Forum artHighlights From the Forum

August 2 through 8, 1999

Subject: Japanese search for AE
Date: 8/2/99
From: Hugh Graham

Tom King reported that Foua Tofiga said:

>A plane flew over; he was told it was Japanese, from the Marshall
> Islands.

------FWIW (probably little), I recall seeing photos of the NY Times front page from July/37 stating: "10 U.S. warships and English and JAPANESE warships search for Amelia Earhart" in a TV doc. Maybe a Jap'se catapult- launched recon plane?

HAG 2201.

From Ric

I suppose we need to deal with this. I spent quite a bit of time with Tofiga in Fiji but he never mentioned any of this to me so I have to go entirely upon his brief comment to Tom King. I generally found Tofiga to be an excellent source of information regarding the Western Pacific High Commission, it's procedures and personalities. However, a Japanese plane over Tarawa in 1937 is hard to swallow.

1. There was no Japanese search for Earhart in July 1937. It wasn't until September that Putnam asked, through diplomatic channels, if he could pay for a search by the Japanese of the islands in the mandated territories. The reply came on September 17 from Isoruku Yamamoto, Vice Minister, Ministry of the Imperial Navy, saying that: "...our Imperial nation will have all of the vessels and fishing boats in the area make every possible effort to search for the remains." The Japaneses later claimed that two ships searched the southern Marshall islands - the seaplane tender Kamui (often mistakenly named in Earhart books as the "Kamoi") and the survey ship Koshu. We know that in July, Kamui was enroute from Saipan to Futami in the Osawagara Islands, far, far from the Marshalls and heading west. We don't know where Koshu was but she had no aircraft.

2. It wasn't until 1940 that the Japanese had seaplane ramps or airfields anywhere in the Marshalls, so any Japanese airplane in that part of the world would have to be ship-based. I'm not sure how many carriers the Imperial Navy had in 1937, but I do know that Akagi was in drydock undergoing a refit throughout this entire period. We know of no Japanese naval vessels in or near the Marshalls anytime in 1937 other than possibly the Kamui and Koshu in late September.

3. Had the Kamui, by any chance, been so bold as to send a flying boat as far south as Tarawa it is hard to understand why there was no British diplomatic protest similar to that filed when a U.S. Navy seaplane flew over Canton Island. Tarawa was not a lonely tropical atoll. It was a major British colonial center with offices, adminstrators, a hospital, a school and a radio station. For the Japanese to come prowling around so far outside of their own neighborhood should have brought a serious diplomatic response. No such traffic appears in the official record.

4. It seems far more likely that what Tofiga saw was a scout plane launched from one of the British cruisers that were in the area from 1935 through 1939. HMS Leith, HMS Leander, HMS Wellington, and HMS Achilles all carried at least one Supermarine Walrus.


Subject: Japanese sea plane ops
Date: 8/2/99
From: Don Neumann

Re: Dr. Tom King's 8/1/99 post relating to possible Japanese involvement in the AE/FN search.

Here is a web page originally posted by our Radio Historian, Mike E. #2194:

Spennemann, Japanese Sea Plane Operations in the Marshall Islands

Japanese Sea Plane Operations in the Marshall Islands

This page, (maintained by Dr. Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Senior Lecturer, Cultural Heritage Studies at Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Au.) provides a brief description of the establishment of Japanese seaplane routes, throughout the Mandated Territories, during the mid-1930's.

in subsequent e-mail correspondence i exchanged with dr. spennemann he suggested that the development of any military facilities marshalls did not begin until 1940s however given very minimal required for operation seaplanes from such areas it would seem possible japanese may have flown planes yet does unlikely they overflown british mandated territory (the gilberts) without prior notice or permission especially territorial several powers involved pre-war administration these islands & general suspicion generated about because measures involked regarding their own territories.

Don Neumann

Subject: Re: Japanese search for AE
Date 8/2/99
From: Daryll

>From Ric
>I suppose we need to deal with this...

O.K. at the risk of posting something that doesn't conform to the stated goals or hypothesis of the Forum.

> However, a Japanese plane over Tarawa in 1937 is hard to
> swallow......
> 2. It wasn't until 1940....

You have quoted this year (1940) before. I do not believe that year is written in granite and is subject to challenge.

> that the Japanese had seaplane ramps or airfields anywhere in the
> Marshalls, so any Japanese airplane in that part of the world would have
> to be ship-based.

There is contemporaneous documentation in the Archives in Washington: "CONFIDENTIAL Enclosure No. 1 to Despatch No. 3605 of January 8, 1939, from the Embassy at Paris." An eyewitness account of a seaplane ramp and airplane hanger on Jaluit in the Marshalls. This account is based on information at least a year old if not 2 to 3 years old.

>1. There was no Japanese search for Earhart in July 1937..... "...or
>Imperial nation will have all of the vessels and fishing boats in the
>area make every possible effort to search for the remains......"

Fishing boats by their very nature and business are at sea the majority of the time. The Japanese fishing grounds can be said to be their own waters and international waters (Mandate Islands and surrounding waters). There is contemporaneous documentation ( Japanese, 11:20 a.m. July 13, 1937 ) that has been previously posted on the Forum. Concerning the London international news inquiry about the report that a Japanese fishing boat had rescued the Earhart plane.

> 3. ... it is hard to understand why there was no British
>diplomatic protest ....... For the Japanese to come prowling around so
>far outside of their own neighborhood...

This adds some credibility to the time frame. If a massive air and sea search is being conducted by several nations, then a brief Japanese over-flight of one of the northern most islands in the Gilberts, can be explained by the most inept diplomat.


From Ric

The year 1940 that I have quoted before comes from an article in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings entitled "How Japan Fortified the Mandated Islands" and is based upon Japanese as well as U.S. Navy records. I'm not sure that the unattributed "eyewitness account" in the 1939 despatch is a better source, but just play to the game -- if there was a seaplane ramp and hangar at Jaluit in 1937 it's pretty clear that the sneaky Japanese were trying to keep it secret. How dumb would they have to be to fly the plane over a British administrative center low enough so that even the schoolboys could identify it?

It may be true that the most inept diplomat might be able to explain such a flight. My point is that they didn't. Where is the British protest to which the inept diplomat replied? Conspiracy theorists love to make big fires out of wisps of smoke, but there isn't even any smoke on this one. Sure sign of a cover up.


Subject: Clutching at Straws
Date: 8/3/99
From: Tet Walston

I know that you are as critical of my analysis of AE/FN flights as I am of your conclusions.

Whilst I admire your efforts to "find" AE, the clutching at sraws approach, report of bones, shoe remains etc. are at best ephemeral, and by themselves provide only possible info of the end of the flight.

My navigation observations and comments are valid. Amelia was not fully trained in instrument/night flying, and FN's reputation as a navigator was based on his TransAtlantic flights with Pan Am. where the use/need of a radio operator was imperative. Neither were fully able to avail themselves of the superb facilities arranged by the US Navy etc.

As far as the reported LOP is concerned, this bearing was ONLY valid if they knew where they were ,in reference to this. Noonan had clocks set to GMT and LMT. At sunrise he would "observe" and calculate his LOP. the TIME of this observation should have given what in fact was his Longitude, so now he would have a position. not the best., the cross bearings were too close. So, he did know where they were? Where were they? Wherever they were was not at Howland.

I truly would wish that their end can be established, but I have so many doubts. Ric may not like my comments, but to be fair, he allows me to make them! Wherelse could this happen??

LTM, and Ric and the crew- not forgetting Pat.

Subject: Re: Clutching at Straws
Date: 8/3/99
From: Tom King

Well, while we're being fair, I have to respond to Tet's characterization of our attention to the bones, shoe remains, etc. as "clutching at straws," and "ephemeral at best." First off, documented discoveries of very tangible things like bones and shoes are far from "ephemeral," and certainly no more so than cogitations on navigation. Further, while they certainly "by themselves provide only possible info of the end of the flight," the end of the flight is rather critical to what we're interested in, isn't it?

I used to study prehistoric social organization in California. I could have done thought pieces for many years about how folks might have been organized 2,000 years ago around San Francisco Bay, based on extrapolation from general social theory, environmental conditions, and so forth, but none of it would have been particularly meaningful without some hard data. And such data could be gotten only by seeking out the distribution of tangible things like bones in the ground and settlements on it. However interesting it may be to cogitate about Earhart's and Noonan's qualifications, navigational and flying abilities, the state of their equipment, and so forth, it's not going to prove anything without some "ephemera" like bones and shoes and plane parts in places consistent with a plausible hypothesis. If looking hard for such things is clutching at straws, so be it.

LTM (who prefers picking straws to clutching them)
Tom King

From Ric

I let that one pass hoping that someone with more patience than I have right now would attempt enlightenment. Thank you Tom, for taking up that cross.

Perhaps our greatest problem in trying to solve the mystery of the Earhart disappearance is the expectation - our own and everyone else's - about what MUST be left. We talk about "the smoking gun" and the "any-idiot artifact" as if it is a given that such a thing still survives after 62 years. Maybe it does. Maybe the aircraft component with a serial number or the bone with recoverable DNA still waits in a bush or a box somewhere just waiting until we look in exactly the right place. I sure hope so. But what if it doesn't? What if the forces of nature that have reduced a 400 foot, 5,000 ton steel ship to a scattering of debris have obliterated the remains of a 38 foot, 7,000 pound aluminum airplane? Nothing vanishes without a trace, and traces are what we've found. We can hope for more, but we have no right to demand more.

If the "any-idiot artifact" does not exist, or cannot be found, then it is likely that the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan will not be accessible to any idiot. Only those with the interest, the education, and the patience to examine the evidence will be able to reach the correct conclusion. The others will go on fantasizing about an intact Electra on the ocean bottom or stewing about government cover-ups.

Our job is to be sure that we find all that can be found, within the practical limits of funding and technology, to make it as easy as possible for any interested person to draw a reasonable conclusion. We have to accept, however, that no matter what we find there will be those who cling to their own pre-conceived notions. So be it.


Subject: Re: Clutching at straws
Date: 8/4/99
From: Don Neumann

Throughout the long history of the search for Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan, there has been much criticism of the piloting skills of Earhart & the Navigational skills of Noonan. However, lest we forget, AE/FN had successfully flown over three quarters of the way around the earth, with no serious problems arising regarding either the manner in which the plane was being piloted or navigated, in spite of severe weather problems over the subcontinent (requiring them to reverse course & land on one occasion, to avoid the consequences of trying to fly through monsoon storms) & with much of the flight occurring during hours of darkness.

Whatever the shortcomings of Earhart as a pilot or Noonan as a navigator may have been, I think even their severest critics must give (at least grudgingly) credit to this duo for reaching Lae unscathed.

Whatever went wrong on the Lae to Howland leg of their ill fated journey may never be fully known or understood, even if the remains of the plane & crew are ever found; However that should not discourage those who continue the search in an effort to at least try to find such remains, based upon reasonable evidence (both tangible & documentary) which continues to surface, even 62 years after the fact. That is the reason why the publishers of history books are still in business printing constant revisions & up-dates, because history is not a static subject & often subject to change without prior notice.

We may not all agree entirely with the TIGHAR hypothesis concerning the outcome of the flight, but at the moment it's the only effort being undertaken, in such a broad area of disciplines, to locate & recover (if possible) whatever remains can be found of the plane & its crew.

The recent investigations in Fiji have developed much additional information that would never have surfaced, except for the persistence of the TIGHAR volunteers in digging through reams of paper & searching all available cellars, attics & tunnels. Constructive criticism is a very necessary & valuable tool in the pursuit of any investigative effort, however lets be careful not to be throwing bricks at the hod carriers!

Don Neumann

Subject: Brushfires
Date: 8/4/99
From: Patrick Gaston

Let me preface this note by saying that I am an admirer of TIGHAR and its work. You're the only organization making an on-the-scene effort to solve the Earhart mystery, as opposed to us armchair detectives. I can only imagine how tough it is to fund repeated Pacific expeditions without corporate or government backing, and the fact that you are able to scrape together the required bucks year after year is a testament to Ric's leadership and the loyalty of TIGHAR members.

However, I do wish you would stop referring to anyone who disagrees with the Niku hypothesis (and that's still all it is) as a "conspiracy theorist". One does not have to be a "conspiracy theorist" to believe that AE could have come down someplace other than Nikumaroro.

For example, there is no documented evidence of Fred Noonan, one of the world's finest aerial navigators, ever missing a target when he had four hours of fuel left to look for it. There is documented evidence of the following: (a) at one time, AE disclosed that her backup plan, in the event she missed Howland Island, was to head toward the British-controlled Gilberts; and (b) AE overrode Fred's navigational advice on at least one prior occasion, when they were approaching the west coast of Africa. Luckily, Africa is a big place and AE's stubbornness on that occasion did not prove disastrous.

Given these facts, however, it is at least possible that a fatigued and disoriented AE could have again decided that she knew better than Fred, and turned back toward a preplanned emergency landing in the Gilberts rather than continuing on into parts unknown (at least to her). If FN had indeed coolly and logically determined that all they need do was fly southeast on the 157/337 LOP in order to reach the Phoenix group, then why did AE radio: "We are running north and south" (or "northwest, now southeast" as Ric would have it)? Why didn't she just say, "We are running southeast"? I do not think it inconceivable that, in a crisis and with her judgment impaired by lack of sleep, AE would finally tune Fred out and trust to her instincts. She had done so before, and she had gotten herself lost before. In addition to the African incident, let's not forget the Mexico City flight, when Amelia had to land and ask directions!

One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that this course of action led to a splashdown somewhere ENE of the Gilberts. I suppose that, if AE throttled back to save fuel and set her propellers to maximum pitch, it is just barely possible that she could even have made Mili Atoll, depending upon how far east the duo were when they began cruising the 157/337 line. Obviously I am no navigator. However it is difficult to accept that the anecdotal evidence gathered by Goerner, Knaggs, Brennan, et al., although inconsistent in detail, does not have some basis in fact. In this regard, I note that, having for years dismissed the Marshalls/Saipan yarns with thinly-veiled contempt, Ric now apparently believes that this same sort of anecdotal evidence carries conclusive weight as long as: (a) it's "credible", and (b) it points to Niku. Quote: "If reports of aircraft wreckage on the reef at Nikumaroro anytime prior to December 7, 1941 are credible, then we know what happened to the Earhart/Noonan flight. It's as simple as that."

With all due respect, it is not as simple as that. There are dozens of anecdotes placing Fred and Amelia in the Marshalls and/or the Marianas, which are no less "credible" for the fact that they were recorded by others. TIGHAR has yet to find a single piece of wreckage which can be traced conclusively to NR16020. All of the people who examined the Niku bones firsthand, including two physicians who had lived on the islands for years and presumably were familiar with the decomposition process in that environment, agreed that they appeared to have been around considerably longer than three years. Finally, the contention that "It's as simple as that" assumes that TIGHAR can account for each and every other airplane that was flying anywhere in the Central Pacific in the roughly 15 years prior to 1941. (I recall how, at one point, TIGHAR was certain that absolutely no WWII-vintage aircraft had gone down anywhere near Niku -- until reports of the Canton crash surfaced.)

But that's what makes TIGHAR so endearing -- its rigorous commitment to intellectual honesty, including the willingness to admit when it's wrong. In fact, I hope that TIGHAR is right. I hope that the bones are found, still resting in their Kanawa wood box, and that DNA testing proves them to be the mortal remains of Amelia Earhart. I hope the sextant box has "Property of Frederick Noonan" etched into the side. I hope that Niku V or VI or VII turns up a hunk of airplane wing with "NR16020" still faintly visible on the surface. Your efforts over the past ten years deserve such a reward. But until that happens, how about keeping our minds just slightly open to other possibilities? Not that Amelia was a spy, nor that she was shot down .... but that, maybe, and for reasons we'll probably never know, she simply turned the wrong way.

LTM (who can't think of a good tagline)
Patrick Gaston

P.S. If AE did somehow end up in Japanese custody (notice I'm saying IF), it seems to me there's a fairly simple explanation as to why she might have been kept under wraps. Consider how the Japanese of that era treated female prisoners in general (it wasn't called the Rape of Nanking for nothing). Now suppose some low-ranking Japanese colonial officer abuses, or permits his men to abuse the captured "spy", only to find out a day or so later that she's the World's Most Famous Female Flyer. At that point the options are to let her go so she can tell the press about Imperial Japanese hospitality, or simply warehouse her someplace in hopes that she eventually will succumb to any one of several nasty tropical diseases. Maybe you don't even tell Tokyo, if you want to keep your head. It's a thought....

From Ric

Thank you Patrick, for a well-reasoned and articulate argument. I'll try to respond in kind.

First, a conspiracy theorist is one who postulates that the unavailability of information about an event is due to the conscious and intentional withholding of such information by two or more individuals who have conspired to do so. In the context of the debate over what happened to the Earhart/Noonan flight, those who support the theory that the aircraft crashed at sea are not conspiracy theorists unless, for example, they suggest that authorities had proof of a crash at sea and purposely kept it secret for some reason.

Not to put too fine a point on it, a conspiracy may involve a cover-up (as in Nixon, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell and company) but a cover-up need not involve a conspiracy. For example, there is ample evidence to show that, in a successful effort to absolve himself from blame, Commander Warner K. Thompson, captain of the Itasca, intentionally misrepresented, and in some cases fabricated, crucial aspects of the events of July 2, 1937 in his official report entitled "Radio Transcripts Earhart Flight" date July 19, 1937. However, if none of his subordinates or superiors was in on the cover-up (and I've seen no direct evidence that they were), there was no conspiracy.

In recent years the lable "conspiracy theorist" has taken on a perjorative connotation due to the flimsy evidence often used to support many alleged conspiracies, but there are certainly such things as conspiracies and those who uncover them are not necessarily paranoid schizophrenics.

Second, the premises upon which you base your argument for a turn back to the Gilberts are not as solid as you suggest. Her "disclosed back-up plan" was nothing more than a comment to Gene Vidal at some unspecified time prior to the world flight and later recalled by him. As for AE's oft-cited over-riding of Fred's navigational advice on the coast of Africa; the notations on the original chart used by Noonan (now in the Purdue archives) tell a very different tale than the story presented in the heavily-edited, posthumously published Last Flight. Neither the chart nor the note passed between the crew support the notion of a disagreement about which way to turn. As with Thompson's report, distortion and embellishment have raised questions about the professionalism of the crew which are not warranted by more primary sources.

You ask why AE said, "We are running north and south" if, in fact, she was running southeastward on the line of position. The answer, of course, is that she probably didn't say that. We don't know what Amelia actually said. What is clear is that shows clearly that whatever she said at that moment caught the radio operator totally off guard.

It is important to understand that two radio logs were being kept aboard Itasca. One log, supervised by Chief Radioman Leo G. Bellarts, was dedicated to attempts to communicate with the Earhart flight while a separate log, maintained by Radioman Thomas O'Hare, was supposed to record all other traffic but O'Hare, who could overhear what was coming over the speakers, included many Earhart-related entries into the log he was keeping. Both logs are now in the National Archives.

At 07:42 local time the Bellart's log shows a transmission from Earhart:


At 07:40 local time, O'Hare's log says:


At 08:15, Earhart's normally scheduled transmission time a half hour later, Itasca heard nothing (they were blocking 3105 with their own transmissions). Commander Thompson apparently decided that the "1/2 HR LEFT" version was correct and he ordered the men ashore on Howland to return to the ship in preparation for getting under weigh to begin a search. At 08:43, Earhart's next regularly scheduled transmission time, a full hour after O'Hare thought she said "RUNNING OUT OF GAS ONLY 1/2 HR LEFT", and as the Itasca was preparing to get under weigh, suddenly Earhart was back on the air. It's little wonder that whatever she said came as a surprise and was not recorded with great precision. In fact, O'Hare's log doesn't mention it at all.

Bellarts' log says:


(A3 S5 is a notation indicating that this was a voice transmission received on 3105 at maximum strength).

Normally this would be the end of an entry but crammed into the available space on the same line is an appeneded entry that can be interpreted as either:




The traditional, and unsupportable, "We are running north and south." comes from Thompson's later report. In any case, it sure doesn't sound like a turn back to the Gilberts.

Your allegation that I regard anecdotal accounts that agree with TIGHAR's hypothesis differently than I view those which support other theories is simply not true. You correctly quote me as saying: ""If reports of aircraft wreckage on the reef at Nikumaroro anytime prior to December 7,1941 are credible, then we know what happened to the Earhart/Noonan flight. It's as simple as that." I am just as comfortable saying: "If reports of Amelia Earhart being imprisoned on Saipan are credible, then we know what happened to the Earhart/Noonan flight." You seem to have utterly missed my point that the question here is the credibility of the anecdotes. Whom do we believe? No anecdote or collection of anecdotes can stand by itself. Anecdotes, if they are true or even partially true, should lead the diligent researcher to some kind of hard evidence corroboration - documents, photographs, artifacts, human remains. An excellent example is the tale of bones being found on Nikumaroro. For years we regarded it as interesting folklore worthy of investigation until perserverance and luck turned up solid proof that it actually happened. Accounts of aircraft wreckage on the reef at Niku prior to WWII are, in themselves, no more credible than the tales of imprisonment on Saipan unless and until corroborating hard evidence is found.

And finally, yes, it IS as simple as that. Not just TIGHAR but any interested individual can account for every airplane that flew over or near Nikumaroro prior to 1941. Until the Pacific war brought unprecedented forces and resources to those remote regions for strategic purposes, any airplane flight was a newsworthy event. It's a bit like wondering whether TIGHAR can document with confidence every manned landing on the moon. And your recollections about TIGHAR's assertions regarding aircraft losses in the Central Pacific during WWII are equally incorrect. We always knew and acknowledged that there had been crashes at Canton, and we had anecdotal accounts of a wartime crash at Sydney Island which, again, diligent research and a little luck brought to light as a documented loss.

This posting is far too long, but it illustrates a basic problem we have to solve. We can not correct the myths and answer the misinformed piecemeal. It is essential that we get the 8th Edition of the project book completed so that accurate information is publicly available in an easily accessible form. I can't do that if I'm spending all my time stomping out brushfires like this. Consequently, I have asked Pat to resume her moderating of the forum while I concentrate my efforts on putting out the next (and woefully overdue) issue of TIGHAR Tracks, oversee the writing of the 8th Edition, and producing the video. I'll continue to chime in on the forum as needed but in the role of a regular contributor rather than as moderator.

Love to mother,

Subject: Re: Brushfires
Date: 8/4/99
From: Tom King

Just a word about anecdotal evidence of landing/capture in the Marshalls and/or Saipan.

There's something of a cottage industry in Earhart sighting reports throughout Micronesia -- probably because people have gone in and asked a lot of leading questions, sometimes paying for the answers. And the answers are often worse than anecdotal; they're second and third hand.

Example: the other day my wife mentioned in passing that when she was doing her dissertation research in Chuuk (Truk) back in the 1970s, her adopted Chuukese father said that a relative of his (deceased, I think) had seen Amelia Earhart killed by the Japanese, in Chuuk; he then proceeded to recount the story, which featured imprisonment and execution. Had this had anything whatever to do with her dissertation research, she would doubtless have asked questions like: "how did your relative know that it was Earhart and not somebody else?" In asking questions about Chuukese land law -- which were central to her research and also much dearer to the hearts of Chuukese than questions about the fate of some American pilot -- she often found discrepancies and uncertainties that could be sorted out (if at all) only through painstaking interviews with multiple parties. It's safe to say that in order to get at the truth about the various Earhart sightings, one would have to do similar research.

In a way, the very ubiquity of Earhart capture and execution stories argues against their validity. She couldn't have been captured and killed in ALL those places, but there HAVE been unprofessional interviewers in all those places asking leading questions. Goerner was certainly among the most professional; he was after all a reporter. But even with Goerner (and here I go into second-hand anecdote), I was recently told about a guy who said he'd translated for him on Saipan and repeatedly told him he was being lied to.

I don't know what one does with all this, but I do know that if I were going to try to research AE in the Marshalls, Carolines, or Marianas I'd need a whole lot of time and money, and I wouldn't be very hopeful for the results. The oral historical record is just too tainted. She may have wound up there; she also may have crashed into the sea, or may have been abducted to the Pleides. The trouble with all those propositions is not that they're obviously not true, but only that they're virtually impossible to test. Our own proposition is real HARD to test, but it's clearly POSSIBLE.

LTM (who's open-minded but thrifty)
Tom King

Subject: Re: Grasping at Straws
Date: 8/4/99
From: Dave Porter

First off, welcome home, and congratulations to you and all other Fiji and Niku team members on a job well done. Looking forward to detailed findings of both expeditions.

Now, let me see if I have this right...At the first landfall along NR16020's last known course, TIGHAR has found several artifacts (plexiglass, aluminum, shoe parts, etc.) consistent with that craft and its occupants. TIGHAR has also collected first-hand, eyewitness reports positively dating the Niku aircraft debris as pre-war. Further, TIGHAR has followed up on reports of other items consistent with NR16020 that have been previously recovered from Niku (the kanawa wood box, the bones, and Bruce's engine). In the case of the former, previously anecdotal reports have been both clarified and confirmed by TIGHAR research as historically accurate, and the latter case consists of a first hand eyewitness report from (at the time) an independent third party. If this is "grasping at straws", then sign me up as an apprentice straw grasper.

LTM (who knows that TIGHAR has collected more evidence than any other AE researcher, and used more scientifically valid methods than any others while doing so)

Dave Porter, 2288 ( grrr... )

Subject: Re: Grasping at straws
Date: 8/5/99
From: Tom King

One tiny correction, Dave. Niku wasn't "the first landfall along NR16020's last known course." Besides Baker, just south of Howland, the first landfall would have been McKean. McKean is a much smaller island than Nikumaroro, and quite barren though alive with birds. We searched it (in one day -- an adventure in itself) in '89. Found lots of ruins and artifacts from 19th century phosphate mining, several wrecked fishing boats, lots of sharks around the periphery, almost lost Ric in the -- uh -- guano pit that occupies the middle of the island, otherwise found nothing even WITHOUT Sactodave's help. Concluded (a) that if NR16020 HAD landed there the Colorado pilots couldn't have missed it, since there's nothing to hide it (unless it sank in the guano pit, which would be an interesting proposition for someone else to investigate) and (b) that there sure wasn't anything to suggest to us that it had landed there. So we've focused on Niku, which is the second of the Phoenix Islands along the LOP.

LTM (who likes birds, but really....)
Tom King

Subject: RE: Niku IIIIP
Date: 8/5/99
From: Sactodave

Good luck on your checkride. Now, as to the Niku trip, Gillespie didn't find a Lockheed twin, the engines to a Lockheed twin, serial numbers from a Lockheed twin, nor it's crew members, their property, remains, or any valid account of the airplane's presence on Niku. What they DID find is the same type of second-hand rumor fodder that now has been imbued with enough significance to justify yet another expedition. Now, tell me YOUR truth.

And what is Truth? said jesting Pilate....

Our Truth, right at the moment, is that----as usual---- it is far far too early in the process of analyzing the results of the expedition to know what exactly was accomplished. Generally speaking, it takes somewhere between three and twelve months to understand fully the evidence and the implications of that evidence following on any field work. That is one of the major reasons that archeology is generally done in "seasons" (aside from weather conditions, of course). You go, you do your field work, you come back with whatever you come back with, you spend the next year figuring out what the heck you found, then you go back to the field with the new understandings.

No, we didn't find the great silver airplane lurking in the scaevola. There is a pretty fair chance that it's not there to be found, but is in tiny shards and/or in the waters off the reef. We can't control that. All we can control is our research, our methodology, and our attention to the myriad of details which make up an archeological project.

I do wish to take exception to the phrase "second hand rumor fodder." Rumor fodder it may be, but it is definitely first hand. The people in question saw what they say they saw (whatever that was) personally; we're not talking about something someone they talked to saw. There is always a line to be trod between gullibility concerning orally transmitted evidence/anecdote, and unwarranted dismissiveness of same. We have always said that the plural of "anecdote" is not "evidence"----but anecdote (or, to be PC, oral history) can definitely lead a researcher to hard evidence: written accounts from the time in question, in this case. That's what happened with the bones story, if you will recall.


Subject: Re: Brushfires
Date: 8/5/99
From: Bill Leary

> From Tom King
> The trouble with all those propositions is not that
> they're obviously not true, but only that they're
> virtually impossible to test. Our own proposition
> is real HARD to test, but it's clearly POSSIBLE.

I've been meaning to comment on statements similar to this for some time, but haven't been quite able to nail down exactly how to say it without being offensive. I'll comment anyway and hope that people see what I'm getting at, even if I don't say it very well.

There's an old joke about a guy who's trying to get into his car one night and drops his keys. His friends come along a bit later and find him looking for them under the street light. The start to help him look but discover that he dropped them as he was putting them in the lock, and his car is parked twenty feet away in the shadows. Why is he looking over here then? Because it's easier to look here... there's more light.

My point is, that the comment by Tom King, and other similar comments, seem to come off as saying that the search is aimed as it is because it's easier than the other searches would be rather than because it's the one that best fits the available data.

I'm talking perception here.

- Bill #2229

I can certainly understand the point you are making, Bill, and do not take offense.

We are convinced, by the body of evidence we have collected, that the *best* fit for the available data is Niku. That is why our search has focused on that island.

One thing that we would like to do, however, is test the null hypothesis: that any given uninhabited Pacific atoll would yield similar bits and pieces and stories and trails. We've never been able to do that, because it would be wildly expensive.

The other hypotheses usually put forth as solutions to the Earhart mystery--- that she crashed and sank, that she was captured by the Japanese--- are not hypotheses we are anxious to test because we do not think they account for the established evidence. Crashed and sank accounts for more than capture, but still leaves some big holes that evidence waltzes through.


Subject: Re: Brushfires
Date: 8/5/99
From: Tom King

Sorry if my comment misled you, Bill, but your analogy isn't quite apt. Let's suppose your man with his car keys wasn't sure where he'd been when he dropped them. Maybe he was standing in the dark next to his car; maybe he was fumbling for his wallet to pay the mugger who accosted him under the streetlight. He doesn't have a flashlight. It makes sense for him to search under the streetlight first, and only invest in the time and trouble to go get a flashlight and search around his car if his initial search doesn't pan out.

LTM (who has her keys)
Tom King

Which is the essence, if I understand it correctly, of the true interpretation of Ockham's Razor----do the cheaper, easier stuff first.

Not that what we've done is either cheap or easy... but compared to searching, say, the moons of Jupiter it's no' so bad.


Subject: Re: Brushfires
Date: 8/6/99
From: Bill Leary

From Pat:

> We are convinced, by the body of evidence we have
> collected, that the *best* fit for the available data is
> Niku. That is why our search has focused on that island.

I agree. I'm not saying that it's not the right thing to do. I believe it's the most LIKELY place to look. It was the perception given by the comment that it's being researched because it's the EASIEST place that I was commenting on. Or perhaps cautioning about would be a better way to put it.

> One thing that we would like to do, however, is test
> the null hypothesis: that any given uninhabited Pacific
> atoll would yield similar bits and pieces and stories and
> trails. We've never been able to do that, because it
> would be wildly expensive.

Agreed again. This would be a bit like the experiment done many years ago where they performed a Martian life-finder experiment in the middle of a desert here on earth. Within the limits of the experimental package, they found nothing. What it proved was that perhaps they needed a different set of experiments.

In our case, I don't think that such an operation could possibly be justified, nor do I think it's necessary. Perhaps we'll reach a point where we really need to develop some kind of "anecdotal evidence comparison baseline" like this, but at the moment I'm satisfied that the inquery method has been careful enough. Or, in cases where it's possible the interviewer may have poluted the source, it's been clearly stated as such. I'm also satisfied that the artifacts have been given proper attributes (i.e.: it's not said that it's the window of the Electra, but rather that its' COMPATIBLE with the window of the Electra.)

> The other hypotheses usually put forth as solutions to
> ((..omitted..))

I agree with this too. I'm only talking about the way the comments can be perceived, not what I believe is actually happening.

From Tom:

> Sorry if my comment misled you, Bill, but your analogy
> isn't quite apt. Let's suppose your man with his car keys
> ((..omitted..))
> get a flashlight and search around his car if his initial search
> doesn't pan out.

It didn't mislead me at all. *I* know what you're getting at. I was cautioning, I guess, against the potential perception of that sort of comment. This project is already seen, in some circles, as being performed by people who just won't give up in the face of the "obvious" fact that Amelia went down at sea. The chance of us also be perceived as looking where we are because it's easier to prove this theory as opposed to one of the others is something we can ill afford to have happen.

Unless I missed something, we're trying to prove this theory because it's more LIKELY rather than because it's EASIER.

- Bill

Subject: Why go eastwards?
Date: 8/6/99
From: Phil Tanner

A question for the Forum's experts in navigation and maybe an FAQ. Is it right to assume that in 1937 it was no more difficult to navigate your way around the world starting in the US and going westwards than it was eastwards, and that the distance between Hawaii and Howland is a bit less than that between Howland and Lae? If so, why did Earhart's second attempt go eastwards when the first went the other way?

Prompted by Patrick's point about there being no evidence of Noonan ever failing to find a destination with four hours' fuel with which to do so. With respect, I think the argument is a bit specious because the challenge of finding a tiny island after a 19-hour, two-handed flight was highly unusual if not unique. However, there's no doubt that the more fuel Earhart had, the greater the chance of finding Howland, and that she'd hardly be likely to fly towards New Guinea westwards with four hours' spare fuel and fail to find it. So if Hawaii-Howland was even marginally shorter than Lae-Howland, why not maximize the chances of success?

LTM, Phil 2276

Subject: Re: Why go eastwards?
Date: 8/7/99
From: Randy Jacobson

Good question about East to West vs. West to East. I wish I had a really good answer, other than weather. Consulting with my meteorological friends, it appears that the winds across Africa shift dramatically from April through June, and AE's explanation is approximately correct. There appears to be no other reason postulated, and this one seems somewhat weak. Despite all of this, I would still have favored the tail wind by going E to W. The jump from Howland to Lae would have been a piece of cake: just find the continent of New Guinea! The flight from Hono to Howland would be difficult, but with a full load of gas, one could search for much longer upon arrival in the area than from Lae.

Subject: Re: Why go eastwards?
Date: 8/7/99
From: Don Neumann

My own recollection of the reason given for reversing the direction of the AE/FN flight from westward to eastward (after the groundloop mishap of the aborted takeoff from Hawaii) was to avoid storms (hurricanes) that could be developing in the South Atlantic, at that time of year, upon the flight's return trip from Africa to South America, if they flew a westerly route.

Considering the fact that by traveling eastward they did run into very heavy monsoon storms across the subcontinent & had to turn back & land on at least one occasion, due to the severity of such storms, it doesn't seem to me that it was the most well thought out decision made by the planners of the flight.

Must admit I've often wondered why they would choose to travel the longest, most difficult, overwater (mostly at night) leg of the flight at the near end of the journey, (when both plane & crew are probably the most air weary & fatigued) trying to find a narrow strip of an island in the mid-Pacific. Though I'm not a pilot or navigator, I still believe I would rather face the _possibility_ of flying through, over or around South Atlantic storm systems, with two entire continents as my potential landfall, than trying to plot a course through the night to such a small speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Conversely, AE/FN probably considered that Noonan's navigational skills & the prospect of having a radio beam from Itaska to guide them would be sufficient, not anticipating that a failure of their radio receiver/antenna system or directional ring would leave them totally dependant upon the accuracy of Noonan's calculations & Earhart's ability to fly the course he charted.

Don Neumann

Subject: A basic premise
Date: 8/8/99
From: Jon Pieti

Bill Leary wrote:

>Unless I missed something, we're trying to prove this theory because it's
>more LIKELY rather than because it's EASIER.

More likely than the scenario where they just went down at sea somewhere? How can you say that? I've been following this forum and the progress of TIGHAR with great interest for some months now, and I admire the thorough work and discipline being put forth in attempting to solve the mystery, and I hope that they are correct and eventually successful...

But - the one thing that has been bothering me all along is that just because it isn't feasible for TIGHAR (or anyone else) to expend resources looking for evidence of a loss at sea, or likely that it would be possible to find it after all these years, that doesn't mean that ending for Amelia & Fred is any less probable.

I understand that the only place where there is any possibility of finding evidence after 62 years is on one of the islands in the vicinity they are searching. But it's a darn big ocean out there, and just because the Colorado and the rest of the Navy didn't find any evidence of a loss at sea in 1937, doesn't rule it out as a possibility.

Let me say it this way: The selection of any group of data to examine does not make a particular outcome scenario of the event being studied any more or any less likely to have occurred.

- Jon Pieti

I think, Jon, that the situation is not as simple as "there's a lot of ocean but we can't look there." The truth is, that the *only* explanation which fits *all* the known FACTS---not surmises, not suppositions, but facts--- is that Earhart reached land, almost certainly Nikumaroro.

I'll let Ric carry this farther than I can, but remember that any hypothesis about a mystery must account for everything known. If my keys are lost, the most likely place for me to look may well be on the kitchen counter or in my jeans pockets.... unless the last time I saw them the dog was playing with them in the back yard.


Back to Highlights Archive list.

About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at:  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW