We have theorized that the aircraft was
landed on the reef flat at Nikumaroro on the smooth surface near
the reef edge where the spur and groove zone begins.
at high tide might shift the aircraft around but as long as it could “weathervane” freely
no structural damage would result. If however, after several days,
one of its wheels dropped into a groove, the axle could easily become
jammed in the coral. With the one wheel held immobile and the
airplane no longer able to weathervane, the force of the surf on
the fuselage would put tremendous torque on the gear attach points.
If the attach points failed as they appear to have done in the Luke
Field groundloop, the aircraft would tear free leaving the one gear
assembly sticking up as we see in the Bevington Photo.
What would then become of the rest of the airplane is hard to say,
but if it was washing about in the surf in the spur and groove zone “nothing
good” would be a safe bet. Light structures such as the tail
surfaces or even the empennage itself might well fail before the
gear attach points failed.
It’s an elegant hypothesis but it
only works if the photo was taken at a time when the water level on
the reef was low but not dry. Bevington was at Nikumaroro for
three days – October 13, 14, and 15, 1937. We don’t
know for sure which day the photo was taken but the sun appears to
be high in the southwest (roughly 225°). TIGHAR tide specialist
LCDR Bob Brandenburg USN (ret) has calculated that the sun was at 225° at
Nikumaroro those days at 12:38, 12:39, and 12:40 respectively.
According to Bevington’s diary, he was engaged in a hiking
circumnavigation of the island from 09:00 until 15:30 on the 13th,
so the photo could not have been taken that day. On the 14th
he was supervising well-digging on shore until noon. In the
afternoon he explored the lagoon in a canoe, so it does not appear
that the photo was taken on the 14th. On the morning of the 15th
he helped erect a flagstaff and then inspected the wells that had
been dug the previous day. He was back in camp at 11:30, had lunch,
and then returned by launch to the ship for the voyage to the next
island. The timing seems about right for him to be in the launch
or aboard the ship around 12:40. He doesn’t mention the
sea conditions that day but he does say that the next day was “a
perfect day at sea, calm and favourable winds.”
It would therefore seem safe to conclude that the photo was taken
on October 15 between, say, 12:30 and 13:00. During that time, the
water level on the reef in the area where we think the plane came
to a stop after landing was 0.12 meter (4.72 inches) to 0.19 meter
If “Nessie” is the landing gear strut of a Lockheed
Electra with the axel jammed in a reef groove, the water level on
the reef at the time the photo was taken is consistent with the amount
of structure that seems to be visible in the Bevington Photo.
confluence of coincidences is supportive of the hypothesis but by
no means proves that Nessie is the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra. Perhaps
the hi-res scan will give us a better look.