Forum artHighlights From the Forum

January 30 through February 5, 2000


Subject: Trapped Fuel
Date: 1/31/00
From: Birch Matthews

For Alan Caldwell who in a Forum message on January 6, asked if the 1,100 gallons of fuel in Amelia Earhart's Electra included or excluded trapped or unusable fuel. Sorry to be so long in responding to your question. Hope the following is helpful.

Army Air Corps and Navy aircraft group weight statements (as opposed to detailed weight statements) are broken down into categories, and then further divided into subcategories or groups. Empty weight includes, for instance, the airframe structure consisting of the wing group, tail group, body or fuselage group, landing gear group and engine section (but not the engine). Similar breakdowns are given for the powerplant and fixed equipment. The sum of these groups equals the aircraft empty weight. (See any typical group weight statement or the book America's Hundred Thousand, by Francis H. Dean, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., ISBN 0-7643-0072-5, 1997, pp. 120-123.)

Gross aircraft weight consists of empty weight plus useful load. The latter is divided into two categories: the fixed or non-disposable useful load; and, the disposable or expendable useful load. Trapped fluids including fuel and oil are part of the non-disposable useful load. Thus, trapped fuel becomes, as you noted, "an aircraft weight and balance issue."

I believe where I went wrong in discussing fuel issues in context with Amelia's airplane was in using the terms "usable and unusable fuel fraction." It was an attempt to assess the 1,100 gallon volumetric figure in relation to possible losses, inaccuracies and uncertainties as a percentage of the total fuel weight.

To the best of my knowledge, the airplane was fueled from drums of gasoline without using any type of metering system. (A rough approximation of how much fuel was loaded could be derived from how many drums were emptied or partially emptied.) Presumably the tanks were filled to a point where fuel was visible at the filler tube/tank interface, in the filler tube of each tank, or perhaps to a point where the fuel actually overflowed.

Regardless of precisely how the tanks were filled, uncertainties exist. How much 100 octane fuel was really onboard (usually quoted as a half tank)? How much tank ullage volume was present when the airplane was in a three-point attitude? What was the bulk fuel temperature and therefore mass density? Was there some loss due to evaporation? Was there overboard fuel venting as the temperature increased on the morning of her takeoff? Note that the last question also relates to any supposed topping off just prior to takeoff. As the gasoline warmed on the morning of takeoff, it would expand. As it expanded (after cooling and contracting slightly over night), there would be little or no tank volume available in which to top off.

Although we do not know precise answers to my questions, it is possible to take into account some overall estimated diminishment of the fuel weight available for the engines. One may debate the estimated loss magnitude; however, I remain certain that some loss was inevitable. The resulting number then forms the basis for estimating fuel consumption enroute to Howland and beyond. This becomes a baseline condition against which the impact of flight operating variables may be evaluated: instrument error, slight mixture ratio variation, drag due to abnormal trim and so forth.

The value of these analyses is that they will hopefully lead to a reasonable min-max endurance and range thereby demonstrating what was possible and what was not.


Subject: Using radar to find metal
Date: 1/31/00
From: Greg

Just a thought which perhaps you have already considered. If the radar equipment (GPR) set up on the pull cart can discern metal from vegetation and dirt then is there a possibility to tilt it up and scan to seek metal artifacts which may be buried in the vegetation? Crusted aluminium can look a lot like ground mess to a person's eye but if the radar sees a strong echo from metal and not from dirt then it may help find more metal.

Greg


From Ric

My understanding of GPR is that it's important to have as good a "seal" between the cart and the ground as possible. There are radars that will "look ahead" as you suggest, but they're way too big and require way too much power to tote around on the ground.


Subject: Re: Using radar to find metal
Date 1/31/00
From: Randy Jacobson

Radars don't work very well through foliage, and GPRs do require good coupling to the earth to work well. Your military has been trying to develop radars to penetrate foliage since the Vietnam War without great success. They have had success spending your/my taxes, though, in the process. That's not bad, as a number of people have been employed looking at this problem, including myself!


From Ric

We've learned a few important lessons about employing hi-tech devices in the field:

  1. Even if you get to use it for free, it's expensive to transport it half-way around the world.
  2. It's usually heavy and awkward to carry.
  3. Mostly it doesn't work.

Subject: Post-loss messages
Date: 2/2/00
From: Patrick Robinson

Without buying the CD, is there a posting of the post crash radio messages that TIGHAR believes could be real?

Do these include those messages that were 'fixed' in the Gilberts or are there other messages TIGHAR believes are real?

LTM
Patrick (2239)


From Ric

The full analysis of the post-loss radio transmissions will be dealt with in the 8th Edition of the project book, due out in March.

But in brief:

No messages were "fixed" in the Gilberts. DF bearings on four of six transmissions seemed to cross in the vicinity of Gardner Island but Bob Brandenburg's propagation analysis indicates that it is unlikely that these signals actually originated from the Earhart aircraft on Gardner. Likewise, the famous "281" message now looks like a hoax.

On the other hand, the transmissions heard on 6210 by Nauru on the evening of July 2nd look very good. Also, apparent responses heard on July 5th by Navy Radio, Tutuilla to a request for "dashes" sent by KGMB radio in Honolulu, could have theoretically originated at Gardner.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: Noonan and PAA
Date: 2/2/00
From: Vern Klein

>"Fred Noonan said, 'We've lived on promises for a year. I'm through.'
> He resigned immediately."

I think it's interesting to note that Grooch's book Jerry cites was published in 1939. That's not long after the fact and memories would have still been fresh. It's the last of several books Grooch wrote about PAA and flying the Pacific routes. It appears that Grooch died that same year -- 1939.

The idea that Fred intended to start his own navigation school, presumably in California, also seems pretty plausible. Fred seems to have been well acquainted with Weems who ran a navigation school in Annapolis. Perhaps he could make a go of the same sort of thing on the west coast.

According to Grooch, Fred was fresh out of a job. He needed to find something to make a living. He may actually have said to Amelia Earhart, as some of the books claim, "I need this flight." It would sure have been good PR for him and his fledgling navigation school. Fred Noonan, 'Round the World Navigator! He even found that fly-speck of an island in the Pacific Ocean called Howland.....


Subject: Radio Nauru/Times of Transmission
Date: 2/3/00
From: Ron Bright

In response to Patrick Baldwin's inquiry regarding the validity of post crash messages you believe that the transmission heard by Radio Nauru on 6210 "on the evening (sic) of Jul 2" looks good to support AE's survival after her last message to Itasca at 0844.

I certainly agree but another source says the three voice messages intercepted by Radio Nauru came in the morning at 0901,0913 and 0924- not in the evening. This time discrepancy certainly makes a difference on the time she may have crashed, etc.

Radio Nauru said they couldn't decipher the voice but it sounded similiar to AEs and that operator had heard her voice through the night.

Do these times reconcile with your records?


From Ric

The source you're referring to is Safford. His miscalculation of the time was due to his mistaken belief that Greenwich Civil Time (GCT) was different from Greenwhich Mean Time (GMT). We had an exhaustive discussion about this last year on the Forum. There's really no doubt about it. The primary sources (14th Naval District Radio Transcripts and a telegram received by the U.S. State Department) agree that the Nauru messages were heard at 18:31, 18:43, and 18:54 Sydney Australia Time on July 3rd (in Australia, July 2nd at Niku).


Subject: Aeroplane Monthly
Date: 2/3/00
From: Herman de Wulfe

In its March 2000 issue Aeroplane Monthly, a London-based British publication covering aviation history and classic aircraft, publishes an "exclusive" article on "New search for Amelia Earhart under way". It reminds that it "helped instigate deep water survey to find Lockheed 10". It might be interesting to read what Aeroplane says. For the benefit of those on the Forum who are unable to find the publication in their local bookstore I'm sending the complete text as published in the March issue.

News has just been released of an underwater search for the Lockheed 10E flown by American aviatrix Amelia Earhart, which was lost on almost the last stage of her attempt to fly around the world on an equatorial track in 1937. Aeroplane investigated her disappearance, one of aviation's great mysteries, in 1989--- and our conclusion helped spark off the hunt.

The deep water sonar search was privately funded and took place last November and December. It was organized by Howland Landing Ltd., Williamson & Associates Inc. and Guy Zacone Productions, in cooperation with International Bridge Corporation and its vessel June T. Leaving the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, the ship was on site near the tiny Howland Island for more than 30 days and surveyed some 600 square miles of ocean bottom, digitally mapping a hitherto unknown area. Using Williamson & Associates SM. 30 sidescan sonar tethered to more than five miles of cable the search reached depths down to 18,000 ft.

Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Lae in New Guinea (then a mandated Australian territory) at precisely 0000 hr. GMT on July 2, 1937, to fly east to Howland Island, where the Americans had built an airstrip. Her ETA was 1800 hr. GMT. Two American vessels were in position to aid the navigation but the main method en route was astro observations. There were some voice-to-voice transmissions from Amelia which gave clues as to what happened.

One of the reasons for the search was the two-part article "What did happen to Amelia Earhart?" specially written for Aeroplane by Roy Nesbit and published in our January and February 1989 issues. Knowing that Amelia took off from territory which was part of the British Empire, Roy began by digging out crucial information at the Public Records Office. He obtained performance details of the aircraft from Lockheed, found details of the fuel on board from Australian newspapers in the British Newspaper Library, obtained weather reports from the Meteorological Archives at Bracknell, and used his own wartime experience of astro-navigation in combination with Greenwich Observatory. His conclusion was that the Lockheed could have ditched about 30 nautical miles north-west of Holland.

Unknown to him, this corresponded roughly with a calculation made by the US Navy soon after Amelia's disappearance.

As a result of recent ocean survey, a number of potential targets have been logged by specialists at Wilson's offices in Seattle. These are currently being computer enhanced. It is expected that phase two of the search will take place this year, using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs ) capable of video and still imaging. If need be, the area of search will be increased.

This seems to be the maritime equivalancy of looking for a needle in a haystack -- but, having been partly responsible for sparking off the search Aeroplane will be watching developments with special interest.


From Ric

They are, of course, talkng about the Timmer search and failing to even mention Elgen Long and the competing (although apparently still unfunded) Nauticos search.

The editor at Aeroplane Monthly, Mik Oakey, and I are old friends. We exchange publications but I haven't seen the March issue yet. Roy Nesbit has done some good aviation historical investigative work (I enjoyed his article about the Glenn Miller mystery) but his Earhart piece was written before the Chater report came to light and he based his speculation upon fuel figures that he would probably now revise.


Subject: Re: Aeroplane Monthly
Date: 2/4/00
From: Alan Caldwell

> His (Roy Nesbit) conclusion was that the Lockheed could have ditched about
>30 nautical miles north-west of Howland.

Nesbit is absolutely correct --- the Lockheed COULD have ditched 30 miles NW of Howland. It could have ditched any where. I am baffled as to how anyone could make such a determination based on the known facts. If I'm allowed to use whatever fuel flows, winds aloft, OAT, headings, and course I want I can ditch the plane where ever anyone would like. Please pick shallow water and close to shore. Makes the search easier.

Alan
#2329


Subject: The Mystery of the Bottle
Date: 2/4/00
From: Vern Klein

Some thoughts out of a bottle...

I started my room-temperature evaporation experiment on February 1, 2000. The Benedictine bottle used is stated to contain 750 ml (3/4 liter). In the position it likes to assume when not standing upright, and unstoppered, it holds 530 ml of water (just over 1/2 liter). It might be said that this is going to be as exciting as watching water evaporate!

I find it difficult to believe that we will find that a Benedictine bottle on Niku, even in the shade of a Ren tree, could possibly have still contained some drinking water after months or even years. How long might it have been?

If we assume the bottle was with the individual who perished under the Ren tree, then it has to have been long enough for that individual to have become only a partial skeleton. I suspect that is a longer time than water would remain in an unstoppered bottle. We seem to assume an unstoppered bottle. Is there any good reason to believe that was the case?

The relationship of the bottle to the skull -- and other bones and artifacts -- seems to me a little unclear. Gallagher's first telegram (Tarawa File) says, "... a certain bottle alleged to have been found near skull discovered on Gardner Island."

In the second telegram he says, "Thorough search has now produced more bones (including lower jaw) part of a shoe a bottle and a sextant box." When the heck was the Benedictine bottle found?

It seems communication between the Gilbertese and the British was not the greatest. The "when" of the finding of the Benedictine bottle could be very uncertain. The idea of its being near where the skull was found (and buried) doesn't necessarily mean they were found at the same time. Maybe the bottle was found much earlier.

Trying very hard to move the bottle back in time far enough that it might still contain drinking water.... Harry Maude and 19 Gilbertese were on Gardner Island for about three days in mid-October of 1937. Koata was one of them and he's the guy who had the Benedictine bottle in 1940. How long had he had it? Did he remember that it was found in about the same place where the skull was found a couple of years later? Or, was the skull actually found and buried as early as 1937?

LTM (Who never touches the shtuff... *hic*)


From Ric

>We seem to assume an unstoppered bottle. Is there any good reason to
>believe that was the case?

Only because no stopper is mentioned. We also don't know that the bottle contained water when found or that it was on its side. Kilts says it contained fresh water for drinking and was found "beside the body." Gallagher says (on October 6, 1940) "Benedictine" bottle but no indication of contents."

The bottle is a strange element in an already strange story. Why does Koata have it with him when he goes to Tarawa? At Gallagher's instruction, and if so, to what end? Or does Gallagher only discover that Koata has gone off with it after the ship has left, thus prompting his telegram to Wernham asking him to intercept Koata and the bottle. Either way, Wernham does end up with the bottle but it apparently never gets sent on to Fiji and is, in fact, never mentioned to the authorities in Fiji. Why?

I'm not very comfortable changing Gallagher's story so much that the skull is found in 1937 instead of 1940. Rather than move the discovery time back, perhaps it makes more sense to move the castaway's time of death forward. Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that it takes three months for a nominal amount of water to evaporate from a nominal Benedictine bottle. Let's also say that it takes that same three months for a dead body on Niku to be reduced to a state at which it is no longer of interest to dogs (and we're assuming, for the moment, that dogs are responsible for the scattering of the big bones).

Now let's assume that the bottle (with water) was found at the same time as the skull, which according to Gallagher, occurred around April of 1940. That would indicate that the castaway died in January 1940. Is that credible? That would mean that somebody was alive on that island when Maude and Bevington were there in October 1937, when the New Zealand survey party arrived December 1, 1938 and the first 10 man Gilbertese work party arrived on December 20th of that year, when the first settlers arrived in April and June of 1939, and when the Bushnell survey was done in November 1939. Could a weak and possibly round-the-bend castaway be languishing in the bush on the southeast end of the island unbeknownst to all those people?

Well, of all those people, who do we know actually went down there? Bevington walked all the way around the atoll with a few Gilbertese in October 1937, but by the time he got down there they were not doing any exploring. They were just trudging up the beach trying to get back to camp. The New Zealand survey concentrated on the west end and the deeper parts of the lagoon. The Bushnell survey was only there for a week. One of their towers was maybe a half mile from the 1996 Site and one of the data points along the shore was perhaps within a hundred meters or so of the site. All of the clearing and planting work done by the colonists was way up at the west end except for some possible kanawa wood harvesting (which is what we suspect eventually led to the discovery of the bones).

It's an admittedly bizarre hypothesis. A person alive on Gardner but deliberately avoiding contact with people who are there. What evidence is there to support it?

  • the (alleged) water in the bottle that should have evaporated away.
  • the scattered skeleton that should not have been of interest to the dogs who (perhaps) scattered it.
  • Gallagher's description of "birds killed" and "dead birds" at the site, rather than bird bones. Dead people don't eat birds. If the people bones are so ancient why aren't the birds reduced to bones?

And there is, much as I hesitate to mention it, an anecdotal account of a person on Nikumaroro in the early days of the settlement seeing a tall, fair-skinned woman with long hair back in the bush. The apparition was taken to be the island's guardian spirit Nei Manganibuka. Maybe it was. Maybe it was someone else.

Music up. Fade out. Roll credits.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: The Mystery of the Bottle
Date: 2/4/00
From: Randy Jacobson

I don't believe for a moment that AE or FJN survived until Jan 1940 at the far end of the island. Why? Both Bushnell and NZ airplanes flew over Gardner taking aerial photos, and surely someone would have heard them. Further, the colonists likely had fires going at some time or another for cooking at night, and the light from a fire might be visible across the lagoon. You're right: it is a bizarre scenario, and I just don't buy it.

Meekly and humbly yours, Randy Jacobson.


From Ric

Like I said, it only works if Fred's dead and AE is totally round the bend and hiding from discovery. Maybe the various factors which make it appear that the castaway had not been dead all that long before the site was found are illusory. Maybe not. I'm just trying to come up with a scenario that fits what may be facts. it's certainly not worth being taken very seriously -- yet.


Subject: Re: The Mystery of the Bottle
Date: 2/4/00
From: William Webster-Garman

Without more information, I don't think that speculating on the presence of water in the bottle would be very productive. Fresh water could have remained in a stoppered bottle for years, and natural forces (like rain) could have been responsible for putting a little fresh water into an open bottle.

However, as Ric points out,

> Gallagher's description of "birds killed" and "dead birds" at the site,
> rather than bird bones. Dead people don't eat birds. If the people bones
> are so ancient why aren't the birds reduced to bones?

is interesting. I've always been under the impression that Gallagher was referring to bird bones. How did I get that idea? On the other hand, it seems to me that a bird would skeletize even faster than the remains of a human.

What about the idea that dogs, arriving with the settlers, scattered the human bones before they were discovered? It's possible, but simply not confirmable.

Finally, we have the story from magistrate Teng Koata's wife (quoted from the TIGHAR site, which cites Paul Laxton):

The wife of Teng Koata, the first island leader, had been walking one afternoon and saw a great and perfect maneaba, and sitting under its high thatched roof, Nei Manganibuka, a tall fair woman with long dark hair falling to the ground about her, with two children: she conversed with three ancients, talking of her island of Nikumaroro, and its happy future when it would surely grow to support thousands of inhabitants.

This story has always seemed to me to be more parts Gilbertese economic boosterism, so to speak, than reality. Stories of quasi-religious visions have a long history as tools of economic and social development that could be of benefit to the storytellers, and the reporter, after all, was the wife of the local magistrate. In the story, there is not only a "tall fair woman with long dark hair" (I would be surprised if Ms Earhart's hair could be described as "dark" by a Gilbertese, and the term "fair" is a relative one), but also two kids, three "ancients", a very well constructed (according to Gilbertese culture and otherwise) meeting house, and clairvoyance into the future (the details of which, to date at least, are wildly incorrect).

Yes, it's possible that Teng's wife stumbled onto a female castaway and then projected onto the experience mystical and cultural elements that helped her make sense of a rather startling encounter. It's even possible that the castaway had gone more than a little mad during her isolation, making the meeting even more bizarre.

In my humble opinion it's probably an artifact of Gilbertese culture, mostly unrelated to castaways, a motivational tale, an island fable, for a small group of Gilbertese workers enlisted by imperial (British) envoys to develop a small, isolated island. The details of the story tend to disconnect the reported apparition from any basis in fact related to Earhart. Perhaps the story was influenced a little by reports of mysterious bones of European origin having been found in the area.

Considering the apparition again, however, is entertaining.

william 2243


From Ric

I can't say that I disagree with you. You make a very rational assessment of the possibilities. But let me throw another couple eyes of newt into the caldron.

The place where Mrs. Koata allegedly had her encounter with Nei Manganibuka is Kanawa Point (based on Laxton's description of the geography). The lagoon shore at and near Kanawa Point is the only place on the island where we have found giant clam shells that were opened by human action. Some of them had been there for so long that they had become imbedded in the coral and Tom King originally considered them to be relics of the atoll's prehistoric period of habitation. We have since, however, learned that such imbedding can occur over decades rather than centuries. I asked Emily Sikuli about eating clams. She said that her father (who was an Ellice Islander) occasionally harvested clam meat but the Gilbertese people never ate the stuff. So who was eating clams a long time ago down by Kanawa Point where Mrs. Koata saw whoever she saw?

Like you say. It's entertaining.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: The Mystery of the Bottle
Date: 2/5/00
From: Randy Jacobson

Re: Eating clams at Kanawa Point. Couldn't it have been the Arundel workers from 1890's?

Re: Bird bones...don't you think it strange that dogs would scatter human bones but not the bird bones? If the bird bones are pretty much in a pile, so would be human bones, I would think. but then again, I'm not a dog, despite what some people claim. Well, at least THAT kind of a dog!


From Ric

The Arundel workers could be the clam eaters, if they ever went to Kanawa Point. We don't really know how extensive their plantings were, but the only groves that survived were far from Kanawa Point.

Ever see a dog eat a bird carcass? I've seen them with deer and woodchucks but I don't recall birds -- but then I'm not a dog person. Rocket (my cat), on the other hand, is a bird's worst nightmare. Then again, he'd eat a castaway too. Doubtless we have numerous canine authorities (or rather, authorities on canines) on the forum who can enlighten us on this subject.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Amelia "Crusoe" Earhart
Date: 2/5/00
From: David

As much as this "lived-on-until-1940" hypothesis has us all excited, I'm not yet convinced regarding several aspects of it.

On Fri, 4 Feb 2000, Richard E. Gillespie wrote:

>> We seem to assume an unstoppered bottle. Is there any good reason to
>> believe that was the case?
>
> Only because no stopper is mentioned.

That doesn't say much to me. If I found a pen on the floor, I probably wouldn't bother recording whether or not it had a cap on it at the time -- if I was going to note the event at all. Just because I might have written that I'd found a pen (but not described it in any more detail than that), doesn't mean I would be telling you that it had not had a cap at the time.

> We also don't know that the bottle contained water when found or that it
> was on its side. Kilts says it contained fresh water for drinking and
> was found "beside the body." Gallagher says (on October 6, 1940)
> "Benedictine" bottle but no indication of contents.

Once again, just because there was "...no indication of contents" doesn't rule anything in or out, it just means we don't know either way. Given the excellent point (that another forum person already made) about the many variables associated with gain/loss of water from a bottle sitting out in the open for long periods, I don't think we should read very much into the state of the liquid that may or may not have been in it when found (even if we could establish what that condition was).

> ...the castaway died in January 1940. Is that credible?

Supposing that Amelia did survive for two-and-a-half years by herself on that island, it would tend to indicate a certain level of mastery with regards to fresh water collection, utilization of local flora and fauna for food, etc. Given all that, the big question in my mind is WHY, after all that successful time by herself, would she have presumably expired just shortly after the other folks arrived? Sure, it could have been a heart attack, or any number of other natural causes, but the timing seems peculiar to me. Also, if she was taken ill for a brief period before her death, wouldn't she have laid down well back in the shade, especially if she was loopy and didn't want to be found, instead of so close to the beach? (Unless I've been forming the wrong mental picture, I think you've described the castaway's bones as being between the water and the edge of the jungle.)

> Could a weak and possibly round-the-bend castaway be languishing in the
> bush on the southeast end of the island unbeknownst to all those people?

If airplane wreckage near the Norwich City didn't catch their attention, and the castaway didn't want to be found, then it doesn't seem impossible to think that she could have concealed herself. The things that might have given her away would have been the remnants of clam shells, bird bones, and whatever fish she'd been able to catch. Maybe some coconut crabs even graced her "dinner table".

> the scattered skeleton that should not have been of interest to the dogs
> who (perhaps) scattered it.

Okay, so if we're going to presume that the recently arrived settlers' dogs were interested enough in Amelia's fresh remains to drag away some of her large bones, why wouldn't the dogs have completely eaten/removed the birds' remains, either first or around the same time. (Do dogs eat birds at all? I'm a cat owner, so let me know!)

Also, what about the well-documented carnivorous tendencies of "Crabzilla" and his cohorts? Even if the crabs didn't touch the castaway's remains, wouldn't the birds have made a nice, light snack? Perhaps the crabs aren't in that area of the island, but to me, the idea of so much activity happening to the castaway's body, with so little interest in the adjacent birds, doesn't quite jive somehow.

> Gallagher's description of "birds killed" and "dead birds" at the site,
> rather than bird bones. Dead people don't eat birds. If the people bones
> are so ancient why aren't the birds reduced to bones?

Let's be careful not to read too much into what was or was not said. Just because he described the birds as dead, doesn't automatically mean they were any more than skeletons at the time. Whether or not he chose to specifically mention the state of the deceased creatures is likely a similar case to my pen example above -- the reader just can't tell either way from what was written.

A few final points about these birds, assuming that Amelia caught them: What type of bird would they likely have been? Would there have been much good eating on them? How would she likely have gone about catching them? How elaborate would her equipment/technique have had to be for success?

There is a lot of potential public fascination with the idea that she lived on for so long, (reporters would love to get their paws on this one!) but proving it would be a challenge indeed!

LTM, (Who may be going batty, but is not reclusive!)
David :-)


From Ric

Your points are well-taken. I'm not going to agressively defend the hypothesis because, as you say, it depends too much upon interpretations and possibilities rather than established facts. I'm just too much of a romantic to resist considering the idea.

What kind of birds can you catch on Niku? The easiest to catch are the Red-tailed Tropic Birds who nest on the ground in the shade of the low-lying vegetation along the shore. You can literally walk right up to them and grab them by the neck ( I have done the former but not, of course, the latter). I did pick up a young Booby once and got roundly disciplined for it by his mom. Juvenile Frigates will sometimes hover within inches of your head as you walk along the beach and even bop you with their beak. Fairy Terns (known locally as "KiaKia" after the sound they make) will often flutter in front of your face as if asking to see your passport. In some respects it's a magical place and there is certainly no expertise or equipment required to catch birds there. I've never eaten any of the avian inhabitants but I can't imagine that they'd be very tasty unless you're really into fishy fowl.

Could somebody hide out on Niku? Absolutely.

Why might they die after having survived for more than two years? Any of a dozen reasons, infection and disease being the most probable.

I wonder what kind of evidence we might find that would establish a time of death within, say, one year. Of course we can fantasize about a journal, but other than that, could we carbon date a tooth to that tolerance? Or a bird bone? We know there are bird bones at the 1996 Site right now. Suppose we were able to carbon date one of those bones and learned that the bird had died after 1937 but before 1939. Wouldn't THAT be interesting? What kind of tolerances are obtainable from carbon dating these days?


Subject: Carbon Dating
Date: 2/5/00
From: Ken Feder

Radiocarbon dating would not be of any help here for two primary reasons:

1. the error factor is far too great; even with the most precise method available, accelerator mass spectrometry, we're still talking decades and

2. Even if the error factor wasn't an issue, the Niku materials are just way too recent for carbon dating.

The half life of radiocarbon (carbon-14) is 5,730 years. 1939 is only 61 years ago (just a little more than 1% of the halflife). Since radioactive decay is a statistical phenomenon, that's simply not enough time; so little of the C-14 has decayed, an accurate estimate of age based on how much has decayed would be impossible. The major radiocarbon labs tell you that anything less than a couple of hundred years old is simply too young (and anything much over 40,000 or 50,000 years is too old, though dates up to 70,000 are theoretically possible).

Ken Feder


From Ric

Thanks Ken. Oh well. Hey, anybody ever wonder what really happened to Helen of Troy?


From Randy Jacobson

Carbon dating is not precise down to a year or two, and the technique is not particularly well regarded for times less than 100 years of age. There are other dating techniques, however, that can be used, but are not typically based upon organic content.


From Ric

Like what?


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