Earhart Project Bulletin #6
7/14/98
Amelia Earhart Search Conference Report

An Amelia Earhart Search Conference was held Saturday and Sunday, July 11 and 12 at the new Hiller Aviation Museum on the airport in San Carlos, California. The Hiller Aviation Museum is an outstanding facility just a few minutes down U.S. 101 from San Francisco International Airport. There’s a good hotel right next door and restaurants within walking distance. TIGHAR deeply appreciates the hospitality shown us by the Hiller staff and we heartily recommend the museum to anyone who has occasion to visit the Bay Area.

The conference was attended by nine members of TIGHAR’s Earhart Project Expedition Team, plus another thirteen TIGHAR members who are actively involved in Earhart Project Research. The purpose of the conference was to review and discuss specific avenues of investigation which have the potential to produce significant new evidence in the Earhart disappearance.

  Saturday, July 11: Dem Bones

Saturday was spent on issues relating to the bones found on Nikumaroro in 1940. Team Member Kris Tague described the ongoing effort to determine what happened to the bones after they were examined at the Central Medical School in Suva, Fiji in 1941. On a research trip to Fiji last year, Kris determined that neither the bones, nor the artifacts found with them, are now in the custody of the Fiji Musuem. Further research has raised the possibility that the bones remained in the collection of the Central Medical School until as recently as 1991 when the school disposed of its entire bone collection. We’d like to send Kris back out to Fiji to see if she can track down just how and where that disposal came about, and whether the bones still exist. The funding required for this project is $4,000. If you would like to sponsor, or help sponsor, this facet of the research, please contact me, Ric Gillespie at tigharic@mac.com.

Jerry Hamilton gave an excellent presentation and distributed a written report summarizing the wealth of new information he and his fellow TIGHAR researchers have uncovered about Fred Noonan. Assembling an accurate chronology of Noonan’s life not only helps us replace myth with fact concerning Earhart’s navigator, but it is essential in tracking down a direct descendant of Noonan in the female line – a requirement for mitochondrial DNA matching, should the bones be re-located.

Chuck Jackson provided measurements taken of the tailwheel of the Lockheed Model 10 at the Western Aerospace Museum in Oakland. This is one of several measurements needed to establish scale in photos of Earhart and Noonan for comparison to the dimensions of the skull found on Nikumaroro in 1940. The results of this forensic imaging project could provide a strong indication of whether the person whose remains were found on the island might have been from the lost flight. Earhart Project Senior Archaeologist, Dr. Tom King, pointed out that, because the bones were credibly judged to be male by the examining physician in 1941, our priority should be the scaling of the photos of Noonan.

On Saturday afternoon the group undertook an exhaustive review of some 97 pages of hard evidence (contemporaneous documents) and soft evidence (anecdotal accounts) which describe the bones and artifacts found at the castaways campsite on Nikumaroro. Several new and interesting observations were made by members of the group. Among them was an assertion by Bob Williams, who had a long career with Pan American in maintenance, that PAA routinely stencilled numbers on the outside of wooden boxes containing instruments and specialized tools. The sextant box found on the island in 1940 had the number 3500 stencilled on it. A box containing a sextant known to have belonged to Noonan, now in a museum collection, has the number 3547 handwritten on the outside. Bob Williams says that he recognizes the construction of the box as standard Pan American.

  Sunday, July 12: Wreck, Reef, and Beach

On Sunday the group reviewed the anecdotal evidence which describes airplane wreckage on the reef and on the beach at Nikumaroro. The conference participants also examined the enhanced aerial photography which seems to corroborate the stories. All agreed that the only way to know for sure was to go and look, which led to a long and intense discussion about how the work should be prioritized, and of the need for funding and sponsorship.

A consensus was reached that, as part of the process of putting together the Niku IIII expedition, a TIGHAR delegation needs to go to Tarawa, the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, to coordinate with the government the management of existing and anticipated artifacts. There is also a need for a thorough search of the national archive and museum of Kiribati for documents and/or artifacts related to the known events of 1940/41. In addition, interviews with surviving former residents of Nikumaroro, now living in Tarawa (such as the woman who claims to have been shown the “grave of a pilot” on Nikumaroro in 1938 or ’39), may provide additional anecdotal leads. The budget for this phase of the project is $25,000.

A firm budget for the Niku IIII search expedition must await the selection of a ship and the finalizing of dates, all of which are now in process. One thing, however, is certain: it will take a concerted effort by everyone who believes that TIGHAR’s work on the Earhart disappearance is worth doing, to pull together and contribute and make the expedition a reality.


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