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Author Topic: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?  (Read 59880 times)

Stephen Hinkle

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What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« on: March 10, 2011, 01:29:03 AM »

I wondered if there is any evidence that Fred Noonan tried to go get help while Amelia was left behind, when they found they were the only two on the island.  Sometimes when there is a scenario like that, one goes to get help while the other stays to see if anybody comes and I wonder if he tried to do that because he was the man and Amelia was the woman (back in those days, sometimes the men had more responsibilities in days like this)?

I was curious, did Amelia or Fred have any tools or supplies to make a makeshift boat or raft of some kind with the vegetation that was available on Gardner Island?

If Fred were to attempt to swim to an occupied atoll, where was the closest place that was inhabited that he could boat or attempt to swim to?  Tarawa? Ellice Islands?  Gilbert Islands?  Another Phoenix Island?  Were any of the other phoenix islands inhabited or occupied at the time (i.e. Baker, McKean, Jarvis, etc)?  I did some searching on Google Earth and it appears that the distance between islands to boat or swim was quite far.

I was thinking that he may have attempted to swim or boat to shore somewhere to try to get help and did not succeed might have been his fate when he realized that the Itasca and USS Colorado did not come to help and the plane ran out of fuel and the batteries depleted so the radio transmitters went dead.
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Tom Swearengen

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2011, 05:16:44 AM »

I would think that when they flew to Niku, they knew that there was not other island close by, so swimming would be out of the question. Especially, if Fred were injured, as some have speculated.
I would also think that it would have taken time to make a raft, or boat, ans time certainly was NOT on their side.
Tom
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2011, 06:18:15 AM »

I was curious, did Amelia or Fred have any tools or supplies to make a makeshift boat or raft of some kind with the vegetation that was available on Gardner Island?
There were actually two lifeboats on the island - washed up after the Norwich City disaster.  One was still there in 1938.  Not sure about the other one.

If Fred were to attempt to swim to an occupied atoll, where was the closest place that was inhabited that he could boat or attempt to swim to?  Tarawa? Ellice Islands?  Gilbert Islands?  Another Phoenix Island?  Were any of the other phoenix islands inhabited or occupied at the time (i.e. Baker, McKean, Jarvis, etc)?  I did some searching on Google Earth and it appears that the distance between islands to boat or swim was quite far.

The closest was a coconut operation on Hull Island 114 nautical miles to the east, but there's no way Noonan could have known about it.

Unless and until we find solid evidence that Fred died on the island, an attempt such as you suggest has to be seen as one possibility.

Quote
I was thinking that he may have attempted to swim or boat to shore somewhere to try to get help and did not succeed might have been his fate when he realized that the Itasca and USS Colorado did not come to help and the plane ran out of fuel and the batteries depleted so the radio transmitters went dead.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 06:55:35 AM by moleski »
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Walter Runck

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2011, 04:52:05 PM »

Quote
Unless and until we find solid evidence that Fred died on the island, an attempt such as you suggest has to be seen as one possibility.


I've wondered about this as well.  Consider:

1.  There seems to be more physical evidence of a woman on the island than a man.
2.  The man we think was there was a sailor and a navigator. 
3.  A sextant box was found, but no sextant. 
4.  There was at least one life boat on the island when they arrived (I think one capsized and had a hole cut in the bottom to release the occupants, not sure which one the Kiwis found. 
5.  Another life raft or boat could have fetched up on the island from another source.

I've struggled to accept the FN injury theories as well.  Certainly possible, but only the thinnest of evidence exists and short of a diary or skull with damage incurred before death, no way to prove it.

Hardest part of an FN escape theory to accept for me is the water situation.  If they found water casks from the Norwich City, why chance the open sea with your most likely landfall being someplace just as desolate as Gardner?  If they didn't find water, odds of a successful voyage are pretty slim.  At least on land, there was food, chance of rain and chance of visitors.  Better the devil you know?
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2011, 07:19:43 PM »

The thing that bothers me is that none of the credible post-loss radio messages that have intelligible content include any mention of the island's name or lat/long.  If Fred was conscious and competent it should have been a piece of cake for him to figure out where they were on the first night.
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Walter Runck

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2011, 08:16:35 PM »

The thing that bothers me is that none of the credible post-loss radio messages that have intelligible content include any mention of the island's name or lat/long.  If Fred was conscious and competent it should have been a piece of cake for him to figure out where they were on the first night.

Bothers me too, but as a professional (him not me),  I find it hard to believe he didn't know where they were (at least Lat/Long if not by name) before they ever touched down (and maybe got hurt).  Hence my interest in the charts available at the time and any indications of which ones he was carrying.

FWIW, one of the books (Longs I think) mentioned AE trying to learn a little of the celestial art.  With all of the flight planning and cockpit time, she would have had to ignore an awful lot not to have some of it soak in.  If she had a working sextant/octant and one of the sight reduction books she might have been able to figure out her present position herself. 

Even if she couldn't take or reduce a sight, she knew enough DR to keep or at least understand a track and knew that they had flown x many hours at y knots on a course of z degrees from Howland ("we must be on you").   She certainly knew they were on an island southeast of Howland and probably had a pretty good idea how far on what bearing. 

You almost get the sense from the intercepts that the guys listening knew more about where she was than she did.



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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2011, 08:01:26 AM »

Even if she couldn't take or reduce a sight, she knew enough DR to keep or at least understand a track and knew that they had flown x many hours at y knots on a course of z degrees from Howland ("we must be on you").   She certainly knew they were on an island southeast of Howland and probably had a pretty good idea how far on what bearing. 

Dana Randolph heard her say, "Ship on reef southeast of Howland."  That seems to be the best she could do.

For me, her "we must be on you" comment is evidence that she didn't understand what Fred was doing.  Without an RDF bearing, the most Fred could know was that they had reached the LOP that ran through Howland.  If they were bang on course, Howland should appear but otherwise there would be only empty ocean.  I suspect that at some time after sunrise, while AE was trying to get Itasca to take a bearing on her, Fred passed her a note saying something like "ETA 1900" meaning that at 1900 Greenwich they would reach the LOP that ran through Howland. Amelia apparently took it to be an ETA for Howland.  I don't think Fred would say "we must be on you." Without a three-star celestial fix there was no way for him to navigate to a specific point.

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Walter Runck

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2011, 12:51:44 PM »

Even if she couldn't take or reduce a sight, she knew enough DR to keep or at least understand a track and knew that they had flown x many hours at y knots on a course of z degrees from Howland ("we must be on you").   She certainly knew they were on an island southeast of Howland and probably had a pretty good idea how far on what bearing.

For me, her "we must be on you" comment is evidence that she didn't understand what Fred was doing.  Without an RDF bearing, the most Fred could know was that they had reached the LOP that ran through Howland.  If they were bang on course, Howland should appear but otherwise there would be only empty ocean.  I suspect that at some time after sunrise, while AE was trying to get Itasca to take a bearing on her, Fred passed her a note saying something like "ETA 1900" meaning that at 1900 Greenwich they would reach the LOP that ran through Howland. Amelia apparently took it to be an ETA for Howland.  I don't think Fred would say "we must be on you." Without a three-star celestial fix there was no way for him to navigate to a specific point.


I'm not sure I fully agree with "Without an RDF bearing, the most Fred could know was that they had reached the LOP that ran through Howland."  Here's why:

The crux of my argument is that determining latitude in the later stages of this flight was more important than longitude.  If you're on the right course, you're gonna get where you're going (Howland) sooner or later and it wasn't like they were going to miss a connecting flight if they got in 40 minutes late.  But if you're drifting right or left and you end up a couple of hundred miles (< 10% of total flight length) north or south, you might miss not only visual contact, but RDF range as well.  Splash.

They were flying almost due East, hence their longitude was dependent primarily on their speed over ground and time aloft, while their latitude was dependent primarily on their ability to stay on the intended course, i.e. the left/right error of their flying.  

First the longitude.  With no drift measurement or other means of determining winds aloft, they could only determine SOG by measuring longitude and time aloft and then backing out a number for speed made good.  This would then be extended along a DR track to compute future positions.  So Lines of Position derived from landmarks or celestial observations (preferable LOPs that ran N-S) were crucial for determining longitude, SMG and ETA.  Most important for ETA was the sunrise observation, as the sunrise LOP would be the last "easy" N-S LOP before the more difficult sun sightings were the only ones available.  This is consistent with their flying the 158-338 line later in the day.  It was the last good LOP they had.

Now the latitude.  Any sighting of a northern star during the overnight would allow for a nice tight latitude determination.  I don't know how visible Polaris would have been from their altitude (it disappeared at the surface between 1 and 2 degrees North of the equator) that night, but Capella, Hamal and Mirfak would all have been in the right place to provide a good lat fix.  If a dawn fix was obtained on a star that would give them their latitude, then they only had a couple of hours of drift (N-S) uncertainty in their DR track by the time they got to the advanced LOP going through Howland.

I know they reported partial overcast at one point, but they only needed an occasional N-S fix to measure left/right error.  With the built-in artificial horizons of the octant and the Brandis, all FN needed was to see the star itself, not the natural horizon.

Unless the weather had been a wipeout since the position they reported by radio during the night, I think FN had a pretty good idea where they were, not just that they had hit the advanced LOP.  Before I'm accused of applying too much hindsight, I approached this from the perspective of "how would you try to find Howland if there were no RDF?".  Whatever you think of FN as a professional, he had bet his life on this flight.  You will have to decide for yourself to what degree he would have been willing to depend on outside assistance.  My premise is that he was sitting there in a plane with the tools, techniques and experience necessary to do a lot more than just get AE close enough to Howland so that someone on the ground could bring them in.  I think he used them to the fullest extent.

The USNO has an online celestial navigation calculator for anyone who wants to see what was where when.  (BTW Marty, Mercury was down, Venus was up and the moon was in a pretty good spot as well).  

This is the data I was using for rough work:






 

« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 01:02:16 PM by Walter Runck »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2011, 04:06:58 PM »

If your assessment is correct, why didnt he find Howland?
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Erik

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2011, 05:34:34 PM »

The thing that bothers me is that none of the credible post-loss radio messages that have intelligible content include any mention of the island's name or lat/long.  If Fred was conscious and competent it should have been a piece of cake for him to figure out where they were on the first night.


Here is a newspaper reporting a post-loss message.  It gives a lat long location remarkably close to Gardner.  Excusing timing errors in calculating longitude, that puts the reported position within about ~20 miles or so of the island.  Even more impressive if the sextant somehow became damaged or severely out-of-spec due to a hard landing.

From the article it reads.....
The Southeast Missourian - Jul 8, 1937
  Ray Havens, Conrad creamery worker, phoned the Great Falls Tribune that at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, he heard a man's voice giving a position and saying "all's well."
   A few minutes later, he said, he picked up a second message, which he gave as follows: "Position 173 west longitude and 5 south latitude."


« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 05:48:11 PM by Erik »
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Erik

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2011, 05:44:50 PM »

If your assessment is correct, why didnt he find Howland?

I think Walter was just saying that Fred knew much more than just..... "Without an RDF bearing, the most Fred could know was that they had reached the LOP that ran through Howland." 
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Bruce Thomas

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2011, 07:45:04 PM »

It gives a lat long location remarkably close to Gardner.  Excusing timing errors in calculating longitude, that puts the reported position within about ~20 miles or so of the island.
Actually, that long/lat position is more like ~106 miles east of Gardner.
LTM,

Bruce
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Walter Runck

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2011, 08:21:44 PM »

If your assessment is correct, why didnt he find Howland?

Dunno.  Or, speaking more epistomologically, this is a known unknown.  From the Waitt video of Howland, finding it navigationally is not the same as finding it visually.  The speculation I am least uncomfortable with is that they were pretty close and just didn't establish visual contact with Itasca/Howland, looked around as long as they dared and then went to Plan B.  What a difference two-way comms (just voice, not even RDF) could have made at this point.  A couple of minutes worth of smoke, searchlights, some gunfire, a heliograph/signalling mirror, listening post on Howland, burning tar barrels, steam at high speed and make wake circles around the island, who knows?

To me, one of the weirdest aspects of the whole business is the lack of recorded transmissions during what we believe was their transit to Gardner.  Who makes plans to meet someone, talks at them all the way in, can't find them, gives up and leaves without telling them they're going?  Especially if they're gonna hit you up for a ride home?

Also, my theory lives and dies with their ability to take a sight on something off to the side of the aircraft (Southern stars would work as well as the ones I picked, I just have a cultural bias towards the stuff I'm familiar with).  If they couldn't get a sight overnight, then all they would have had is the advanced sunrise LOP and whatever sun or moon sights FN could have made between dawn and their ETA at the Howland LOP.  Which would bring us right back to your thoughts about the assumed starting position for the run to Gardner.

I owe the donut hole theory another reading and consideration.  Maybe the airborne version of latitude sailing I described is somehow complementary to it.

Also, Erik brings up something I read and forgot about:

Quote
From the article it reads.....
The Southeast Missourian - Jul 8, 1937
  Ray Havens, Conrad creamery worker, phoned the Great Falls Tribune that at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, he heard a man's voice giving a position and saying "all's well."
   A few minutes later, he said, he picked up a second message, which he gave as follows: "Position 173 west longitude and 5 south latitude."


What's the provenance of this report?  I remember reading it, but don't remember the verdict.  If legit, it would seem like FN was on the job at least until they stopped moving.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #13 on: March 11, 2011, 09:32:32 PM »

To me, one of the weirdest aspects of the whole business is the lack of recorded transmissions during what we believe was their transit to Gardner. 

See the last section of "Radio Propagation" for a suggestion that AE had chronic problems with 6210 kcs, the frequency to which she said she was changing in her penultimate message.
LTM,

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: What was the fate of Fred Noonan, site of camp?
« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2011, 08:11:27 AM »

If they couldn't get a sight overnight, then all they would have had is the advanced sunrise LOP and whatever sun or moon sights FN could have made between dawn and their ETA at the Howland LOP.  Which would bring us right back to your thoughts about the assumed starting position for the run to Gardner.

We know from the notes taken by Associated Press reporter James Carey, who was present in the Itasca radio room, that in her first radio transmission heard by Itasca at 02:45-48 on the morning of 2 July, he understood Earhart to say "sky overcast."  We of course don't know how long the sky had been overcast or how much longer it remained so.  At 04:53 the Itasca radio log has her saying "PRT CLDY" (presumably "partly cloudy") but was it partly cloudy above or below her altitude and were the clouds broken or scattered?  The imprecision of AE's reports provides fertile ground for interpretation and speculation.  What is certain is that Noonan was not able to find Howland by celestial/DR navigation and, as you have pointed out, with good access to the night sky it seems like he should have been able to pull it off.  We'll never know exactly what happened, but the scenario that fits what we do know has Noonan unable to keep the flight on course during the night due the inability to take celestial observations. Stronger than anticipated crosswinds push the plane southward so that it hits the advanced LOP well south of Baker. They explore northwestward for perhaps a half hour but then must reverse course and proceed southeastward on the line to have the best chance of finding land before their fuel runs out.


The Southeast Missourian - Jul 8, 1937
  Ray Havens, Conrad creamery worker, phoned the Great Falls Tribune that at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, he heard a man's voice giving a position and saying "all's well."
   A few minutes later, he said, he picked up a second message, which he gave as follows: "Position 173 west longitude and 5 south latitude."

What's the provenance of this report?  I remember reading it, but don't remember the verdict.  If legit, it would seem like FN was on the job at least until they stopped moving.

Here's entry for this report from the still-being-finalized catalog of post-loss radio signals.


Signal #   173
Z Time/Date   0540 July 8
Local Time/Date   2240 MST July 7
Niku Time/Date   1840 July 8
Agency/Person   Ray Havens
Location   Conrad, Montana
Freq (kHz)   3105
Content   Havens claimed that he heard a radio message from Earhart’s plane at 2240 MST.  He said he heard a man’s voice give a position and say “All’s well”.  Havens said that a few minutes later he heard another message “Position 173 west longitude and 5 south latitude.  Okay, but help needed.  KHAQQ”, and called the Great Falls, MT, Tribune so that, he said, someone could be notified who could quickly tune to 3105 kHz.  Luke Wright, of the paper’s editorial staff, was called at home.  He tuned his receiver to 3105 kHz and said they he heard a voice, presumably a man’s, but could not distinguish the words. 
Source   Billings, MT, Gazette, July 8, 1937; Helena, MT, Independent, July 9, 1937.
Niku water level   -0.1m
Probability   Less than 1 chance in a quadrillion.
Qual Factors   The Niku tide level permitted engine operation.  The reported time was two minutes after Niku sunset at ground level, but the western part of the propagation path was still sunlit at ionospheric altitude; consequently, signal absorption loss virtually precluded reception at Conrad.  No station in the central Pacific heard these signals; nor did the COMFRANDIV special monitoring station at San Francisco.  If a signal from Niku could be heard in Conrad, it also would be heard by at least one of the 6 FCC airport stations in Montana, all required to listen continuously on 3105 kHz.  The position Havens reported was near Niku, in the Phoenix Islands, but the theory that Earhart was in that area had been in the press for days, and Havens could have picked the coordinates off a map.  The man’s voice that Wright heard was most likely from an aircraft talking to one of the FCC airport stations in Montana.   
Credibility      Not Credible


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