Earhart Project Research Bulletin #4
February 23, 1998
Canton Mission Results

On February 14, 1998 a 13 person TIGHAR team flew to Kanton Island in the Republic of Kiribati to investigate the possibility that an engine reportedly found on the reef of a nearby island and brought to Kanton in 1971 might be from the missing Earhart aircraft. (For more background information see The Canton Engine.)

The expedition went smoothly and safely with no serious injuries or damage to equipment. The chartered Gulfstream I twin-turboprop aircraft operated by Phoenix Air performed flawlessly. The max-gross takeoff out of Palmyra Atoll was aided by a 15 knot wind right down the runway. We got off with room to spare and the birds were not a problem.

Identification of the dump sight on Kanton was complicated by extensive bulldozer activity which had occurred throughout the area after Bruce Yoho deposited the engine there in 1971. It is clear that, prior to the departure of the USAF in 1976, an effort was made to bury or cover over all of the junk that once littered the landscape off the end of the main runway. Bruce’s dump, it turns out, was probably just one of many areas where debris was deposited. None of that activity was documented in the paperwork describing the shutdown of the missile test project.

Despite the confusion created by the massive rearrangement of the landscape and the considerable increase in vegetation due to a wetter climate in recent years, we were able to positively identify the original dump site. With the help of Bruce’s on-site recollections and Dr. Tom King’s archaeological expertise, we were able to match the ground exactly with the maps Bruce had drawn from memory. Unfortunately, some time between when Bruce put the engine there in 1971 and when the Air Force left in 1976, a large trench was dug just beyond the dump and the contents of the dump were pushed into it, then buried over with the removed coral rubble. What was once a shallow depression littered with junk is now scraped clean. Just beyond is a low mound of coral rubble liberally sprinkled with diesel engines, winches, aluminum aircraft structures, etc., etc. Somewhere, buried under tons of coral and junk, is Bruce’s (and maybe Amelia’s) engine. With a couple of days and a large backhoe we could dig it out, but we had neither. The terrible condition of the metal debris that we could see was not encouraging as to the prospect of the engine being conclusively identifiable if we can eventually find it. Nonetheless, we are actively pursuing several possibilities for excavating the site.

As happened during last year’s expedition, mother nature didn’t cut us any breaks on this trip. It poured rain most of the day on Sunday preventing us from making a aerial photo flyover of Nikumaroro. We were able to take on some additional fuel at Kanton but not as much as we had hoped. We considered making a run over Nikumaroro on the way home on Monday but, with continued low weather, short fuel, unknown winds aloft, and unknown weather at our enroute refueling point on Palmyra Atoll, we decided that one missing twin-engined airplane in the area was sufficient.

TIGHAR members will receive a full report of the Kanton Mission in the upcoming issue of the foundation’s quarterly journal TIGHAR Tracks. The text of the magazine will be mounted on this website.

TIGHAR wishes to thank everyone whose contributions helped make this trip possible. Kanton Island may yet yield up the proverbial smoking gun, but it will be harder to get to than we had hoped. While we’re working on that problem we’re also aggressivley pursuing many other lines of research. Progress has been made toward identifying the fragment of can label found in the campfire on Nikumaroro and we have found a new medical report in British archives which provides more detailed information on the bones which were found on that same site in 1940. It now appears that the individual whose remains were found was probably male, of European descent and between the ages of 45 and 55. The bones may also still exist and we are presently investigating possible repositories.

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