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Author Topic: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?  (Read 31238 times)

Jeff Victor Hayden

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Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« on: July 12, 2012, 08:29:22 AM »

I have recently been investigating why Itasca decided to search NW of Howland Island. Obviously there must have been a reason or, a number of reasons based upon the known facts at the time, to go charging off in a certain direction ASAP. I must be missing something because all I have found so far is that 'the North West was the area with least visibility' I.e. The most cloudy.
Where am I going wrong, there must be a more logical reason.
I don't know if it has been discussed before, if not it might be worth a new thread.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2012, 09:24:08 AM »

... all I have found so far is that 'the North West was the area with least visibility' I.e. The most cloudy.

Where am I going wrong? There must be a more logical reason.

The place to begin is with "The 1937 Search: The First 24 Hours." 

I would like to quibble about whether "there must be a more logical reason."  I don't think there is an axiom (self-evident or derived from self-evident axioms) from which you can reach this conclusion.   ;)
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2012, 09:42:37 AM »

I have read that Marty thanks. I just find it hard to believe that the search North West of Howland by Itasca in the first 24 hours was instigated because it was deemed to be the place with 'visibility issues'?
I was looking for more substantial reasons I.e. Radio transmission indications, direction finding indications, reported position indications, range of transmission indications.
Something more substantial that indicated where to head towards other than the visibility issue that Itasca quoted.
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2012, 10:00:08 AM »

Most intriguing is that Thompson never stated to anyone outside of the Itasca crew as to why he chose the NW until July 16, when the US Navy search leader asked Itasca about probable drift patterns and where plane was most likely to have come down. The reason was that visibility was clear in all directions, except to the north and west at approximately 50 nm range, near the limits of Itasca’s observations.

Seems a bit thin, the reason to search NW of Howland in the first 24 hours?
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2012, 10:39:16 AM »

5. Commander Warner K. Thompson of the Itasca radioed at the time that CONDITIONS END OF FLIGHT CLEAR BLUE SKY SOUTH AND EAST OF HOWLAND HEAVY CLOUD BANKS APPROXIMATELY 50 MILES NORTH AND WEST OF HOWLAND PERIOD ITASCA LAID HEAVY SMOKE SCREEN FOR TWO HOURS WHICH HAD NOT DISINTEGRATED AND CLEARLY VISIBLE FROM SOUTH AND EAST FOR 40 OR MORE MILES AT ALTITUDE 1000 FT PERIOD DOUBTFUL IF VISIBLE FROM OVER 20 MILES FROM NORTH AND WEST . . . CLOUDY WEATHER AND EVIDENTLY FLYING IN CLOUDS UNTIL LAST FEW MINUTES OF FLIGHT . . . COULD NOT HAVE FAILED TO SEE SMOKE SCREEN IF SHE PASSED SOUTH PERIOD.

Again, the search to the North West of Howland was based upon assumptions that the TIGHAR forum members have questioned recently.
The smokescreen visibility?
The timing of making smoke?
How close they actually were to Howland?
How the cloud cover might have been a factor in not locating Howland
How a search pattern, even a small one, would have brought them into the visibility ranges stated above, even if they were to the North West


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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2012, 11:01:17 AM »

This situation reminds me of the famous chandelier episode from 'only fools and horses'. A simple task of removing a chandelier for cleaning is scuppered due to lack of communication and assumptions.
Take a look...
  http://youtu.be/Nkx-UNhkedc 
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JNev

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2012, 11:09:54 AM »

By what I can understand of it all, the visibility rationale may have been the most quantifiable reason Thompson could record.  After reading the account I am left with a sense that NW was the strongest instinct to the commander of the Itasca.  Sitting at Howland after the airplane was believed out of fuel probably was not a defendable option - something had to be done.  Maybe that's the seaman's first urge - do something to save a soul lost at sea, the best that you can. 

A best-direction had to be chosen since there could only be one direction.  The flight could have terminated in any direction - but given what he heard from AE's observations, her failure to see Itasca or Howland, and by Itasca's own observations from the Howland area, the direction of poorest visibility was perhaps something to hang his hat on, IMHO.

I can see why one might feel that is weak - but as Marty noted, what other factors were there that could be seen as stronger?  There were not many distinctly good choices, at least as I see it.

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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2012, 11:18:36 AM »

That's a good summary of the position the Itasca found themselves in Jeff. Now add the search pattern calculations we have been looking at recently to the Itasca visibility ranges for seeing their smoke in the weather conditions at the time in different directions and it comes apart.
IMHO of course
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2012, 11:35:08 AM »

I just find it hard to believe that the search North West of Howland by Itasca in the first 24 hours was instigated because it was deemed to be the place with 'visibility issues'?

OK.  But now we enter the world of speculation, cut loose from the ties of contemporary documentation.  Maybe we can divine something in the Captain's mind that he didn't mention; maybe not.

Taking your list first:
Additional reasoning: AE said she was "low on fuel" ("30 minute" message disputed).  If she was within 100 miles and was running out of gas, she would have to be in a relatively searchable area, wouldn't she?
I don't think Thompson made a bad decision, given the information he had available that morning.  He wanted to get out of the "visibility zone" of the Itasca and start searching for the downed and possibly drowning aviators.  Since they were coming from the west, the western side of that zone made sense.  He couldn't search everywhere, so he had to choose somewhere. 

What other thought should have kept him from heading NW? 

What other data came in later that morning that should have kept him on station?

[Oooooooh.  Suppose AE and FN stayed in the air, doing a LaPook search from the south while the Itasca headed northwest.  The absence of the ship and the smoke (however useful it might have been) would reduce the visibility of Howland.  It wouldn't be hard to get the endpoint of the LaPook search within five miles of Howland.  Gack!  ??? ]
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Anthony Allen Roach

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2012, 11:38:34 AM »

When I was composing my last post yesterday in the category for "Black Smoke,"  I got the sense that Commander Thompson was really in the dark about the capabilities of the Electra.  It seemed that he thought the Electra could travel much faster than it could, and there was obviously confusion over the communications and direction finding plan.  I don't blame Commander Thompson.  (Some internet commentators have called him negligent.)  In reviewing the primary source authority in "Finding Amelia" and on this site, I got the sense that Commander Thompson was dispatched at the last minute and not given very good information.  It seems that he based his search plan on the information that he had in his possession at the time.
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2012, 11:49:43 AM »

Itasca played the percentages based upon the best information they had, Exactly! So wouldn't we do the same? don't waste any more fuel and head toward the bigger percentages.
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« Last Edit: July 12, 2012, 11:53:26 AM by Jeff Victor Hayden »
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2012, 01:10:23 PM »

Gary was kind enough to work out a typical search pattern that they might have considered...

At 1912 Z they have a four hour reserve of fuel and they know that they must have missed Howland. Noonan passes a note to Earhart.

"Turn left now to 067 degrees and maintain that heading until 1932 Z.
Then turn left to 337 degrees and maintain that heading until 1952 Z.
Then turn left to 247 degrees and maintain that heading until 2032 Z.
Then turn left to 157 degrees and maintain that heading until 2112 Z.
Then turn left to 067 degrees and maintain that heading until 2212 Z.
Then turn left to 337 degrees and maintain that heading until 2312 Z."

The first two legs take 20 minutes and cover 40 NM, twice the visibility. The next two legs take 40 minutes and cover 80 NM, four times visibility, the next two legs take 60 minutes and cover 120 NM, six times visibility. At the end of the four hours of fuel they have searched a box 160 NM on a side covering 25,600 square nautical miles, basically 80 NM in each direction from the starting position.


Now, just as a scenario let's place them 200 miles NW of Howland with this search pattern up and running. We now have Itasca heading NW towards them thus improving the chances of the search pattern. Also with the additional bonus of a ships wake as well as the ship to be seen. And of course they would be heading into the area where the ditching would have taken place, if it was actually that area.
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« Last Edit: July 12, 2012, 01:16:21 PM by Jeff Victor Hayden »
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2012, 01:57:26 PM »

I have read that Marty thanks. I just find it hard to believe that the search North West of Howland by Itasca in the first 24 hours was instigated because it was deemed to be the place with 'visibility issues'?
I was looking for more substantial reasons I.e. Radio transmission indications, direction finding indications, reported position indications, range of transmission indications.
Something more substantial that indicated where to head towards other than the visibility issue that Itasca quoted.
Well, in which direction would you have searched based only on the information that Thompson had available at the time?

There was a famous correspondence between Liebniz and Issac Newton about the character of space. Liebniz's argument was that if space was everywhere uniform, as Newton believed, then God, who is perfect, would not be able to decide in what part of that space to create the universe.

But in real life people have to make real decisions, and people are not perfect. If you are in the exact center of a room with doors on each side of the room that are all exactly the same distance from you and the room is on fire, according to Liebniz you would die there because you couldn't make a logical decision about which door to use to escape the fire. But real, imperfect, people will choose one of those doors and get away from the fire.

Thompson had Earhart's report that they were on the 157°-337° LOP which, by standard navigational methods, is centered on the destination, Howland island. With just this piece of information Thompson had the choice of either 157° or 337° to search, any other direction is a less likely place for the plane to be. If the plane was on the 157° line SSE of Howland then the plane would have been flying in clear skys where Noonan could be taking observations of the sun and moon (Thompson could see ol' mister moon shinning up there in the sky) and doing accurate navigation and so should have had no trouble finding Howland. Looking NNW up the 337° branch of the LOP, Thompson saw clouds that could be preventing Noonan doing accurate navigation so, logically, they were more likely to be in that direction to the NNW of Howland.

So, back to my question to you, "Well, in which direction would you have searched based only on the information that Thompson had available at the time?" and why?

gl 
« Last Edit: July 12, 2012, 02:00:48 PM by Gary LaPook »
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JNev

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2012, 03:02:26 PM »

...Thompson had Earhart's report that they were on the 157°-337° LOP which, by standard navigational methods, is centered on the destination, Howland island. With just this piece of information Thompson had the choice of either 157° or 337° to search, any other direction is a less likely place for the plane to be. If the plane was on the 157° line SSE of Howland then the plane would have been flying in clear skys where Noonan could be taking observations ...Looking NNW up the 337° branch of the LOP, Thompson saw clouds that could be preventing Noonan doing accurate navigation so, logically, they were more likely to be in that direction to the NNW of Howland.

Gary, I'm not positive but that may be the first time you have ever stated NR16020's proximity to the 157°-337° LOP as a reasonable probability, with regard to near the end of the flight anyway...  ;)

Quote
So, back to my question to you, "Well, in which direction would you have searched based only on the information that Thompson had available at the time?" and why?

gl

I would agree that 'NW' makes sense.

I am left wondering, however - why would Thompson have not had a greater sense of the possibility of NR16020 complicating that picture by believing she was engaged in a box search, as you have believed probable?  It seems, as discussed here, there was no information present at the time suggesting that possibility.

Would that be simply because Thompson just wasn't familiar with the techniques Noonan would have likely used?

LTM -
- Jeff Neville

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John Hart

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Re: Why did the Itasca search to the Northwest of Howland?
« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2012, 03:18:54 PM »

I'm with Gary on this one. I might add, before someone brings it up, that because Itasca went NNW and AE and FN did not see it does not mean they were not NW of Howland. Tiny ship on a big ocean with WX. It was interesting to read the report from Colorado skipper. Paints a clearer picture of WX and vis. CU N and W out at 50 NM and smoke vis 40 NM from S and E. less from N and W as I mentioned under smoke thread. Makes me believe more that they gave up well short of Howland and were W and or NW.  I still believe they search to a decision fuel then pressed SE probably on about a 140 heading aiming at middle of PIs to account for location uncertainty. From anywhere within 60NM of Howland that would take them to PIs. How long they would have searched depends on fuel state when they started. I doubt they did a full rectangle. If W and NW throughout that evolution they would have been affected by WX the whole time and chances of finding tiny Howland and Baker slim.

My opinion, stated enough so agree or disagree as you wish.

I wish I had more time to browse. That excerpt from Colorado is very useful to understand conditions better. Unfortunately back at the grindstone and no time for fun.

The world still wonders with baited breath.

JB
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