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 the plan
Niku VI logo

2010: Niku VI

Ric on phone

Reports are in reverse date order so that those who check every day don't have to scroll down endlessly as the expedition progresses.
Tuesday, June 15 – Arrive LAX; team disperses to homes.
Monday, June 14 – pack and ship everything via FedEx; leave that evening for the States.
Sunday, June 13 – arrive at Apia, Samoa
Saturday, June 12 – at sea
Friday, June 11 – at sea
Thursday, June 10
Wednesday, June 9
Tuesday, June 8
Monday, June 7
Sunday, June 6
If you are new to this page, just click on the earliest date to the left (down at the bottom of the list) and then scroll up to read each posting in order. For previous weeks, click on the “Week” links above.


Last day at the island. At 4 p.m. the lagoon boat will go back out the main passage and the island will be left in peace once more.

The GPR work turned out to be quite interesting. They dug three of the places that Taylor felt were strong metal hits and found nothing at all. Nothing as in, no explanation of why there would be a strong return, no metal, no water, no tree roots, nothing. For whatever reason, this technology in this form doesn’t seem to return good results in this environment. In a way it was a relief: the “hits” were so much deeper than anything they’ve found, it raised the specter of an entire sub-layer to the site that would need to be excavated.

The ROV team got in some good work yesterday in the morning before the current set too strong to hold the unit. They didn’t find anything and were able to get almost all the way to the Norwich City. At least we’ve defined the problem with the underwater search: the reef slope is mapped, and the area where debris would end up, while deep, is not out of reach of currently available technology. We will need a larger unit, much more cable, probably a boat designed for the purpose of underwater search, but it’s perfectly do-able with sufficient funding.

We’ve never had such a successful expedition. We have confirmed earlier results, extended our understanding of the site and the reef, found much new material, and have enough work coming home in plastic zip-close bags to keep us and the labs busy for months. Research requests will flow out, information will flow in, and we’ll know what to do next soon.

Every person involved in the Earhart Project eventually has what we call an “Amelia Moment” – a point at which it all becomes real, no longer just an interesting theory, but a human story of courage, suffering, death, and discovery. For some, it comes in an archive; for others, from a book. For many it comes on the island. Standing on the reef with the sun like a hammer, feeling what it might be like to watch your plane go over the edge … Sitting on the ground at the Seven Site, watching the crabs come closer, imagining not being able to move … Walking through the buka forest, hearing an airplane go over, knowing – knowing – you could not possible make it to the beach in time to signal an observer …

We may be 72 years and 11 months too late, but we owe it to her to find the truth.

Home stretch. Today is the last full day of work.

Finds yesterday:

  • A small red bead, looks like ceramic, with a hole through the middle. The bead is perhaps 3 or 4 mm in diameter. Decoration on a makeup something-or-other?
  • Pieces of a small, fairly delicate bottle, on which Megan thought she could discern a letter N in an ornate Art Deco style.
  • A small metallic object, fairly robust, obviously a piece of something somewhat larger, reminds people of the part of a key you hold while you busily wring off the machined part in the lock.

radarTwo days ago Taylor (Radar) Keen surveyed the Seven Site with the GPR. Since then he’s been crunching data, filtering out the noise from tree roots and so on. This morning he laid out a number of hits that are apparently metal, somewhat deeper than they’ve been digging – maybe 30 to 50 cm (12 to 20 inches) below the surface. Today they will investigate those hits and see... well, see. (The unit looks something like the one at right.)

The KAP team flew the entire site and on down all the way to the Coast Guard installation and got great imagery. Today the team will strike all the tarps and covers and sunshades so that the site can be photographed again for accurate placement of artifacts.

The ROV team did much more searching, and will continue to work the deeper areas. They couldn’t find the wire again, but as it would not be diagnostic they are not going to use up any more precious time looking for it. The morphology of the reef indicates that the slope becomes gradual at about 350 meters, which is, of course, just beyond the range of the technology they have with them which goes only to 1,000 feet or just over 300 meters. However, there are smaller shelves, and places where things could easily be hung up, so they will work down towards the Norwich City today.

The degree of recording of data on this trip is several orders of magnitude beyond all previous trips. They are able to keep much closer track of what came from where, and will be able to plot the locations quite exactly. And they’ve found so much stuff! Far, far more than we anticipated. This is a huge and complex body of information and we are looking forward to getting our teeth into it.

NessieThe weather gods did not smile on the ROV team yesterday. Currents and waves were both too strong for the boat to work in close enough to the reef to get good results; so instead of trashing the cable and possibly the ROV, they decided to fight another day.

Ric, Art, Janis, Graham, and Curtis walked around the Nuziran beach to look at the “Nessie” area again. For those of you with grid maps, this is at WB-6. Art and Ric went out to the exact spot with the GPS to look in the groove again. It’s pretty hairy doing that with the waves breaking all around you on the slippery reef, but everything worked out fine.

buttonThe afternoon was spent at the Seven Site continuing the excavations, where the team found two buttons. A button was also found in 1996 (see left). These new ones are both, Ric thinks, slightly smaller than that one, and one of them is smaller than the other. They are ordinary four-hole buttons, with a dimple on the back from the injection mold, more domed on the back and flatter on the face than the first button found. They were both in the SL feature.

Now, anyone can lose a button off a shirt or pair of shorts. One button. But three? Of different sizes? This begins to smell very seriously like an entire garment, with the cloth long since reduced to dust. Was the garment laid aside? On a body? Thrown away? Dragged away by a crab?

A major activity at the Seven Site today and tomorrow will be KAP, especially tomorrow. They’ll pull all the canopies, outline all the units with bright surveyor’s tape, and shoot the entire site. Friday will be break-down day, then head for home with nightfall.

A long and dirty (in the most literal sense of the word) day, but ultimately very successful.

With VvS1 on station, there are too many people to get everyone to the Seven Site in one boat load, especially when there is a lot of gear to be transported. Yesterday all the Ground Penetrating Radar equipment had to go from VvS1 to the site, which was accomplished. Taylor (now known as Radar) Keen assembled everything, set it up, calibrated the system, and tested it successfully, so today will be the first full day of actual survey work with the unit. The biggest concern he has is that the ground is full of fresh-cut roots from the scaevola, which will interfere somewhat with the signal, but he was able to discriminate between that background and test artifacts. The other problem was that the day was somewhat rainy, so the equipment had to be covered up periodically. But that’s working on Niku.

The second load was about halfway down the lagoon in the boat when the engine quit, leaving them two miles from everything with one paddle. As it turned out, the exhaust hole for the cooling water was blocked; once the engine cooled enough to restart, they were able to meet a Nai’a engineer at Club Fred and get it unplugged. But as Ric says, when you’re dead in the water on Niku you are really dead in the water.

Units thumbnailAt the Seven Site, they found more rouge, more glass, and – very surprisingly – a small piece of one of the exterior bone handles of the knife. The little map to the right shows where some of the units from 2007 are; GL is where the compact glass was found, WR is where the bottle glass was found, and SL is where the rouge was found. Click on the thumbnail to open a larger version in a new window. The trees are numbered merely for our convenience.

While this work was going on, Ric, Art, Dan, Janis, and Graham were in the buka forest finding more shells – enough to support a fire fight. Abandoning metal detecting for now, they decided to look for crab burrows to see if the large coconut crabs carry off bones to their lairs. One large crab has been visiting them at lunch time, and they found his burrow. Ric looked inside, and the crab lunged at him. Ric managed to grab him by the front legs and Graham dove into the open trunk of the buka tree to rake out the burrow. They didn’t find any bones, and have since decided that perhaps another approach would be safer. Art spent most of the day lying on his stomach in the forest fishing down burrows and hoping nothing was going to grab him. Days like that make you really grateful for that fresh water shower and laundry service aboard.

One thing they did notice: the rain showers that passed, sometimes with heavy downpours, left the bowl-shaped hollows in the buka trees filled with fresh water. Even the large leaves had a few ounces in them. The forest would be an excellent source of water for a castaway.

Aboard VvS1, the ROV found the first underwater man-made objects seen on this trip. On the ledge right off the “Nessie” location at about 265 meters they spotted a length of rope or line, and a semi-circular piece of wire. The wire is two to three millimeters in diameter, and light enough that the ROV’s thrusters made it stir. But this is very exciting: the reef slope and ledge are not littered with debris and to find something right off the location where we have a photograph of something is huge. They are planning to retrieve the wire today.

There are three days of work left, then a break-down day.

The first day with the group from VvS1 went very well. Ric took them walkabout in the village, then down to the Seven Site for a tour with Tom King and finally an introduction to the buka forest. After that, they went to work, with Dan on a metal detector and everyone else digging hits in the blazing sun. They found another batch of .22 and M-1 carbine shells, which helps a lot in rounding out our understanding of how the site was used by the Coast Guard, and also possibly by Gallagher.

This is what happens if you have food on Nikumaroro.

VvS1 is happy to serve as a platform for the ROV. All the gear was transferred, and with the long cable they went right to work north of the Norwich City. The first major discovery is that there is a big, wide shelf at around 900 feet. It has coral boulders on it, so it could easily have airplane wreckage on it. They’ll be working that level very intensively with high definition video over the next few days.

There was a small accident involving the ROV equipment – a transducer went through the propeller. They have another one, but it’s always a bit embarrassing to break equipment.

At the Seven Site, yet another piece of rouge was found and more glass came out of the SL unit. The work is so interesting, although slow of course, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful people who are working so hard.

The crew of Nai’a cooked dinner ashore for the Nai’a folks. It was a traditional Fijian firepit dinner and was quite wonderful. The food was brought back aboard to eat, because otherwise you just end up covered in crabs. A great treat!

After dinner, a skiff went to VvS1 and brought those folks over for the team meeting. We’re glad this works, there was some concern over transferring from skiffs to boats in the dark, but both boats are equipped with excellent lights and all went well.

Week 3
Overview Plan
Under Water Dailies Results

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