Thomas A Willi, CDR USN (Ret.)
"The first clue we had [for the Niku hypothesis] was the navigational logic of a landfall at Gardner. That was first explained to us by TIGHAR members Tom Gannon and Tom Willi in 1988. As we dug into the historical record we discovered that, contrary to popular impression (and ours at the time), the likelihood of the Earhart having landed at one of the islands of the Phoenix Group was well recognized in 1937. The very same navigational logic and the significance of the 157/337 line, as laid out for us by Gannon and Willi in 1988, is written out in the report of Capt. Wilhelm Friedell of the U.S.S. Colorado in 1937. We’re not investigating a new Earhart theory. We’re re-investigating the oldest Earhart theory."
"Harlan MacDonald (aka Don) Wade was, in fact, directly connected to TIGHAR's initial involvement in the search for Earhart - although we only learned about the connection years later. As I understand it, the declassified documents he referred to were the the reports of Pan Am DF bearings on post-loss radio signals. Wade deduced that the signals had originated from the Phoenix Group, although I seem to recall that he focused on Hull (Orona) rather than Gardner. After one of his fund-raising talks, a former Navy aerial navigator named Tom Willi offered to lend his expertise to Wade's effort. Willi soon realized, and began talking about, the navigational connection between the 157/337 line and the Phoenix Group. Before long he was getting more press than Wade and the two had a falling out. Willi recruited a friend, Tom Gannon, who had been an Air Force navigator and together they worked up a navigational analysis of the Earhart flight which showed McKean and Gardner to be the most likely places for the airplane to have ended up. Willi applied for a grant from Rolex to fund an expedition, but they turned him down. Gannon had recently joined a nonprofit aviation archaeological group called TIGHAR and in the spring of 1988 he wrote to us saying that he and his friend wanted to come and tell us about their Amelia Earhart theory. We sort of rolled our eyes and agreed to meet with Willi and Gannon more as a member-relations thing than any serious interest in Earhart.
"We were surprised at the logic of their argument about the navigation. They never mentioned Wade or the post-loss signals, but they did insist that we sign a confidentiality agreement and agree that we would bring them along on any expedition that we conducted. Our follow-up research showed that Willi and Gannon had many misconceptions about the Phoenix Islands, but their navigational logic continued to look valid. We learned about the post-loss radio signals on our own, and that seemed to provide further validation of the theory. We decided to mount an expedition but it became apparent that the island environment was far too harsh for either of these retired gentlemen, so they agreed to help man a radio base station in Fiji while we sailed off to check out McKean and Gardner.
"Only much later did we learn about Wade's role in getting Tom Willi interested in the Earhart affair."