Niku 7 findingtheplane

On July 3, 2012 – the 75th anniversary of the U.S.S. Colorado’s departure from Hawai‘i on the Earhart search – TIGHAR’s Niku VII expedition sailed from Honolulu to conduct a search for the Earhart Electra in the waters adjacent to Nikumaroro. This is the hi-tech deep water search we’ve long wanted to do but could never afford.

daily reports

Reports are in reverse date order so that those who check every day don’t have to scroll down endlessly as the expedition progresses. If you are new to this page, just click on the earliest date to the right (down at the bottom of the list) and then scroll up to read each posting in order. For previous weeks, click on the “Week” links above.

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Please note that times and dates are, and will be, a bit confusing. All times are now being given in Z (UTC, Zulu, Greenwich) time as well as local time. The dateline is another matter and we are not going there. Suffice it to say that for mostly logistical reasons, the ship is arbitrarily staying on the U.S. side of the dateline. Ric calls on the satellite telephone each evening between 9 and 10 p.m. EDT. I write up the report and post it immediately. So each report will probably have elements from the previous day’s late afternoon, and that day’s morning work.

Now about 400 nm out, still looking good for a Sunday afternoon or even mid-day arrival. Everyone is noticeably cheerier this morning. With just “two and a wake-up” to go, home seems almost within reach. Amazing to think how much time and effort have gone into just five days of actual searching, but they were intense days during which we collected a great deal of information that can now be processed and evaluated.

At 18:00 Z (08:00 KOK) we’re at 12°32′ North, 163°40′ West making 8 knots with 623 nm to go. Looking better for a Sunday afternoon arrival.

Really rockin’and rollin’ today due to increased speed. The captain has bumped the shaft rpm up. He’s apparently feeling more confident that the SCRs will hold up. Otherwise, not much news. Still looking at tape and images.

Happy Birthday Amelia! You’re 115 years young today and still in the headlines. What more we’ve learned about your fate remains to be seen. We’re headed home with data and imagery that will give us the answer.

At 19:00Z (09:00 KOK) we were at 7°28′ North, 166°55′ West making 8 kts with 981 nm to go. So far the SCRs seem to be holding up (knock wood). Seas and wind have moderated somewhat and we’re still hoping to reach port in Honolulu on Sunday afternoon.

The technicians are starting the process of breaking down and packing their equipment for shipment.

The Discovery Channel folks are organizing their many hours of video, transcribing dozens of interviews, and beginning the process of assembling the documentary that is scheduled to air August 19th.

TIGHAR cameraman Mark Smith is setting up the high-definition ROV video for review. We need to be able to re-construct the search day by day, moment by moment – knowing when and where any given video image was shot.

TIGHAR still photographer Laurie Rubin is reviewing and editing thousands of photographs.

I’ve now received the raw data and various logs, graphics and summaries from Phoenix and have started to wade through them. TIGHAR archaeologist Megan Lickliter-Mundon also has a copy.

TIGHAR team members Tim Mellon and Andrew Sanger are helping us review the ROV footage collected during the 2010 Niku VI expedition. Our eyes are now tuned to the underwater environment at Niku and able to spot anomalies that previously went unnoticed. We have already spotted something we want our forensic imaging specialist, Jeff Glickman, to look at.

Ric aboard KOK

Making 7.5 knots, babying the SCRs. Turns a long trip into an even longer one.

Reviewing video and looking at deliverables and making sure all formats are compatible with all computers and programs. Not exciting, but the most important part of the trip in many ways, because the real work begins when all this information arrives home.

Here’s the press release we are putting out in response to all queries.

TIGHAR’s Niku VII expedition ushered in an important new chapter in the continuing search for Amelia Earhart’s remains and her aircraft. We are returning from Nikumaroro with volumes of new sonar data and hours upon hours of high-definition video. This represents a treasure trove of new research.

The TIGHAR team will now be reviewing and analyzing all of new material recovered from the site. Putting the pieces of this historic forensic mystery together is being documented for Discovery Channel’s upcoming television special. Only until we have had thorough analysis can we say what we have found and that answer will be revealed Sunday, August 19th only on Discovery.

At 18:21Z (08:21 KOK) we were at 2°10′ N 170°17′ W making 8 knots with 1,359 nm to go.

Our reduction in speed is due to the captain’s decision to reduce power somewhat from 220 to 210 shaft RPM. The reason for the reduction in power is to put less strain on critical propulsion components. Here’s the situation.

The ship has three propulsion units – the two main screws (propellers) and a bow thruster. Each has its own diesel engine, two big Detroit diesels for the main screws and a smaller engine for the bow thruster. The diesels do not power the screws directly. Each diesel powers a generator that provides current to an electric motor the turns the screw. The throttle on each electric motor is controlled by a Silicon Controlled Rectifier (SCR). If the SCR fails you’ve essentially lost that engine.

SCRs rarely fail, but we’ve lost two on this trip. We lost one on July 17 as a result (we think) of hard throttle usage during the AUV rescue. That unit was repaired and returned to service. Last night it failed again. We don’t yet know if it can be repaired but, more importantly, we’re not sure why it failed. Right now our two operational SCRs are driving the main screws. If we lose another SCR we lose the use of one of the main screws – like losing an engine on a twin-engine airplane. We could still continue, but at greatly reduced speed. If that happened, the captain would call for a ship to get headed our way in case we lost the last SCR.

The ship’s engineers are trying to figure out the root cause of the problem and the captain has wisely reduced power somewhat to “baby” our two remaining SCRs. The lower speed will, of course, mean a later arrival in Honolulu. At this time our ETA is 05:00Z on Monday 7-30 (19:00 on Sunday 7-29 Hawaii time) – but that will almost certainly change over the next week and probably not for the better.

This is an annoyance, and maybe a big annoyance, but it is not an emergency. The ship is sound and the weather is good. We’ll be fine but we’ll be late. The question now is how late?

I’m marching inland from the shore.
Over me shoulder I’m carryin’ an oar.
When someone asks me, ‘What
Is that funny thing you’ve got?’
Then I’ll know I’ll never go to sea no more, no more,
Then I know I’ll never go to sea no more.

Words & Music by Tom Lewis

From Ric aboard KOK

Seas are a bit rough but we’re still averaging 9 knots pounding our way homeward. We crossed the equator at 22:05Z (12:05 KOK). In this location, the equator is also the boundary of Kiribati and, therefore, an east/west dogleg in the International Dateline. Although we have stayed on Hawaii time for convenience, officially today was the 22nd before we crossed the equator. July 22 is team member Tim Mellon’s birthday so he has now had one birthday this year and he’ll get another one tomorrow.

In addition to catching up on sleep, everyone is compiling and organizing data, video imagery, and still photos. The Discovery guys are reviewing and editing their footage and, in some cases, shooting additional material to fill gaps.

We won’t actually know what we might have on either the sonar data or on the HD video until some time after we get back to the States. There is a mountain of material to get through, and real time isn’t anything like sufficient to see and understand all the images and information we’ve collected. So the results of the expedition are truly not known. No big shiny silver airplane, obvious to all, but the data on the various storage devices may hold treasures.

14:00Z (04:00 KOK)

The AUV finished the search box south of Norwich City. It covered the area almost to the landing channel and returned to the surface for re-programming for the next mission. Unfortunately, Phoenix was unable to communicate with the AUV for re-programming. The AUV was too close to the reef for KOK to execute a recovery. The Captain mustered all hands and launched the skiff to secure the AUV and bring it out far enough from the reef for KOK to do the recovery. The AUV was successfully recovered. The Captain was less than thrilled.

18:00Z (08:00 KOK)

We amended the ROV search technique for more efficient use of remaining time. “Mowing the lawn” by running lines west to east up the reef face from 368 meters (1200 feet) to 61 meters (200 feet) wastes time because most of the slope is too steep for anything to rest on. Better to search north to south at depths where the reef slope is mild enough for wreckage to stop descending.

18:30Z (08:30 KOK)

We launched the ROV for a surface test run and the camera crew filmed it from the skiff.

20:30Z (10:30 KOK)

We launched the ROV for detailed inspections of intermittent ledges and “catchment” areas at the base of the first cliff – depth 61 to 91 meters (200 to 300 feet) – from Nessie south to Norwich City.

23:30Z (13:30 KOK)

The ROV was recovered. Terrain in the area covered was uneven and strewn with large coral boulders. The base of the cliff was undercut in several places forming large shallow caves. Ledges at the base of the cliff vary in width to a maximum of 30 meters (100 feet). There are many coral plates with square edges, and numerous false targets. No man-made objects were seen. Beyond the ledge, the reef slope drops at an estimated angle of 50° to 70°. In some areas, such as at the main Norwich City wreckage site, the slope moderates somewhat at depth of 305 meters (1,000 feet).

00:00Z 20 Jul (14:00 KOK)

The AUV data from last night has been processed. No targets of interest detected.

01:30Z 20 Jul (15:30 KOK)

We launched the ROV for an inspection of the reef slope from Nessie south to Norwich City at the 305 meter (1,000 feet) depth.

03:19Z 20 Jul (17:19 KOK)

Recovered ROV. There is very little moderation in slope steepness along the line until the vicinity of Norwich City wreckage. Many coral plates with square edges. Numerous false targets. There was a fishnet/rope tangle on the slope face at 900 feet at 274 meters just north of the Norwich City wreck.

06:00Z 7-20 (20:00 KOK)

KOK collected SeaBeam mapping data off the southern side of the island to fill gaps in the data collected earlier. When that is complete we’ll begin the voyage back to Honolulu.

We headed northward at midnight our time (10:00Z, 06:00 EDT). At 19:40Z we were at 3° 23′ S, 173° 47′ W making 9.1 knots.


Our special thanks to the corporate and individual sponsors of The Earhart Project, without whom nothing would be possible:
Federal Express logo Photek Imaging
GeoEye White's Electronics Thursby Software
FAK logo Bella Energy

The Members of the TIGHAR Board of Directors.

And the loyal membership of TIGHAR.

The Earhart Project is funded by charitable contributions. Donations by check (payable to TIGHAR) or credit card (Visa, Discover, American Express or Master Card) may be sent to TIGHAR, The Earhart Project, 2366 Hickory Hill Road, Oxford, PA 19363, USA, or click on the link above to make your contribution. Confidential inquiries regarding sponsorship opportunities for individuals or corporations should be addressed to Executive Director Richard Gillespie (email Ric@tighar.org).


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