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Author Topic: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?  (Read 23346 times)

Chris Johnson

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What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« on: January 21, 2011, 03:38:25 PM »

AE/FN looking for a place to land fly down the LOP and pass close to Gardner.  On the reef is a ships hulk, close by is a flat peice of reef flat.  On the north end of the island are apparent dwelling from the Arundel era.

Could AE/FN have thought that the island was populated?

A populated island could indicate food, water, shelter and maybe a radio?
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Mark Petersen

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2011, 05:20:01 PM »

My guess is that their mindset at the time was "any land is good land".  I can't imagine watching an open expanse of water go by hour after hour, while at the same time watching the fuel gauges get lower and lower....   

If the Niku hypothesis is correct, FN got them close enough to Howland for RDF and when AE wasn't able to do her end of the job, he got them onto one of the few places of dry land within hundreds of miles.  The more I've learned about the last flight from our Amelia Oracle (Ric), the sorrier I feel for Noonan.  Imagine doing your end of the job, and doing it well, only to have things fall apart because of negligence from another... reminds me of a company that I once worked for..  ;D

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2011, 07:16:42 AM »

Could AE/FN have thought that the island was populated?

That is certainly possible. The ship was recognizably a rusted, burned out hulk (see Lambrecht) so it's not likely that they took that as anything but a wrecked ship.  If Lambrecht saw the Arundel ruins he didn't mention them - which seems a bit odd because he did mention ruins on McKean and huts on Hull and Sydney - which may say something about the thoroughness of their aerial inspection of the island. 

Checking Bevington's diary, he doesn't mention the Arundel ruins either.  Neither do the accounts of the Norwich City disaster. We know that Arundel built shelters for his workers in the 1890s (we have his notes on providing building materials) but now I'm wondering why we've been assuming that the ruins of those structures were still standing in 1937 - or 1929 for that matter.  I've probably forgotten some mention by somebody of seeing ruins.  That's the trouble with a project that has been going on for 22+ years.  We'll need to look into this.
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Bruce Thomas

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2011, 09:49:11 AM »

First Officer of SS Norwich City, J. Thomas, had this to say about the Arundel huts:

"Near the palms we found two disused galvanised roofed huts and a large water tank, all of which were in a state of collapse, but which indicated to us that the island had at one time been inhabited, most probably with a view of growing coconuts, but that this had not proved to be very profitable and had been abandoned."
LTM,

Bruce
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« Last Edit: January 23, 2011, 12:39:34 PM by Bruce Thomas »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2011, 10:12:59 AM »

Good work guys.  So the structures were there in 1929.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2011, 04:25:13 PM »

and early survey teams about ten years later.

Is there mention of the Arundel ruins by the New Zealand survey party?  I didn't see anything in a quick run-through.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2011, 07:06:20 AM »

Go to the new Index by Subject and scroll down to the Nikumaroro/Gardner Island section.  All the links to the New Zealand Survey documents work.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2011, 08:00:33 AM »

Yeah, interesting.
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Don Dollinger

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2011, 09:59:05 AM »

Quote
If Lambrecht saw the Arundel ruins he didn't mention them
 

As they were collapsed perhaps jungle overgrowth had hidden them from aerial view.

LTM,

Don
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Thom Boughton

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2011, 11:54:24 PM »

I don't know, but I think we might be getting away from the facts as they stood at the time. 

All of these things we are speaking of are great fodder for discussion in retrospect.  But, if one looks at all of this in AE's frame of mind at that time...I imagine that precious little of it was given much, if any, consideration.

First of all, she HAD run out of options.  There was no other Plan B.  Gardner WAS Plan B. It was Gardner....or swim. 

And as for where on Niku she was going to put it down, speaking as someone who has spent a number of working flight hours in deserted areas ...what you're going to do after you land really has very little bearing on where you choose to land.  It makes no sense to roll your airplane into a ball and wrap yourself around a coconut palm only because it got you closer to a pool of water.

No doubt she did what anyone in that situation has ever done: she found what appeared to be the longest, widest, smoothest, and dryest.  Everything else...be damned. You worry about that later.

Besides, I would say that it is a pretty safe bet that she didn't even consider such things for quite awhile after the landing anyway.  I suspect that she felt that they'd be on the island less than 3 days at the most.  My guess is that she honestly expected to see a flotilla of USN ships anchored offshore within 72 hours.  I mean.....I AM Amelia Earhart after all, aren't I?  It's cold to say now, but I really do think she had begun believing her own press long before this project began.

Which is not to say that, when she finally came upon the knowledge that nobody WAS coming soon (or at all), that perhaps the recollection of a possible pool of fresh water on one side or end of the island might have had some indirect affect on how they ultimately ended up at the Seven Site. But, as it seems they most likely arrived over Niku at or near Low Tide, I can't imagine any other place on the island looking better for landing than that section of reef adjacent to the Norwich City.  I doubt any other  spot was even given consideration.

Although I acknowledge I'm making such a brash statement based solely upon photographs taken decades after the event. So perhaps I am as guilty of faulty hindsight as is anyone else.



LTM,

    ....TB
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2011, 05:44:55 AM »

Well put Thom.  Having been in a few situations where I've had to contemplate an emergency landing, I have to agree.  When you're left with no option other than an ending the flight right now, the first and only consideration is safety.  Where can I put this thing down and stand the best chance of being able to walk away from it?  If there is any place where it looks like I can land wheels-down, roll to a stop and maybe take off again after my problem (fuel, mechanical, weather, whatever) is solved that's where I'll put it.  No brainer.
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Thom Boughton

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2011, 12:30:09 AM »

My point precisely, Ric. 


Only I fear she may have even failed at that.  Based upon what I know of the circumstantial evidence, my own guess at the course of events are as follows....

They missed Howland....not only was there no DF signal where she expected it to be, there was no voice either.  When you reach your destination and instead all you can see in any direction is a whole lot of wet, that is a pretty scary proposition.  It can shake your confidence not only in yourself...but in your navigation (or in this case...in Fred.)

After a certain amount of prodding and coaxing (and pointing at fuel gauges), she gives up on Howland and turns outbound for Gardner.  That they indeed found Gardner I believe says more good about FN than AE.  Only this doesn't really look like Gardner as it is depicted on the charts, does it?  Nevertheless, it's here and it's reasonably dry. (At this point.....even if we'd seen 40 foot tall dragons wandering about the interior, this is still where we are going to terminate.)

And at least someone has been here before, look at that big honking shipwreck.  Someone someplace knows where and what this island is...so if it's not Gardner, at least it probably has been charted.  Things are finally looking up.

They make one pass lengthwise up the middle of the lagoon. No place to put it down there.

Then they fly one...no more than two...circuits around the outer shoreline.  Nothing looks better than that big wide long bit of beach next to the shipwreck.  MAYBE a low pass along the beach to check how smooth it might be.....but I doubt it.  This beach really is the only game in town, so why waste gas on looking for something that isn't going to change your mind anyway?

So....we line up inbound over the shipwreck, BUT...we're a little high.  An understandable error.....we've been awake very nearly 24 hours by this time, and most of that was spent flying.  Exhausted is exhausted, no matter how you slice it.  No doubt the fear of swimming home to California had only added to that exhaustion.

We land long, but we are down and rolling.  And here is where our small amount of luck leaves us: on rollout, we drop the left main mount into a huge crevasse in the reef that we'd not seen.  Fred, whether he was sitting up front or at his station in the back, was on the right side of the plane.  So my guess is that, when we rolled out into the hole, everything came to a sudden stop. And it is at this point that FN is thrown against the starboard bulkhead sustaining a significant head injury.  How significant depends on how fast they were rolling when they fell into Nessie. AE, being on the left side is forced away from the bulkhead rather than toward it....hence, no injury beyond possibly some seatbelt bruising and maybe a stiff neck.

Either way, here we are.  We are down and stopped with one landing gear lodged irretrievably in the reef.  The bad news is that Fred (not to mention the Electra) is injured.

The good news is that it's the left wheel in the hole and not the right.  That leaves the starboard prop clear enough from the surf to run the engine and use the radio.



All of this would explain how Fred could be injured to the point of dementia and yet AE and the Electra still being well enough to run an engine to make the broadcasts which would be heard and transcribed by Betty Klenck.  And it would explain the wreckage which would later be observed (and possibly photographed) still sticking out of the water years later.

It's all conjecture, I admit.  But, being the simplest theory which explains most if not all of the circumstantial evidence, it satisfies both myself and Occam.  Feel free to poke holes in as much of it as possible.


LTM,

   .....TB
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« Last Edit: February 09, 2011, 12:39:32 AM by Thom Boughton »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2011, 07:58:31 AM »

The question is,
Did the wheel go into the groove during the landing, resulting in the scenario you describe?
Or did the plane land safely higher up on the reef and later get washed into the groove?

Occam would prefer Door Number One but it complicates the post-loss radio situation. It would make the most sense for Earhart to transmit only at times when the water level on the reef is low enough for her to run the engine and keep the battery charged. Transmitting on battery alone runs the risk of depleting the battery to the point where you can't get the engine started - in which case you would be really screwed. The Nessie location is quite close to the reef edge and the water level there is low enough to run the engine less often than if the plane were a few meters closer to shore.  We have good survey data for the reef surface closer to shore where the reef surface is most attractive for landing but not for the Nessie location, so we don't have the water level numbers we wish we had - but it does look like we have otherwise credible post-loss signals transmitted at times when it would not be possible to run the engine.  If the plane ended its landing roll stuck in the Nessie location we have to say either:
- Signals we have judged to be credible are from some source other than Earhart
or
- Earhart was not acting in a prudent manner and taking some extraordinary risks to send distress calls.
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Walter Runck

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2011, 08:52:22 AM »

There's also a split possibility involving water level and radio usage.  If the best time to charge the battery isn't the best time to transmit or listen, you can separate the actions.  Crank up the starboard engine to charge the battery at low tide, maybe during daylight (to avoid walking the reef in the dark if you're staying on the beach) and use the radio during the best times for Tx/Rx or when you have fresh info ("I see a ship!").  Just watch your voltage and keep enough battery reserve to restart.

Personally, if I'm trying to contact someone to save my life on a radio in the middle of nowhere, I'd prefer to do it without a radial running a few feet away (especially one of those big Wasp Seniors they slapped on at the last minute).

I know it's not the simplest solution, but as someone who's had to juggle starting diesels and charging batteries offshore, there's sometimes more than one way to skin a cat.

It also makes you wonder if they discovered the (presumed) antenna damage and tried to do anything about it.

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What may have looked like Niku was a good place to land?
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2011, 10:42:05 AM »

There's also a split possibility involving water level and radio usage.  If the best time to charge the battery isn't the best time to transmit or listen, you can separate the actions.  Crank up the starboard engine to charge the battery at low tide, maybe during daylight (to avoid walking the reef in the dark if you're staying on the beach) and use the radio during the best times for Tx/Rx or when you have fresh info ("I see a ship!").  Just watch your voltage and keep enough battery reserve to restart.

Good thought.

Personally, if I'm trying to contact someone to save my life on a radio in the middle of nowhere, I'd prefer to do it without a radial running a few feet away (especially one of those big Wasp Seniors they slapped on at the last minute).

You've been reading Fred Goerner's book.  There's no such thing as a "Wasp Senior." The P&W R1430 was known as the "Wasp."  The Model 10A Electra carried the smaller R985 which was dubbed the "Wasp Junior" but nobody ever referred to the big engine as a "Wasp Senior." All Model 10Es were built with P&W R1430 S3H1 Wasp engines and NR16020 was wearing the same engines it was built with when it disappeared.

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