Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 20 through 26, 2000


Subject: The Wreck Photo
Date: 2/21/00
From: Ron Bright

I need some clarification. In your TIGHAR Tracks, V0l 14 #2, you indicate that TIGHAR's research tended to support that the wreck fit the Lockheed Model 10 series and added that the details of the environment,type of damage, corresponded well with "anecdotal accounts of the aircraft wreckage seen on Niku and possibly corroborated with the forensic imaging of aerial photos"; and finally suggested this "could be" a picture of NR16020 on NIKU. Now I detect a change in this evaluation.

In a posting on 11 Jan 00 re "Wreckage from the Air" you discussed the difficulties of observing the Electra on NIKU from the air if it were up against shoreline trees but again reiterated that you believe that the Electra landed on the outside reef and by the time of the flyover by Lt. Lambrecht five or six days later the plane pretty much went off the reef and couldn't be seen. Some debris may have been left but not visible in the heavy surf.

You further explain that there is, in fact, "no anecdotal evidence to suggest that there was ever an airplane wreck on the shore at Niku ...(never) a body of wreckage. "The wreck...seems to have been out near the reef edge where the waves break."

And it seems that the coupe de grace for AE's Electra to be the one in the wreck photo is your statement that "Had it been onshore it seems inconceivable that the New Zealanders would not have found it in 1938/39."

My point exactly. If that photo allegedly taken in1946-47, which I'll comment later on, supposedly represents the Electra or for that matter any airplane on Niku, why wouldn't the other visitors to Niku, including the New Zealanders, from 1938 to 1946 (Navy personnel) have seen it? It was a huge pile of debris and clearly a twin engine airplane, easily spotted by the two wandering sailors in l946 from the beach. Of course the sailor who took the photo had no idea what Island he was on in the South Pacific!!

Maybe the photo and other TIGHAR research makes this point already OBD (overcome by events).

What gives. Or does that photo show an Electra, maybe AE's, but on another island.

LTM and RES IPSA LOQUITUR
Ron Bright


From Ric

My opinion about the Wreck Photo, like my opinon about so many other aspects of the investigation (and life in general) has evolved over time as new information has become available. When the photo first came to our attention way back in 1989 we looked into it and concluded that while it diod appear to be a Model 10, it was probably not an "E" and therefore could not be Earhart's. End of story. In 1997 anecdotes that told of aircraft "parts" found in the beachfront vegetation made us think that another look at the Wreck Photo might be warranted. Better forensic imaging technology than had been availalble in 1989 indicated that the aircraft in the photo might indeed be a 10E and strengthened the notion that the photo might show what the anecdotes described.

It was puzzling that the New Zealanders had not seen the wreck but it's never a good idea to dismiss a hypothesis based upon a perception of what "must have" or "couldn't have" happened.

My present opinion that the Wreck Photo does not show NR16020 on Nikumaroro is based upon what I consider to be a stronger and mutually exclusive hypothesis --- the the aircraft was landed on the outer portion of the reef and was destroyed there by surf action. Let me correct one misconception you seem to have. I do not believe (at this time anyway) that the aircraft "pretty much went off the reef" before the Navy search of Gardner on July 9, 1937. I think it could have been sitting right there but totally obscured from view by white water on the reef edge.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Wreck Photo Location
Date: 2/22/00
From: Ron Bright

Thanks for the quick reply as that jungle location was driving me nuts. And I agree that the flyover pilots may not have seen the Electra for many reasons,one the heavy surf on the reef and perhaps equally plausible the Electra was knocked off by surf or surge action; no matter Lt. Lambrecht et al., didn't see it. Its the classic tree in the northwoods --- if the tree falls and noone hears it did it make noise or in this case if the Electa was there but noone saw it, was it there?

A little known supporter of TIGHAR's theory, or maybe I haven't read about it before, came up unexpectedly while reading a section of Devine's book, Amelia Earhart, Eyewitness. Forget the merits of his book but tucked in there is a story of a ardent AE researcher that "pinpointed" the Electra's crash site in a lagoon in the Phoenix Islands. The researcher, Donald Wade, of Marietta, Ga., published his story in the Atlantic Journal newspaper in 1983, five years before TIGHAR got on to the refreshment of the old Navy theory re course line.

Wade claimed his location (perhaps Gardner Is), which he didn't identify, was deduced from declassified government documents circa 1983. His basic logic was that the south east winds pushed AE's plane much further south than expected and henceforth ended up crashing on or near the lagoon in the Phoenix Is. (and we all know what line she reported she was running). He was attempting to raise $20,000 to raise the plane from the lagoon.

I'm curious about the government documents he referred to and whether or not his calulations took AE to NIKU. Maybe youv'e heard the story, resolved it or if not he might be worth looking up. I couldn't find a Wade in Marietta in a quick search.

LTM,
Ron Bright

PS: I am going to advance a strong possibility that the Wreck Photo itself is a hoax, although Capt Carrington was not a part of it.


From Ric

Harlan MacDonald (aka Don) Wade was, in fact, directly connected to TIGHAR's initial involvement in the search for Earhart --- although we only learned about the connection years later. As I understand it, the declassified documents he referred to were the the reports of Pan Am DF bearings on post-loss radio signals. Wade deduced that the signals had originated from the Phoenix Group, although I seem to recall that he focused on Hull rather than Gardner. After one of his fund-raising talks, a former Navy aerial navigator named Tom Willi offered to lend his expertise to Wade's effort. Willi soon realized, and began talking about, the navigational connection between the 157/337 line and the Phoenix Group. Before long he was getting more press than Wade and the two had a falling out. Willi recruited a friend, Tom Gannon, who had been an Air Force navigator and together they worked up a navigational analysis of the Earhart flight which showed McKean and Gardner to be the most likely places for the airplane to have ended up. Willi applied for a grant from Rolex to fund an expedition, but they turned him down. Gannon had recently joined a nonprofit aviation archaeological group called TIGHAR and in the spring of 1988 he wrote to us saying that he and his friend wanted to come and tell us about their Amelia Earhart theory. We sort of rolled our eyes and agreed to meet with Willi and Gannon more as a member-relations thing than any serious interest in Earhart.

We were surprised at the logic of their argument about the navigation. They never mentioned Wade or the post-loss signals, but they did insist that we sign a confidentiality agreement and agree that we would bring them along on any expedition that we conducted. Our follow-up research showed that Willi and Gannon had many misconceptions about the Phoenix islands, but their navigational logic continued to look valid. We learned about the post-loss radio signals on our own, and that seemed to provide further validation of the theory. We decided to mount an expedition but it became apparent that the island environment was far too harsh for either of these retired gentlemen, so they agreed to help man a radio base station in Fiji while we sailed off to check out McKean and Gardner.

Only much later did we learn about Wade's role in getting Tom Willi interested in the Earhart affair. We once received a letter from Wade accusing us of "stealing his research" but I haven't heard anything from him or about him for several years now.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: USS Colorado
Date 2/22/00
From: Ron Dawson

I'm sending TIGHAR a newspaper published by the crew of the Colorado for July 22, 1937 (from ebay). Maybe it's just me, but in the article regarding the Earhart search, the sense I get is less one of concern for "Mrs. Putnam" and more one of annoyance that they were put behind schedule.

Smooth Sailing,
Ron Dawson 2126


From Ric

Thanks Ron. We have one other original copy of the ship's newspaper from that cruise. Fascinating primary source, and yes, there is little doubt about the attitude conveyed by the publication. The headline is "Plane Search Halts Cruise." Not "Colorado Searches for Famous Flier" or "A Frustrated Mission of Mercy." In the view of the Colorado's crew, the ship's "cruise" (the annual ROTC training cruise) had been "halted" by the need to conduct a search for the Earhart plane. Far more column space and virtually all of the photos are devoted to coverage of the crossing-the-equator hazing party that was going on aboard ship at the very time that the planes were searching Gardner Island.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: Wreck photo location
Date: 2/22/00
From: Frank Westlake

I seem to have misplaced or deleted the previous messages discussing the wreck photo so I haven't been able to refresh my memory on the topic. Isn't it plausible that the wreck photo could be valid and that the Electra was not on Gardner when Lambrecht flew over? I haven't been following this forum for very long but I think I have read everything relevant on the web site, and I can recall no discussion about the possibility of Earhart making multiple landings. It seems to me that the wreckage on the reef and the wreckage in the trees could both be from the Electra -- and we don't have to imagine how a wave could pick up thousands of pounds of aircraft parts and plant them relatively intact into a clump of trees without bending a prop -- if Earhart first landed safely somewhere then, after a week without any indication of rescue, took off again to attempt their own rescue. A crash into the trees that threw parts onto the reef could have occurred after Lambrecht flew over Gardner. I realize such a consideration isn't in accordance with Occam's razor, but sometimes shaving can be unhealthy.

Frank Westlake


From Ric

We've played around with multiple landing scenarios. It's a convenient way to explain apparently conflicting evidence but, so far, I haven't seen any conflicting evidence strong enough to justify such a reach.


Subject: TIGHAR's Hypothesis: Hobson's Choice?
Date: 2/23/00
From: Ron Bright

Perhaps the Carrington wreck photo puts the silver stake in the TIGHAR hypothesis.

TIGHAR's hypothesis, simply put, is that AE, missing Howland, continued flying south until a few hours later she crashed or landed on the outer reef of Howland, made it to shore where sometime later she and FN died. Strong support developed for this hypothesis from the last known LOP, artifacts, particularily the Hoodless bone measurements and the probable lady's Catspaw heel and sole found on the Island in 1991. None were conclusive,though.

Then came the Carrington wreck photo given to Lockheed Aircraft and eventually to TIGHAR circa 1987-89 to determine if the aircraft depicted in the photo was AE's Electra 10E. Carrington's story re the origin of the photo, supposedly a photo taken by a British sailor in 1946 or 1947 on a south pacific island (unknown), didn't pan out based on TIGHAR's investigation. Too many discrepancies and Carrington wouldn't cooperate with TIGHAR; the origin of the photo remains a mystery.

From recent postings TIGHAR agrees that the aircraft wreckage shown in the Carrington photo with the palm trees in the background was not taken on NIKU. TIGHAR's opinion is that AE's Electra landed on the outer portion of Howland's reef and subsequently was destroyed there by surf action; Lt Lambrecht's flyover search did not see any signs of the Electra or survivors. Those facts are facts beyond dispute. These conclusions were largely based on the fact none of the visitors or colonists saw this rather visible large aircraft wreck lying just off the beach between 1937 and 1946, and that the Electra landed on the outside reef. The alleged date of the Carrington photo was late 1946 or early 47.

However, TIGHAR, who first thought that the aircraft was a Electra 10 but not an 10E back in 1989, shifted in 1998 to the very strong posssibility (my words) that the aircraft was a 10E and "could be" NR16020. TIGHAR conducted a meticulous, exhaustive research of the photo, eliminating the Tachikawa Ki-54, and concluded that the "Lockheed Model 10 equipped with the Pratt and Whitney R1340 engine is now left as the only known type (of aircraft) which features all of the structural elements visible on the wreck." That's a pretty strong statement with the inference that with so few Electra 10's in the south Pacific it may be AE's. If that is indeed a photo of AE's Electra, she landed on another island with a tropical environment, not NIKU.

The dilemma here is that if TIGHAR develops even more conclusive, positive identification of this aircraft as AE' s Electra or a Model 10E based on additonal research of the components and photo interpretation, TIGHAR is faced with no choice except to abandon the NIKU hypothesis. Hobson''s Choice. Since this is not NIKU, she landed elsewhere.

The alternative rationale,in my opinion, is that the Carrington photo is not that of the model 10E Electra (reportedly the only 10E in the south Pacific) but of another Electra photographed elsewhere in a tropical environment; or secondly the photo is a hoax to an unwitting Capt George C. Carrington. TIGHAR's original analysis in 1989 might prevail.

In summary, if the photo is AE's Electra for sure, and it isn't on NIKU, TIGHAR's expedition in 2001 may have to change directions. Or it's risky business.

LTM,
Ron Bright


From Ric

For the record, vampires (and, I suppose, theories) are done in by wooden stakes and silver bullets --- not silver stakes. Also, the name of the island where we think she probably landed is Gardner (now Nikumaroro), not Howland --- but I'm sure you know that and just misspoke yourself.

I do not agree that the Wreck Photo presents any kind of quandary to our investigation. Because it lacks any sort of credible provenience it's nothing more than a free-floating allegation --- sort of a photographic anecdote. If it's not an outright hoax, it is probably a big-engined Electra (Model C or E) wrecked in a tropical environment. As we've pointed out previously, several unaccounted-for "C"s and "E"s were in service in Central America. If there was something about the airplane that conclusively identified it as Earhart's or if we could conclusively determine that it was taken in the Pacific within Earhart's radius of flight and where no other big-engined Electra is known to have been used --- then we'd have something of a quandary.

As it is, it's just one more possibility that didn't prove out. We've had dozens of those.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: New Bulletin
Date: 2/24/00
From: Warren Lambing

The evidence of a foot trail is interesting. Is it possible to find any details from the photo taken during Lambrecht search. Is there a foot trail in it? If there is no evidence (providing it shows the same area of the Island) then the trail had to appear later. I can't help but ask could it be from the survivors of the Norwich City wreck? Also the photo from Lambrecht search, I wonder if it could give any clues of what he meant by recent signs of habitation?

Regards.
Warren Lambing


From Ric

You raise some interesting points. The Lambrecht photo shows the island from a very similar perspective although it was taken from a higher altitude and farther away. The quality of the Lambrecht photo is also considerably poorer than the 1938 photo. You can pick out the "7" but there just isn't enough resolution to tell if trails are present.

Survivors from the Norwich City wreck? Not likely. We know that the 24 men who made it to shore never went anywhere near that end of the island and there is no reason to think that there were other survivors that went unnoticed and unrescued.

Could the trails be what Lambrecht was referring to when he wrote of "signs of recent habitation" and is that why the Lambrecht photo shows that end of the island? Possible, but if the photo was taken to show the "signs of recent habitiation" why not get closer and really show them? No, the photo looks to me like its merely an attempt to get an angle that shows the whole island. I suspect that the 1938 photo was taken from a similar angle for the same reason.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: New bulletin
Date: 2/24/00
From: Tom King

Nice. Just for the sake of an alternative, though, the windward beach is where the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs; if parties of turtle hunters came to the island periodically, they'd very likely come ashore somewhere on the lee side, bring their canoes in through Baureke or Tatiman Passage, paddle down the lagoon to the shore where the "old trail" begins, and then walk across to Turtle City.

LTM
Tom King


From Ric

True, that could happen. It's certainly true that Polynesian peoples had the capability to make long open-ocean canoe voyages and it may be that they continued to do so despite the 1930 British prohibition on such travel. Such activity would, by definition, be undocumented. Let's play this thread out.

So we have trails on Niku before there are officially any people there to make them. Ergo, whoever made the trails is there unofficially (duh). How do you get to Niku unofficially? You can get marooned there or you can visit there on the sly. Do we have any evidence that anyone was ever marooned there? Yup. We have to assume that the poor devil who died under the ren tree did not have the option of leaving. Do we have any evidence that anyone ever visited there on the sly (to hunt turtles for example)? No, but we've already said that such visits would be almost impossible to discover. Do we have any evidence that the island was NOT visited on the sly in the years immediately preceding the 1938 photo? Yes, the presence of the castaway would seem to be a pretty good indicator that no one had come calling for quite some time. If visitors are at the southeast end of the island long enough to make trails that are visible from the air it's hard to imagine that Mr. or Ms. Crusoe doesn't make their acquaintance.

A question we need to address is, how long do such trails remain visible? Obviously, until the sun darkens the disturbed coral. How long does that take? I dunno. The 1975 photo was taken 12 years after the island was abandoned but that trail looks awfully fresh. It could have been made by the biologists who were there at that time to asess the island's flora and fauna. The "old trail" marked on the 1939 Navy map can be seen on the 1939 aerial mosaic but the much smaller trails around the "7", which we see in the December 1, 1938 photo, seem to be gone by April 30, 1939 when the mosaic photos were taken. That's four months. If it is the case that a small footpath across coral rubble will, if unused, disappear in four months it means that the trails we see in the Dec. 1938 photo had been unused for not more than four months.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Wreckage
Date: 2/24/00
From: David Osgood

I'm new to this forum, so please forgive me if you discussed this topic at a prior time.

In regards to the theory that the plane and subsequent wreckage were located near the S.S. Norwich City, Emily Sikuli described the remnants as "very rusty" and "very red" in color. Steel typically corrodes with the color mentioned, however aluminum corrosion has a very different color --- a light silver/white/grey. Did the Lockheed 10E have a steel frame, or was there enough steel in the airplane to explain the amount of rust red wreckage that Emily saw near the S.S. Norwich City? In addition, the "dot" and "dash" shown in the various images currently undergoing forensic evaluation, appear solid and dark in color. Once again, an aluminum airplane, with or without corrosion, would be much lighter in color than the anomalies in the photos. And, the plane would probably be similar enough in color to sand and coral that it wouldn't be seen in any photograph at that distance and resolution. Any thoughts?

Dave Osgood


From Ric

Good questions. The wreckage Emily describes seeing, if in fact it was from a Lockheed 10, would almost have to be components such as the main gear legs and the long gear and flap actuating rods, all of which are of steel construction. Why these would be present and not the massive aluminum centersection "main beam" is not clear. The wreckage Emily describes seems to have been quite a bit smaller than the rather large structure(s) seen in the 1937 Bevington photo, but then Emily saw whatever she saw roughly three years after the Bevington photo was taken.

As to whether aluminum wreckage on the reef would look light or dark given the sun position in the Bevington photo is a question we haven't formally addressed. The port side of the Norwich City seems to be in shadow which, I would think, means that the camera side of the object is also backlit and might appear dark regardless of its color.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: New bulletin
Date: 2/25/00
From: Tom King

I wouldn't be so sure that itinerant turtle hunters and the mysterious castaway would necessarily have crossed paths. As we've commented in other contexts, it's a biggish island, and if the castaway (who was mobile, after all, prior to her/his death, wherever it turns out that occurs) was up on Nutiran and the turtle hunters slid in through Baureke Passage and made for the southeast end, it's very unlikely they'd run into one another.

LTM (who's not trying to throw cold turtle soup on your excellent analysis, just not wanting to get carried away).
Tom King


From Ric

Seems to me that there is a basic investigative principle under discussion here. In trying to explain any observed phenomenon we usually have a few known suspects and an almost infinite number of unknown but theoretically possible suspects. In this case we have what appears to be (to borrow a phrase) "clear signs of recent habitation" on Niku before the first colonists arrived. So who are the known suspects?

  • In February 1937 HMS Leith paid a call on Niku to put up a flagpole at the west end of the island. The ship's log shows they were ashore for all of 20 minutes.
  • In October 1937 Maude, Bevington, and the Gilbertese delegates spent 3 days on the island but, thanks to the abundant information available about what was and was not done during that visit, we can safely say that Maude and company did not make the trails we see in the 1938 photo.
  • And we know, of course, that there was someone marooned on the island in the years preceding its official settlement. So we are left with one known suspect --- the castaway.

Then there are the unknown suspects --- people who could have visited the island and made trails in the years preceding settlement.

  • Itinerant Polynesian turtle hunters.
  • Yachties who neglected to seek permission from the WPHC.
  • A Japanese Imperial Navy recon team.

All of these, and probably others, are theoretically possible but, until some evidence shows up, they have to be regarded as fictional characters in a hypothetical scenario. We have exactly the same situation with the anecdotal accounts of prewar airplane wreckage on the reef and with the apparent non-military airplane artifacts we've found on the island. We have one known suspect and an infinite number of theoretical unknowns. They must be acknowledged as possibilities but we have to act on the probabilities. I don't think of that as being carried away. We're just following the --- um --- trail.

Then again, maybe Nicole Simpson was murdered by some drug dealers who left no evidence.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Foot trails
Date: 2/25/00
From: R. Johnson

Let me first say I am a very open minded person. Over the course of the last two years, since becoming a forum subscriber, I have read everything I could get my hands on about AE. I find it very interesting. I believe TIGHAR's hypothesis represents the most plausible ending, given the evidence to date. Other ideas don't seem to hold water (pardon the pun) when subjected to scrutiny. But I'm troubled by this foot trail thing. Frankly, I think it's a bit of a stretch. I don't believe it's necessary for TIGHAR to tout this "foot trail" thing as credible. It could be anything.

R. Johnson


From Ric

Let me be clear that I am not touting the foot trail thing as anything more than another reason to focus energy and assets on a thorough search of that area when we return to the island next year. Where to spend our time and money is always the toughest question we face. We can't look everywhere and if we look in the wrong place we won't find anything (been there, done that). So we're always acting on hunches and we're always trying to make sure that the hunches we act on are supported by the best evidence we can find. Every idea we've come up with has been a stretch at first. Some have proven to be true (bones WERE found on Gardner) and most have proven to be bunk (the Aukeraime grave was NOT Earhart's).

The "it could be anything" dismissal has been applied to airplane parts and shoe parts and sextant boxes etc., etc. It's just another way of saying, "I don't know what it is and I don't think you do either." Fair enough --- but the features visible on the ground in the photo can not be "anything." They cannot (reasonably) be giant albino snakes or roils of toilet paper that washed ashore from the wreck of the Charmin Maru. They are anomalous and they most resemble other features that we know to be man-made trails. I suspect that, in a different context, you might have no trouble at all accepting this interpretation of the photo but the possibility that we're looking at footpaths made by Amelia Earhart while marooned on a desert island just seems --- well --- too Hollywood. But whatever happened, happened, and we'll go wherever the evidence leads us.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: Re: Foot trails
Date: 2/25/00
From: Randy Jacobson

There are other possibilities, well within reason, for the trails. Arundel workers were there in the late 1890's, and "prehistoric" people left artifacts as well. I very much disagree with your 3-4 month trail life. So long as new vegetation does not grow over the area, those trails can last many decades, if not centuries. If run over once or twice a year, the trails can be kept up for quite a while, especially in drought conditions.


From Ric

Now who's shooting from the lip? So why are the trails not visible in the 1939 photo taken five months later? Why are trails we've made gone when we've returned to the island just a couple of years later? That has been true of trails through the bush which grow back in very quickly, but also trails across open coral rubble. Trails across coral rubble are only going to remain visible as long as it takes the sun to darken the disturbed coral. What we need to do is find out more about that process.


Subject: Re: Foot trails
Date: 2/26/00
From: Randy Jacobson, et al

I shoot from the lip with the best of them! I agree that more research is needed. The open areas will remain open if trampled often enough and in drought. I wasn't even thinking about the discoloration. How long has the vehicle tracks been there? Granted, they are much deeper/wider than human paths. Vestiges of the Oregon Trail are easily discernable from aerial photos and on the ground. Perhaps the trails are not discernable at all times due to look angles, moisture on the ground, etc. Lots of possibilities, so more research! How about sending me to Niku with a one-way ticket?

LTM, who loves to read old adventure stories on "Fridays".


From Ric

I was originally surprised to see the vehicle tracks in the 1975 photo. Had to be thirty years old at that time. Note the bushes growing in the middle of the "road". We saw no sign of such a feature in 1989 or later but maybe it's only apparent from the air.


From Greg

Trails here in the US and in other parts of the world can still be visible centuries after they were made. I believe that the compaction of soils is a part of the story. IR photos have been taken from tethered balloons at altitudes of 100 feet or so to reveal temperature variations which can show paths in vegetation because of the ways that compacted soils affect the living plants. Perhaps even moderate compaction causes plant germination or survival problems in this island ecosystem.

Greg


From Ric

You can't reason from specific to general. Some trails remain visible for many years. That does not mean that all trails remain visible for years. On Niku we have direct experience that footpaths do not remain visible for years.


From William Webster-Garman

Just a comment from someone who has been following the trail thread [sic] from a distance: It does appear to me that a) the trails may not last more than a few months in some cases and b) obviously it would be useful to know more about the process: The apparent trails in the 1938 photo are interesting, and having some means to reasonably estimate their probable age could lead to more direct evidence of "recent habitation" or activity on the island.

william 224


From Ross Devitt

Guess who just happens to have lots of coral rubble a few miles away :-) (well. about 80 miles actually. Pity the yacht is out of the water...)

RossD


From Ric

Pity. The experiment would be simple enough. Walk back and forth on the coral rubble enough to make a trail (carefully noting how much traffic it took) then go back and fly over it once a month or so to see if and how fast it faded.


Subject: Re: Foot trails by yachties?
Date: 2/26/00
From: Phil Tanner

>Yachties who neglected to seek permission from the WPHC.

Just out of curiosity, was there even such a thing as recreational yachting in the mid-Pacific in that era?

ltm, Phil Tanner 2276


From Ric

Yes, although it seems to have been fairly rare. The American yacht Yankee cruised the Gilbert Islands in 1940 ostensibly searching for Amelia Earhart but the WPHC, from whom they asked permission, suspected it was a scam to help fund the trip. Incidentally, the Yankee did find people on the island of Tabituea in the Gilberts who said they had heard an airplane pass high overhead the night before Earhart disappeared. If AE and FN had been on course for Howland they would have passed over Tabituea in the very early hours of July 2nd.


Subject: Re: Trail Location
Date: 2/26/00
From: Vern Klein

I presume this location is beyond the area bulldozed for the Loran station.

It's interesting to note that this trail location matches, in a general way, Gallagher's "South East corner of island." It doesn't fit with much of anything else he said such as the planting and, "a certain amount of digging in the vicinity."

We have no hard evidence that planting, or clearing for whatever purpose, took place in this location. However, we'll never know what they may have planned to do and whether or not they did it.

I have the impression that this is the side of the island most battered by storms. Would one not plant there?

The location seems rather distant from the village but that might not be so bad if one expected to paddle down the lagoon in a boat.


From Ric

Actually, the site fits Gallagher's various descriptions better than Aukeraime or Kanawa Point. For the new TIGHAR Tracks (which is now at the printer and should be ready for mailing in about a week) we did a rather detailed analysis of how the three sites stack up against Gallagher's clues. The "7" site wins hands down. The only clue it does not fit is Gallagher's statement that there is a stand of cocos less than two miles away. The nearest stand is a little more than two miles from the "7" site. The article also includes a photo taken in 1941 which shows that some clearing quite obviously WAS done at this site, although there is no indication that any planting took place. Some of the material we found there in 1996 suggests that further work was planned but abandoned (for example: an unused roll of tar paper).

This side of the island is the "windward" side. The surf is routinely rougher here because of the easterly trades that blow 15 to 20 knots almost every day. But this is not where the big storms hit. The significant weather events are "westerlies" that assault the west end of the island. Someone might actually retreat to this end of the island to escape the really terrifying seas that can hit the area around the main lagoon passage (voice of experience).

LTM,
Ric


Subject: "Happy Trails" by Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan
Date: 2/26/00
From: Ron Bright

I've stared at the enhanced photo (p.3), looked at it with a magnifying glass, and for the life of me I don't see what TIGHAR sees. Am I the only one that doesn't see "footpaths", maybe? And this could be the Trail of Turin photo or one of those photos you can see what you want-man in the moon stuff; in this case I think I see the image of Jimmy Hoffa!

Seriously, you best described those photo images as "anomalous" but conclude they most resemble ...man made trails. I see different textures and color contrasts in that area but I don't see anything that suggest a footpath through the jungle.

Your original enhanced photo from Photek is probably 100% better quality than my downloaded photo so maybe a better quality enhancement would confirm your interpretation.

I've covered the annotations and asked others what they saw without the introduction of possible trails and none can identify any particular physical phenomena.

It seems that it is not worth any debate of what you can or can not see as the next expedition will concentrate in that area and perhaps locate some more positive, empirical evidence in and around those "trails".

Two last observations:

Your definition of "neighborhood" referring to the relationship between the artifacts and the trails is pretty broad as the trails are some 1 1/2 nautical miles southeast down the Island and up a bit from the Loran station just past the line of demarcation for Ameriki from the area on Aukaraime (south) where TIGHAR discovered the shoe heel, campfire and remains. No one has addressed how long it would take a weakened castaway (Amelia) to make two pretty visible trails in that terrain starting on 2 July 37 for however long she lived. I guess the maxium would be about 16 months, to Dec 1938. I didn't think anyone thought she would have lived more than a month or so on the island. You and your expedition have covered some of those areas, it is plausible one person walking to that shore maybe twice a day (?) or 20 times a day could leave that kind of trail visible from the air.

LTM,
Ron Bright (who may need better glasses!)


From Ric

While it is certainly true that the original enhancement is better than the image as it appears on the website, I have no trouble seeing the trails in the website version. The long squiggly trail up through the bush to the white T-shaped area is quite easy to see. The trails that cross the open coral at the top of the "7" are harder to see, but they're there. Whether or not the anomalous features in the photo are trails is open to debate. That the features are present in the photo is not.

I don't think I ever said, and I certainly never meant to imply, that the trails were in the same "neighborhood" as the artifacts found across the lagoon on Aukeraime. The trails are within a few meters of the village-related artifacts we found in 1996 which we now suspect were brought there, at least in part, to support the "organized search" of the castaway's campsite ordered by the Westwern Pacific High Commission.

As for how long it takes to make a trail on Niku, we have plenty of experience. My impression is that if the trails seen in the 1938 photo were made by one or two people, they indicate a period of inhabitation of that area of several weeks, if not months. I'm not sure where you got the impression that no one thought she could have lived more than a month or so on the island. Many people (Harry Maude for example) who are familiar with the island could not understand why she would have any trouble surviving indefinitely. We used to think that she might not have lasted very long given the drought conditions that prevailed in 1938, but that was before we learned that the Norwich City survivors had left a cache of supplies behind.

LTM,
Ric


Subject: The "7"
Date: 2/26/00
From: Andrew McKenna

What is the reef flat like just offshore from the location of the "7"? Suitable for landing an Electra? I suspect not, but what would it look like from the air?

Seems an odd place to set up camp after landing next to the Norwich City, I'd want to stay near the wreck which is the most likely place to catch anyone's attention, unless there was a very compelling reason to hike several miles away and camp in the bush.

What is it about the 7 site that really sets it apart from any other?

Is it possible that Emily's childhood recollections are based upon her misinterpretation or bad info from the adults around her, causing her to mistake the wreckage of the Norwich City for the wrecked airplane that was talked about, but located somewhere else on the island.

Think about it, the adults repeat this story about an aiplane wreck from before they arrived "there was an airplane here", but most if not all of them do not really know where it was seen, and they in turn assume that the only wreckage they know of, out by the Norwich City, must include the airplane. this is what they tell their kids.

In reality the story may have gotten started due to airplane wreckage located down by the "7" where hardly anyone goes, only that info got lost in the retelling of the story.

A McKenna #1045


From Ric

It's clear from the interviews that there is really no question that Emily might be confusing the shipwreck with the airplane wreck. In fact, all of the stories about airplane wreckage seen on Niku are associated with the west end of the island and describe a very logical pattern of dispersal over the years.

The possible reasons for leaving the Norwich City area are many, but all are speculative:

  • to explore the island for resources
  • to find a place where it was possible to watch both the ocean and the lagoon for rescuers
  • to find a place where birds and turtles were both readily available.

All we can say for sure is that the castaway, whoever he or she was, died far from the west end. The reef flat opposite the "7" is probably landable and in 1991, in the process of (unsuccessfully) searching for the rumored "water collection device" we vigorously tested the hypothesis that the aircraft was landed along that part of the reef by means of an exhaustive metal detector search of the beach. Nothing was found that was at all airplane-related.

LTM,
Ric


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