Forum artHighlights From the Forum

July 20 through 25, 1999

Subject: Message Intercepts
Date: 7/20/99
From: Don Neumann

Although it is doubtful that any of the Japanese radio intercepts from Station Baker (Guam) were ever deciphered or translated (Navy personnel assigned to the station were not trained to decipher or translate such intercepts in the 1920s & 1930s) they were "bundled" & shipped to Hawaii and/or Washington, D.C. & probably still remain in "storage" in a warehouse, somewhere in the Maryland countryside.

The value of the intercepts at Station Baker was in the ability of the Navy radio operators to "track" Japanese fleet operations by pinpointing the location of the transmission's source & identifying the call signs of the various vessels involved in such radio traffic. The only possible connection of this activity with the AE/FN flight would be if there had been any "unusual" increase in the number or frequency of such radio traffic, in or around the mandated islands during the leg of the flight from Lae to Howland or during the subsequent search efforts.

Admittedly, no "smoking gun", but if such activity had been recorded, it would seem that the possibility existed the Japanese may have had a greater interest in the flight than their public pronouncements allowed or they may have picked-up signals during the flight or after it was down, that were missed by Itaska. (might be possible to confirm some of the post flight radio signals claimed by other sources?) To my knowledge, no research has ever been done to determine what (if any) civil radio networks were active in the Japanese mandates during the 1930's.

Anyhow, the possibility of locating such intercepts, sorting through them for the July 1937 time frame, then having them deciphered & translated would be a monumental task costing far more than any results obtained could justify. (I've tried to identify & locate Navy personnel assigned to Station Baker in 1937, but it is a tedious task & more than likely most if not all have passed from this scene, much the same as persons having had contact with Niku Island)

Don Neumann

Subject: The Balance Swings?
Date: 7/21/99
From: Phil Tanner

The thing in this that grabs me by the lapels and shouts in my face is a real live eyewitness placing aircraft wreckage on the island around 1940. Surely about as good as anecdotal evidence could be, given that there is absolutely no doubt this time that it is the right island? Someone now is going to have to argue for an alternative source if this wasn't Earhart's plane, and how many planes had ever been within hundreds of miles of Gardner Island by 1940, let alone disappeared in the vicinity, let alone done that with the crew reporting they were running on a line which would take them close to it in one direction?

To put it another way: Up until now, the general perception among people vaguely interested in the Earhart mystery would be "she was lost at sea, a few nutcases think the Japanese captured her but there's this bunch of people in America who have an interesting theory that she did reach a particular island". This testimony should shift the balance to "it seems likely she landed on Gardner Island, although some diehards still maintain she crashed into the sea".

LTM, Phil 2276

Subject: Landing or Controlled Crash?
Date: 7/22/99
From: William Dohenyguy

Because of the format of this question, the poster's remarks are in black and the answers are in blue and indented.

A thousand questions, no answers. Ok, Niku is the landing or crash location. I still find is hard to swallow AE would land (wheels down) of the flat reef. It is easy to believe she bellied in on the sand. This touch down would bend the props without a doubt. So, how did the pair manage radio signals three days after they were reported missing?

From Pat

It is important to remember that *any* sentence which contains "would have done this or that" is purely speculative.

At the time of Earhart's disappearance, retractable gear aircraft were still quite new. While the conventional wisdom now would call for a wheels up landing in order to enhance survivability, there wasn't any CW then---it was all too new. Our opinion is that Earhart would have been very very reluctant to land wheels up because that would end the flight. She had the pattern of getting lost, landing, figuring out where she was, getting help, and continuing; our opinion is that she would expect this pattern to repeat itself. So a wheels down landing on the reef flat, which would preserve the operational integrity of the aircraft, makes more sense in the context of the times, the environment, her known history, and the availability of an adequate place to put the aircraft.

First, have the radio calls been verified to be from the downed Electra?

No, not in the sense of absolute certainty. There is some divergence of opinion on this issue.

Second, is there enough charge in the radio batteries to send messages without running the starboard engine?

Not for as long as the calls were heard.

Third, if the props were damaged, did they have the tools to remove the props and run the engines to generate power?

No. Nor the knowledge.

I imagine the engines would overheat quickly, but how long would they have to run the engine to charge the batts?

Out of my field of expertise, sorry. There was a long and complicated thread on this subject a few months ago. Please check the Highlights on our web site.

Fourth, what is the stall speed of the Electra?

I have no idea. Anyone?

Fifth, in a controlled crash landing, what would be the slowest speed the Electra could manage and still maintain some type of control?

Airplane people?

Subject: Loose Threads
Date: 7/24/99
From: Andrew McKenna

Just a loose thread in my mind - has anyone asked the woman in Fiji (Emily?), formerly a child on Niku, if she recognized one of the postal covers carried by Amelia? Can we scan a copy and e-mail it to Fiji for the interview?

Another loose thread regarding Mantz and the planning for the first trip going west from Hawaii. It would have been logical for them to have planned contingencies should they miss Howland going west, and only a few degrees off course to the left would have put them in the area of the Phoenix Islands. Carrington in his book mentions, somewhat off the cuff, that the Phoenix Islands were examined closely exactly for this purpose, although he cites no source. It would seem logical.

The point is that contingency planning should have included looking at the Phoenix Islands from the very start, and that heading for them in the event of not finding Howland may not have been some sort of spur of the moment decision made in the air, rather a carefully thought out plan that had been in the back of their heads for a long time.

Too bad they didn't formalize that plan and tell anyone.

LTM (who always wants to know what your contingency plan is)
Andrew McKenna 1045C

As you say, it would make sense that Noonan would have had an alternate planned, and of course the Phoenix Islands were the obvious alternate. But we'll never know, I guess, if that's what was in his head.


Subject: Re: The Balance Swings
Date: 7/25/99
From: Tom King

Phil says: "The thing in this that grabs me by the lapels and shouts in my face is a real live eyewitness placing aircraft wreckage on the island around 1940. Surely about as good as anecdotal evidence could be, given that there is absolutely no doubt this time that it is the right island?"

The thing we've got to be careful about is the problem that's inherent in eyewitness accounts: not only may they simply be wrong, in some cases they reflect an attempt to say what the speaker thinks is expected, rather than what's really so. I don't THINK this is the case here, but that's the danger. We tried to be very careful not to say anything that could lead Emily astray, but the fact is that we'd given Mr. Tofiga copies of TIGHAR TRACKS and he'd explained to her the purpose of our search, so there's always the possibility that she was inadvertently remembering things the way she thought we wanted them remembered.

I think that at the very least, though, we now have a number of informants reporting aircraft wreckage along the Nutiran shore at various points in time, including before WWII. Collectively, these still provide only the basis for a testable hypothesis, but it's a more strongly grounded hypothesis than any other we know of.

Hopefully the further interviews that Ric plans with Emily and others while in Fiji will clarify things a bit more.

LTM (who's cautious about everything she hears)
Tom King

Subject: Re: Contingency Plans
Date: 7/25/99
From: Don Neumann

Andrew McKenna said: "...The point is that contingency planning should have included looking at the Phoenix Islands from the very start, and that heading for them in the event of not finding Howland may not have been some sort of spur of the moment decision made in the air, rather a carefully thought out plan that had been in the back of their heads for a long time."

If such a contingency plan had been included in their thinking, it would seem to lend support to the theory that _IF_ Fred Noonan did utilize offset navigation in plotting the course to Howland, an offset to the _north_ of the island would have been in order so that by turning south on their LOP, in the event they "missed" the island, their southeasterly course on the LOP would eventually transect the Phoenix chain. Unfortunately, AE's transmission: "...We must be on you but can't see you"..., would seem to suggest that Fred had plotted a _direct_ course to Howland, without utilizing any Offset.

In any event, simply examining a map/chart of the area, would make painfully obvious that the only other landfall, within the range of their (presumed) remaining fuel supply, (being unable to find Howland) would be the Phoenix Chain & would only require following the only (presumably) reliable LOP that Noonan had plotted, to the southeast, into the risen sun.

Don Neumann

Subject: Re: Astrodome
Date: 7/25/99
From: Mark Prange

>From Frank Kuhre
>No, he got his shots at the rear window R/H aft. He had a little table set
>up and would shoot the line from there. I imagine it was very difficult.

--Especially difficult since the sun would be off the left wing while they were flying SE toward Gardner along the Sun Line. Comparing shots of the sun with what they should be at that instant along the Sun Line through Howland, or, perhaps also computed through Gardner, is how the Sun Line can be progressively tracked. (I have read in some places that the Sun Line at sunrise was advanced by dead reckoning to where it would pass through Howland. Losing the Sun would require that, but so long as the sun is visible sextant sights of it give the navigator a chance to measure how far he is from the Line).

I had feared that there was no astrodome on her Electra, but hoped that some skylight were available. Evidently Noonan had only a window, and that on the starboard side. If that is the case, then it seems that Sun sights wouldn't be possible without the aircraft occasionally flying in a NW direction.

The navigational problems of locating Howland and Gardner are about the same; having both sun and moon helps, but the lack of good all-around visibility for the navigator doesn't. The quarter moon was very high in the sky that day at daybreak, and perhaps impossible to sight then without an overhead window. As the morning progressed it would have come down into sight in the NW, setting a little before local apparent noon.

At about what time would the plane have reached Gardner?

Subject: Re: Astrodome
Date: 7/25/99
From: Mark Prange

>From Randy Jacobson
>undoubtedly, [Noonan] also shot sights through the cockpit when expedient
>to do so......

Did Noonan have access to the front of the aircraft, or was it blocked?

Yes, he did. In fact, from what we can see of photos and film taken during the trip, he almost always rode up front.


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