. In the meantime Tofinga and she found out that they are related by marriage and that she had just met his namesake on a trip to New Zealand and he had asked her to find him. Et Voila - Tofinga called her. On behalf of Tom I asked her about the I-Kiribati attending the church. Could she ask if any had relatives who had lived on Nikumororo? She agreed, said that most of these people were relocated to the Solomons and that she herself had an "Auntie" who had lived on Niku but had passed away in the Solomons.

This evening Ric and Kar called. Kar will spend a few days, finish up at medical school, measure the museum and Masonic bones.And...I had an e-mail from Dr. Guthrie giving me the name of the Dr. that her father did a "hand-over" to of the medical school upon his retirement. Will pursue that lead and Tofinga is going to ring the man that he thinks was the executor of Vaskess's estate.

Love to Mother who says get a good rest (as does Tofinga!)

Subject: Re: Codes
Date: 7/19/99
From: Dennis McGee

Bob Brandenburg said: "If they [the Japanese] did discuss Amelia's flight in coded traffic, and if those messages were intercepted and decoded by any U.S. intelligence organization, that information is likely to remain forever classified and thus unavailable."

FYI. The National Security Agency (my former employer) has for the past 10 years or so been culling its archives and releasing much heretofore secret material from the World War II-era. The data was collected by NSA (and it predecessor agencies) by intercepting foreign radio communications and decrypting the messages. While some of the stuff may remain classified for eons, much of it has been released, witness the infamous "Verona" intercepts released a few years ago that helped put the FBI et. al. on the trail of Soviet spies in the U.S. in the 1940s and 1950s.

LTM, who talks too much!
Dennis McGee #0149

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