it more logical that the Electra simply ran out of gas and crashed
into the ocean?
Yes. It’s a big ocean and Howland is a tiny island. Logical? No. Howland
was by no means the only island within range and the aircraft should
have had more than enough fuel to reach an alternate destination.
Certainly the crew was highly motivated to reach land and Noonan was
probably the finest aerial navigator in the world. A means of finding
land, even if they couldn’t find Howland, was availxable to them and
Earhart said, in the last radio transmission heard by the Itasca,
that they were following that very procedure: running along the 157/337
line of position. That call came at her regularly scheduled transmission
time. It was not a distress call and Earhart said nothing about running
out of gas or landing at sea. She did say that she was changing her
radio to a different frequency. The Itasca had never heard
her on that frequency, and they never heard her after she switched.
The extensive search which followed the flight’s disappearance found
no evidence that the plane went into the water and, to this day, there
is none. There is, however, abundant evidence (but, as yet, no absolute
proof) that the flight reached a logical alternate destination: Gardner
Island, now known as Nikumaroro.
it possible that Earhart was captured by the Japanese?
Yes. It is also possible that she was kidnapped by space aliens.
There just isn’t any evidence to suggest that either event occured.
The trouble with all of the many eyewitness accounts of a woman
thought to be Earhart being captured, imprisoned, executed, etc.,
by the Japanese is that there is little or no agreement about where
or when or how this was supposed to have happened. All the stories
are different and there is not the first shred of real evidence
to support any of them. No documents, no photographs, no artifacts,
no human remainsjust stories. Various authors have presented documents,
photos, artifacts, and even human remains to support their claims,
but in each and every case the evidence has proven to be false,
misrepresented, or so vague as to be meaningless.
the historical record does show is that it was a physical impossibility
for the Earhart flight to have reached territory controlled by Japan
and, even if it had, there was nothing there to spy on in 1937,
and no military to capture her for spying on something that wasn’t
hard would it be to land the Electra on the reef at Nikumaroro?
on where you try. Large stretches of the reef flat are smooth enough
to ride a bicycle on. Other parts are pitted and quite jagged. Today,
the area where former residents say they once saw airplane wreckage
is marginal. The Electra had nice big fat tires. I’d say that you’d
probably blow the tires but wouldn’t necessarily collapse the gear
or flip the airplane. What it was like in that area 60 years ago is
the Electra was on the reef at Gardner Island when the search planes
from the battleship Colorado flew over the island a week later,
why didn’t they see it?
question troubled us for years until new information about exactly
where the airplane was made the answer apparent. If the airplane was
near the ocean side of the reef where former island resident Emily
Sikuli says she saw wreckage, and where anomalous material on the
reef is visible in early photos, the airplane was hidden by the crashing
surf. A photograph taken during the Navy search documents that, at
the time of the overflight, the tide was high and the ocean was rough
enough that the seaward portion of the reef was completely obscured
wasn’t the Electra found when a British exploratory expedition visited
Gardner Island in October 1937, just three months after the Earhart
does seem highly unlikely that the aircraft was not seen, but several
factors may have contributed to the fact that it certainly was not
recognized for what it was. Contemporaneous written accounts and photos
show that the party made their landing on the reef just south of the
wreck of the S.S. Norwich City. At that time, the grounded
ship was still intact and thus masked from view the northern portion
of the reef edge where the aircraft wreckage is said to have been
located. In a photo taken during the visit, the material on the reef
is visible but not recognizable as aircraft wreckage. There is no
reason to suspect that it would appear differently to the eye than
to the camera. It should also be noted that the two British Colonial
service officers and nineteen Gilbertese delegates who made up the
expedition party probably had no knowledge of the Earhart disappearance
at the time of their three-day visit to Gardner Island. Their purpose
was to assess the island for future settlement and their attention
was focused upon determining whether the island’s soil was suitable
for agriculture and upon digging wells in search of potable water.
On the southeastern side of the island they did come across “signs
of previous habitation” described as looking as if “someone
had bivouacked for the night.”
wasn’t the Electra found when a six-man survey party from New Zealand
spent two months on the island in December 1938/ January 1939?
of the same factors apply to the New Zealand survey party as applied
to the earlier but much briefer British visit. The New Zealanders,
too, came ashore on the south side of the shipwreck which masked the
possible aircraft wreck site from view, and the focus of their work
was inland and on the lagoon. Like their predecessors, they took a
photo that shows the material on the reef. The photo was taken though
a hole in the hull of the shipwreck looking northward along the reef
at high tide and is captioned “Undertow through gap in side of
wreck.” The suspect material on the reef is visible in the photo
but seems to be submerged by the high tide and certainly is not recognizable
as aircraft wreckage. (The allegation that the material on the reef
was from an airplane comes later in the island’s history when Gilbertese
fishermen had occasion to be up close to the wreckage while fishing
along the reef edge.) An additional impediment was the weather. November
through March is the “westerly” season during which the
island is subject to heavy seas out of the west and northwest. Heavy
westerly weather was experienced by the survey party in the first
part of January, 1939.
wasn’t the Electra found when a U.S. Navy survey party from U.S.S.
Bushnell spent a week mapping the island in November 1939?
with the 1937 British visit and the 1938/39 New Zealand visit, the
1939 Navy survey was focused inland. The material on the reef was
obscured by high tide at least half of the time and, during periods
of high seas, all of the time. When it was visible it was not recognizable
from a distance.
does this new information effect TIGHAR’s evaluation of the Wreck
puzzling photo of uncertain origin shows an extensively damaged aircraft
in a tropical setting. A forensic analysis of the photo seems to suggest
that the airplane is a Lockheed Electra with the large P&W R1340
engines of the C and E series of the Model 10. Is it a photo of NR16020
on Nikumaroro? For a while that looked like a reasonable possibility
(see TIGHAR Tracks
Vol. 14, No. 2, “The Wreck Photo), but Emily Sikuli’s recollections
and the photographic confirmation that there was something out on
the reef where she says she saw badly deteriorated airplane wreckage,
argue strongly against a largely intact body of wreckage in the shoreline
vegetation as shown in the Wreck Photo.
about the Canton Engine?
possibility that an engine of the same type as those used on the Earhart
aircraft was recovered from a reef in the Phoenix Group and taken
by helicopter to Canton Island in 1970 or 1971 remains an intriguing
question. A TIGHAR expedition to Canton (now Kanton) in 1998 established
that the dump where the engine is said to have been deposited was
subsequently bulldozed and buried. Excavation is, at this time, prohibitively
expensive. We have also been unable to find corroboration of the story
of the engine’s recovery, despite having tracked down several people
who were involved in helicopter operations on Canton at the time.
Electra on Nikumaroro? Probably not.