description of airplane wreckage on the reef at Nikumaroro merits close
examination. Although she had apparently never heard of Amelia Earhart
and had little or no information about TIGHAR’s investigations, she nonetheless
described a situation which not only fit our hypothesis (that the aircraft
was landed on the reef flat off the western end of the island), but also
provided details (a specific location and appearance) which seem to explain
what has always been the most disturbing aspect of the puzzle – how
could the airplane have escaped the notice of the various Westerners who
later visited the island?
If Emily’s recollection
is accurate, it seems that the landing was made on the outer portion of
the reef-flat just north of the shipwreck. Although this is one of the
few areas where the reef is smooth enough to permit a safe landing, it
is also perilously close to the breakers along the reef edge. Calm conditions
could have permitted the sending of radio transmissions for as much as
a few days, but the building of any significant swell on the ocean could
have resulted in surf that quickly reduced the Electra to the sort of
nondescript debris Emily describes. Visible only at low tide, rusty rather
than silver-colored, not far from the shipwreck, and masked to view from
the populated part of the island by the shipwreck itself, what little
remained of the airplane might have been easily missed, or if seen, dismissed
by anyone who did not have occasion to view it up close. The reef edge
is a dangerous place and the only people with a reason to go there were
the Gilbertese fishermen – so they were the only ones who knew. Later
accounts of bits and pieces found along the shoreline, including some
of TIGHAR’s own discoveries, could be chance encounters with a widely
scattered debris field. It may be that Emily has given us the missing
piece of the puzzle and our best clue yet as to where we should look for
that elusive “smoking gun” artifact that will prove the case. It’s a tantalizingly
tidy explanation, but it’s just a good story unless verified from
sources that are not reliant upon the ever-fallible human memory.
| The Carpenter’s Daughter
In evaluating any
anecdotal account it is essential to verify as many details of the testimony
as possible through contemporary written records. This process is not intended
to disparage the sincerity of the witness but rather to get a general impression
of the reliability of his or her memory of the events in question. If our
interrogation of Emily’s credibility seems rigorous
it is only because her testimony is potentially so important.
To begin, we must
ask the most basic question and establish that Emily is who she says she
is. Emily says that her father Temou Samuela was the island carpenter on
Nikumaroro. Photographs she showed us leave no doubt that Temou was her
father, but was he the island carpenter? Dr. Duncan Macpherson’s first
hand account of the death of Gerald Gallagher, dated November 9, 1941,
specifically mentions that “… Temou (native carpenter at Gardner island)
proceeded to prepare a casket for the remains.” It would seem that Emily
is, indeed, the carpenter’s daughter.
The next task is
to determine whether Emily herself was on Nikumaroro and, if so, just
when she was there. This allows us to put her alleged experiences in a
specific historical context and check them against known events.
| Date of Departure
We are able to confirm
Emily’s presence on the island and establish the date of her departure
by means of a rather obscure document which we examined in November 1998
at the archives of the Western Pacific High Commission in England. The
provisioning records of His Majesty’s Fijian Ship (HMFS) Viti show
a charge of two shillings per diem for the transport of a “nurse” by the
name of “Sengalo” from Gardner Island on November 30, 1941 to Suva, Fiji
(11 days). Emily’s first name in Tuvaluan is “Segalo,” pronounced (and
often spelled) “Sengalo.” Is this Emily?
||Tell me about when you left Nikumaroro, when you went away. How did that
was the year we came away. It was the government that made that decision.
Because we sat a test and it was decided that it was not practical
to send us to Tarawa but to bring us to Suva. (In an earlier conversation
she had said that, as a teenaged girl, she assisted as midwife at
several births on Nikumaroro and had later attended nursing school
it your whole family or just you?
||It was I only.
So there was a test and you were selected because of this test?
||Yes. That is why I came.
|Mr. Tofiga, I understand that you remember this. You were there at that
time. Is that right?
||I was aboard the Viti. We traveled from here (Suva) in the late November
or early December of 1941. I never forget the date because we were
at Nikumaroro when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
In the earlier interview Tom King had asked:
||Were you there when Mr. Gallagher died?
||No, I wasn’t. [she has a brief conversation with Mr. Tofiga] NO!
I WAS there. When I was picked up [to go to Suva to attend nursing
school] he had already died. It was Sunday morning, we were getting
ready for church, December 7th, when I left. [Emily traveled to
Suva with Tofiga who remembers that she cried all night long and he
felt helpless to comfort her.]
That Mr. Tofiga
was aboard Viti on that voyage is confirmed by the published diary
of High Commissioner Sir Harry Luke who, in November/December 1941, made
a tour of the Phoenix settlements in the wake of the death of Officer in
Charge Gerald Gallagher the preceding September. “I managed to get
on board the Viti by midnight of the 19th (November) and sailed
at once. The party consisted of Dr. MacPherson, ‘Mungo’ Thomson
…, with Tofinga, the Ellice Islander clerk from the High Commission,
The ship’s records
show that Viti was at Nikumaroro on Sunday, November 30, 1941,
not Sunday, December 7th, so Tofiga’s memory of hearing about the Pearl
Harbor attack while at Nikumaroro is apparently not accurate. However,
Emily’s recollection that she left on a Sunday is correct. Clearly the
nurse “Sengalo” is Segalo Samuela, now Emily Sikuli, and she left Nikumaroro
on November 30, 1941.
| Date of Arrival
down just when the Samuela family arrived on Nikumaroro is a bit more difficult.
Unfortunately, we don’t have passenger manifests for all of the
ships that transported settlers and skilled artisans for the Phoenix Islands
Settlement Scheme, but transportation of personnel and supplies was enough
of a problem for the struggling colony that the comings and goings of
ships are fairly well documented. Emily was unable to give us a firm date
for her arrival at Nikumaroro, but there are clues in what she remembers,
and does not remember, which make it possible to constrain the date of
When did you get to Nikumaroro?
had not been on Beru Island a year when we were sent to Nikumaroro.
Perhaps 1938-39. In less than 3 years, I left Nikumaroro.
Beru, in the southern
Gilberts, served as a staging area for the settlement of the Phoenix Group.
We don’t know when Temou and his family came to Beru but we do know that
Emily left Nikumaroro in late 1941. Her “less than 3 years” on the island
puts her arrival not earlier than late 1938 but, in fact, there were no
women at all on Nikumaroro until April 1939.
What caused your family to move to Nikumaroro?
from the government to build houses and plant coconuts. Uncle Kemo
went to Manra to build the hospital building and water tank.
There are a couple
of good clues here. The big push to build houses and plant coconuts on
Nikumaroro was in the early days of the settlement – from the arrival
of the first women and children in April 1939 through Gallagher’s death
in September, 1941. “Uncle Kemo” is Jack Kima Petro (sometimes spelled
Kemo Pedro). He was a half-Portugese construction specialist who acted
as foreman for many of the building projects in the G&EIC and PISS. He
was on Gardner in early 1939 building the 10,000 gallon water collection
cistern which still stands today, and Emily seems to imply that he was
on Beru when she left for Nikumaroro. Gallagher’s proposal for the hospital
to be built on Sydney Island (Manra) is dated July 4th, 1939 and was drawn
up on Beru. He left Beru on July 11th and went to Fiji for medical treatment
and administrative duty, returning on November 7th. Gallagher left Beru
to go back to the Phoenix Group on January 7,1940 and his “Progress Report,
First Quarter 1940” states that the building of the hospital on Sydney
was underway between January and March. Emily’s correlation of her arrival
on Nikumaroro with the departure of “Uncle Kemo” to build the hospital
on Manra seems to place the event in January 1940.
for this hypothesis is found in another passage from Gallagher’s “Progress
Report First Quarter 1940.” In describing the settlement on Gardner he
says; “Apart from an expert canoe builder and his family of four, there
have been no additions to the population of Gardner since the last report
was written.” (This would have been Lands Commissioner Harry Maude’s Second
Progress Report dated November 29, 1939.) Curiosity about this statement
is what prompted me to ask Emily the following series of questions:
brothers or sisters?
brothers, I was the only girl.
the whole family come to Nikumaroro?
three of us. Our eldest brother was at Tarawa.
your father ever work at building canoes?
he used to build canoes.
that part of his job on Nikumaroro?
while I was there. He did build small model canoes as presents.
Although he may not
have actually practiced that particular skill while at Nikumaroro, it
would appear that Temou, his wife, and three of his children are the “expert
canoe builder and his family of four.”
Do you remember what ship brought the family to Nikumaroro?
was the government ship, Kiakia. Not a big boat.
There was, indeed,
a small government ship named Kiakia which was used for administrative
Were there many people who came with you?
policeman and his family came also.
mention a policeman and family but they could have been destined for one
of the other islands.
you first came to Nikumaroro, were there any Europeans living there?
This would seem
to confirm that she arrived after the USS Bushnell’s survey of
Gardner Island which was conducted from November 28 to December 5, 1939.
to the Phoenix Group from Beru in January 1940 is the only known voyage
which fits all of the conditions of Emily’s description. It is not clear
from the record what ship was used, but it could well have been the Kiakia.
In his “Progress Report, First Quarter 1940” Gallagher mentions that he
stopped briefly at Gardner in January but doesn’t give the exact date.
Other correspondence mentions that he arrived at Hull on January 14th
and at Sydney, his final destination, on the 18th. Logically, that puts
him at Gardner on or about the 12th. Unless better documentation turns
up to the contrary, we will use mid-January 1940 for the supposed date
of Emily’s arrival at Nikumaroro.
| Emily’s Age
It is not uncommon
for older people in Oceania to have difficulty placing their year of birth
because they tend to have fewer points of reference, or connections to
recorded dates than is common in Europe and America. Emily’s statements
about her age while she was on the island are not consistent. At one point
she said, “I came in 1938-1939, when I was 11 years old” which would
make her year of birth 1927 or 1928. When Tom King asked, “How old were
you when your father built the box?” she said, “14 years old, not yet
15.” The box was built in the fall of 1940, so that would mean that she
was born in 1926, but in response to my specific question–
“What year were you born?” she replied, “1923.”
which would make
her 16 or 17 at the time of her arrival and 17 or 18 when she left to
attend nursing school. Because most people can more reliably relate the
year of their birth than how old they were at the time of a particular
event in the past, and because the older age is perhaps more credible
for a young woman to go away to school, it seems most likely that Emily
was a youth of about 17 during the period in question. In either event,
she was a youth or young adult, not a child.
fairly reliably that Emily lived, as a youth, on Nikumaroro from mid-January
1940 to November 30, 1941 with her father Temou, the island carpenter,
and her mother and two of her three brothers, we can now review the context
in which her experiences took place.
When Emily and her
family arrived on Nikumaroro in January 1940, the island’s population
was made up of 16 men, 16 women, 11 boys and 15 girls, for a total of
58 individuals. Of the 16 men, one was the Native Magistrate, and one
was a medic, known as a Native Dresser. The remaining fourteen were Gilbertese
laborers who, with their wives and children, hoped to eventually become
landowners in the new colony. Like pioneers everywhere, they were poor
people who had come to the wilderness to find opportunity and a better
life. They were Protestant Christians, as were Emily and her family, for
the London Missionary Society had established a firm hold in both the
Ellice Islands and the southern Gilberts. The laborers spoke the Gilbertese
language and had little or no English. We didn’t ask but we must presume
that Emily’s father, an Ellice Islander sent by the government to help
people to whom he was a foreigner, spoke at least some Gilbertese.
We don’t have the
name of the Native Dresser. In the British colonial system there were
two categories of medical certification for indigenous people. “Native
Dressers” received training in basic health, hygiene, and first aid. “Native
Medical Practitioners” received more extensive instruction and served
virtually as physicians for island communities between rare visits by
the colony’s Medical Officer who was a British doctor.
The leader on Nikumaroro,
whom Emily calls “the Onotoa man,” was the Native Magistrate and overseer
Teng (Mr.) Koata. Formerly Native Magistrate on the island of Onotoa in
the southern Gilberts, Koata had been recruited by Lands Commissioner Harry
Maude to help establish the settlement on Nikumaroro with the understanding
that it would be a temporary assignment. Koata, whose “exceptional qualities
of loyalty and leadership had been proved in the Onotoa religious troubles
of 1931” (Maude, Of Islands And Men) had been one of the senior Gilbertese
delegates on the original voyage in October 1937 when Maude, assisted by
Cadet Officer Eric Bevington, evaluated Gardner, Hull, and Sydney Islands
for future settlement. Koata also helped Maude and Gallagher install the
first ten-man work party on the island in late December 1938 and returned
to take up residence on the island with his family in June 1939. He left
Nikumaroro in 1940 on the RCS Nimanoa and traveled to the Central
Hospital in Tarawa in the Gilberts where he arrived on or about September
30th. Whether he ever returned to the Phoenix Group is not known but a memorandum
by Lands Commissioner Paul B. Laxton circa 1950 lists him as retiring and
being replaced by “Teng Iokina” in 1941.
other player in the drama is Gerald B. Gallagher, Officer-in-Charge of
the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, whom Emily calls “Kela.” When
the scheme was launched in early 1939, Gallagher, then 27 years old, made
his headquarters on Sydney Island (Manra). He was able to keep track of
events on Hull (Orona) and communicate with his superiors in the Gilberts
and in Fiji by radio, but he was totally dependent upon rare visits by
government ships for any inter-island travel. Because there was no radio
on Nikumaroro until Gallagher moved his headquarters there in September
1940, his contact with the island prior to that time was sporadic at best.
Emily’s two years
on Nikumaroro, 1940 and 1941, span a crucial period in TIGHAR’s investigation.
She is there in the spring of 1940 when the skull is found. She is there
in September when Gallagher arrives, learns of the discovery, and searches
out the partial skeleton and artifacts. She is there when the bones are
shipped off to Fiji in a box built by her own father. She is there the
following September when Gallagher dies. And she leaves the island a week
before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific.
Gallagher, ca. 1937
| The Plane on the Reef
In Emily’s mind,
the bones for which her father built the box are inextricably linked to
the airplane wreckage she says she saw on the northwestern reef, and yet
we know from Gallagher’s telegrams that the bones he found were near the
lagoon shore on a completely different part of the island (which he describes
variously as “the South East corner” and “on the South Eastern shore”).
The correspondence also gives no indication whatever that Gallagher was
aware of an airplane wreck on Nikumaroro. Clearly there is a conflict
between Gallagher’s and Emily’s respective descriptions of the discovery.
Emily does not claim
to be a witness to the finding of the bones and, in fact, says that she
never saw them herself. Nevertheless, the documentary record leaves little
doubt that bones were found. But what about the wreckage on the reef,
which she says she saw on at least two occasions? Emily’s description
of what she saw from the beach, which is roughly 600 feet from the edge
of the reef, was consistent in both interviews.
On July 15th Tom
Where were the parts of the airplane?
||Not far from where the ship was. Not toward the village but away from
it. The struts were there. (holds up hands in circle, apparently indicating
that the struts were round in cross-section, about 20 cm. in diameter)
||Did people use parts of the airplane?
||I don’t know for sure. When we got there only the steel frames were
left, only the long pieces were there. We were frightened to go close
to the plane. Where the shipwreck was – the remainder of the plane
was not very far from there. The waves were washing it in low tide.
And on July 27th
And on the back of the map could you draw a picture of what you saw?
It was a long steel. [draws a line] There was a round part of
it. [adds a small solid circle at the end of the line] I
do not know what part of the plane it was. We were forbidden to
go there. I was following my father. When I went there my father
How big was this piece?
About four arm spans. [holds her arms out]
So it might fit in this room?
Yes, barely. It was a big plane. [the room was perhaps twelve feet
How did you know that this was part of an airplane?
I heard it from those who were there before us that it was part of
So the people on the island said that this was part of an airplane.
What color was the wreckage that you drew on the map?
It was very rusty.
What color rust?
Very red. When it is seen at low tide. Not observable at high tide. At
low tide it could be seen. Very rusty, bad, useless.
Was there other wreckage or debris around it or all by itself?
Did the people in the village have any pieces?
You saw none of the other parts of the plane. The aluminum, the shiny
No all gone. Nothing.
Fortunately we have
a number of photographs taken between the date of the Earhart/Noonan disappearance
and Emily’s departure from Nikumaroro which include the specific location
she describes. If Emily could see the wreckage, we should be able to see
it too. And we can, or at least we can see something that fits her general
description of what she saw in the place where she says she saw it.
Photo #1 (above)
is a copy photo of a photograph taken by Eric Bevington in October 1937
during the first British evaluation of the island for future settlement.
It shows the western shoreline of Nikumaroro and the northern side of
the wreck of SS Norwich City which is, at that time, largely intact.
The sea is quite calm and a line of low breakers delineates the outer
edge of the reef. Just north of the shipwreck and just behind the line
of breakers two objects, resembling a “dash” and a “dot,” are clearly
is a photocopy of a photograph taken in December 1938 by the New Zealand
survey party which was on the island at that time. The camera is looking
out through a hole in the north side of the SS Norwich City and
shows the reef edge looking northward from the wreck. The photo is one
of several dozen in a scrapbook of the expedition. The caption reads “Undertow
through gap in side of Wreck.” Even though all we have is a photocopy
of this snapshot it is still possible to make out what appear to be the
same “dash” and “dot” objects on the reef which appear in the 1937 photo.
Neither of these
photos have been altered or enhanced in any way, but even from these “raw”
images it is apparent that there was something where Emily says there
was airplane wreckage.
The objects in the
photos are not there now but forensic examination of better copies of
these and other photos might provide more information about what they
were and where they went. Of course, we can’t tell from the black and
white photos what color the objects were, but we should be able to get
some idea of how big they were by scaling them to Norwich City
whose dimensions we have. Could the airplane pieces have been, in fact,
merely debris from the shipwreck? That doesn’t seem very likely. At the
time the photos were taken the ship had not yet started to break up and
when it did, the debris field scattered predominantly southeastward toward
the shore and the main lagoon passage. Gales and high seas hit Nikumaroro
almost exclusively from the northwest.
confirmation that there was something there, and in the absence of a good
alternative explanation for what it might be, it makes sense to accept
Emily’s second-hand identification of it as a working hypothesis. If further
photographic research can establish that the material which is present
in Bevington’s October 1937 photo (a contemporaneous, primary source document)
is from an aircraft, the implications are obvious. Air traffic over the
remote reaches of the Central Pacific prior to October 1937 was extremely
rare and is very easy to catalog. Only one airplane from this period is
Bones from the Plane
But what about the
bones? Emily quite clearly talks about two different groups of bones -
one set which she associates with the airplane wreckage and other bones
which she associates with the shipwreck. Of the former she said in the
first interview with Tom King:
Did you see the plane fall?
||No, it was already there when I came. …The steel of the plane was there
sometime before we got there. [asked specifically about aluminium,
she says no] Fishermen found the bones. They were frightened and
they brought the story of them to the Onotoa man.
||What did Koata do?
||He sent people to bring the bones. People were frightened. Only people
working for the government received the bones. My father had to look
at the bones. Mr. Gallagher asked my father to make the box.
And in the second interview:
What can you tell us about the bones that were found?
||Some Gilbertese went to fish, they saw in the shallows some pools, at the
place where the plane crashed, some bones, and they knew these were
human bones because of the skull bone. They went and reported to Teng
Koata, there were bones. So from that they assumed that these must
have been the bones of those who were in the plane when it crashed.
These were under the plane, near the plane. This was near the top
end of the steel.
||Did you see the bones?
||I didn’t see them. We were forbidden, but my father told us.
||Were the bones found while you were on the island or did this happen before?
||These bones were found when we had already arrived on the island. These
Gilbertese came and found bones and reported to Teng Koata. Then Teng
Koata took them to the European. So it was arranged for a box to be
made for the bones and the bones were brought. There were not many
||Were any other bones ever found on Niku?
||Only these few bones they found. They do a search around that area but
they found no other bones. Only these big bones that they found. I
do not know how many. My father knew.
Aside from where
she says the bones were found, her account actually tracks fairly well
with the known facts. A Gilbertese work party found a skull which Koata
knew about. The European (Gallagher) did find out about the skull (although
apparently not from Koata) and conducted a search. Not many bones were
found (a total of 13) and most of these were relatively large. Gallagher
had a box made for the bones. In short, it does seem that the bones Emily
associates with the airplane wreck are the bones that were actually found
elsewhere on the island.
| Too Many Bones
Sorting out the bones
associated with the shipwreck is more difficult. Emily told Tom King of
“Maybe 10 different
people whose bones were found along that area.”
(near the shipwreck).
She is quite clear that these bones were found on land.
“You would come
up on the reef, then the beach comes up where the island shrubs start
to grow. That is where the bones were found.”
is consistent with the recollections of Gallagher’s clerk, Bauro Tikana,
who wrote in 1991 “When we first arrived I saw the ship wreck and asked
Mr. Gallagher about it. He told me that it was Norwich City. Later
when the laborers were cleaning (clearing) the land they told me that
they found bones near the ship. I do not know if Mr. Gallagher knew about
the bones as I did not tell him about it. The laborers also told me they
found bones at the other end of the atoll.”
Mr. Tikana marked
a map showing that bones were found on shore near the shipwreck, but to
show where the “other bones” were found he could only circle the entire
southeast portion of the island.
We know that there
were eleven men lost in Norwich City disaster in 1929 and that
three bodies washed up and were buried by the survivors. If the burials
were not very deep and were on or close to the beach, it seems possible
that they may have been uncovered by storms in the ensuing ten years or
so. It’s also possible that other bodies from the wreck washed up after
the survivors were rescued. However, if a body from the airplane wreck
(Noonan?) also washed up or was buried on that same beach it could be
indistinguishable from the shipwreck bones.
| Answers and Questions
Emily Sikuli’s story,
supported by historical documents and photographs, offers some long-sought
answers to the riddle of the Earhart/Noonan disappearance. Whether or
not they are the correct answers remains to be seen. They do, however
permit us to adjust and refine the hypothesis we are attempting to test.
But as answers to
old questions are offered, new questions arise. Why does Emily associate
the bones so strongly with the airplane wreck? And why did Koata put the
area off limits? It is apparent that this was done before Gallagher arrived
and found the other bones and the artifacts. Why did the finding of just
a skull on a different part of the island cause Koata to put the airplane
wreck off limits? And why didn’t Koata , or anybody else, tell Gallagher
about the plane?
of the bones with taboo airplane wreckage is something that we’ve heard
before. Tapania Taiki, in 1997, told us of seeing pieces of an airplane
on the reef and in the shoreline vegetation when she was a child on Nikumaroro
in the late 1950s:
“The older people
said they saw the skeletons of a man and woman, one each. The elders
said, ‘Do not go where the plane is. There are ghosts there.’ They were
trying to scare us to keep us away from there.”
| Debris Field
But Tapania’s plane
parts were not seen in the same place Emily describes. Over the years
we have come across a number of anecdotal accounts of aircraft wreckage
seen at Nikumaroro and we have ourselves, found a few pieces of aircraft
debris which we suspect might be from the Electra. Are these real and
rumored airplane parts random and contradictory? Or do they all fit together
to form a logical sequence of events? – On two occasions between January
1940 and November 1941 Emily Sikuli sees rusted structures, said to be
the wreckage of an airplane, on the reef near the ocean just north of
the shipwreck (map reference 1). Emily does not see the wreck up close
and no aluminum is visible from shore, but fisherman have been to the
- Sometime in late
1944 or early 1945, U.S. Navy PBY pilot John Mims is shown an aircraft
control cable being used as a heavy-duty fishing line leader by Gilbertese
fishermen on Nikumaroro. When asked where it came from one of the islanders
replies that when the Gilbertese people first came to the island there
was an airplane here. When asked where the plane is now, he just shrugs.
- Sometime in the
late 1950s or early 1960s, the schoolmaster on Nikumaroro, Pulekai Songivalu,
sees aircraft wreckage along the lagoon shore just opposite the main
passage. (map reference 2)
- During roughly
the same time period, his daughter Tapania sees a “piece of a wing”
in the water on the reef off the shore of Nutiran not far from the main
passage. Aerial photographs taken in 1953 indicate the presence of anomalous
light-colored, reflective material on the reef in this same area. (map
reference 3) Tapania also sees “airplane parts” in the shoreline vegetation
(map reference 4) not far from a “European house” made of lumber rather
than native materials.
- In 1989 TIGHAR
finds an aluminum aircraft component near the shore of the main passage
in the abandoned village. (map reference 5) The “dado,” an interior
feature usually found in the cabins of small civilian aircraft including
the Lockheed Model 10, is a complete assembly still bearing a fragment
of the quarter-inch kapok insulation which once covered one side. Quarter-inch
kapok insulation was standard on the Lockheed 10. Unlike military parts,
the dado is stamped with no part number.
- In 1991 TIGHAR
finds a section of aluminum aircraft skin on the island’s southwestern
shore in the wash-up from a recent severe storm. (map reference 6) Although
exhaustive research has not yet been able to match the rivet pattern
to any aircraft, the general features of the skin (type of aluminum,
thickness, rivet type, size and spacing) are typical of the Lockheed
10. The damage to the skin indicates that it was blown outward by a
tremendous fluid force, such as wave action.
- In 1996 TIGHAR
finds a fragment of Plexiglas in the abandoned village which matches
in material, thickness, color and curvature the specification for Lockheed
Part Number 40552, the cabin windows of the Lockheed 10. (map reference
7). Also found are two lengths of what appears to be pre-war American
radio cable with connectors of a type used in aviation applications.
These were found near the shore of the main passage in the remains of
what was once the shop of the island carpenter, Temou Samuela. (map
These seem to suggest
that the aircraft arrived at or near the place where Emily saw wreckage
(map reference 1) and was quickly, perhaps within days, destroyed by the
violent surf. In the ensuing years, storms further scattered the wreckage
along the natural lines of force. Buoyant material would travel farthest
and may account for Pulekai’s sighting of wreckage on the lagoon shore
(map reference 2). Some non-buoyant wreckage might eventually be pulled
back out over the reef edge but most of the aluminum should be scattered
southeastward along the flat, as is indicated by Tapania’s piece of a
wing and the 1953 photos (map reference 3). Storms could drive pieces
of the wreck ashore anywhere to the leeward of its starting place where
they might be found and used by the locals.
It is important
to remember that, by itself, Emily’s anecdotal recollections do not prove
anything, but just as garbled anecdotal accounts of bones being found
on Nikumaroro eventually led us to archival sources which documented a
fascinating but forgotten chapter in the Earhart puzzle, so Emily’s tale
has set us on a trail that may lead us to whatever is left of NR16020.