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 email@example.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.
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
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.