Forum artHighlights From the Forum

December 22 through 29, 1998

Subject: Army Records
Date: 12/22/98
From: Jack J

At our age trusting the memory is a dangerous thing. Before I go on I want to post the following disclaimer; “I am not now nor have I ever been a conspiracy proponent.”

In Randall Brink’s book Lost Star The Search for Amelia Earhart there is a picture following page 160 wherein AE is shown opposite an Army officer and both AE and the officer have their right hand raised in what appears to be a swearing in ceremony the photo is credited with having been discovered at Hickham Field, Hawaii. In the photo is also Major General Oscar Westover, one of the commanding officers of the USAAF in 1937. I don’t know what this means, or what relevance it has, but it is curious.

Does anybody out there have an explanation for this photo. It may have been a “photo op” for the USAAF. This was a time in military aviation when most of the funding went to the NAVY, and the Army still had cavalry with real horses.

Secondly, in looking over the various photos of NR16020, AND NX16020, some of the photos look as though the leading edge is darker than the orange FS 12197. However, in other photos the wings appear to have only one color trim, that is FS 12197. We do know the aircraft went through some changes before it's "final" flight configuration. Again I beseech TIGHAR (that would be you Ric) to produce a special edition of TIGHAR Tracks dedicated to the details of NR16020, in your spare time (someday maybe). Relax Ric, I know you are busy. Beside I waited 10 years for the correct FS color, I can wait 10 more for a few other details.

I will forward a copy of the article that appeared in the local paper re the “bones.” The local TV station carried the story, but referred to TIGHAR as "an organization interested in determining what happened to AE." Don't you just love "The Third Estate"?

Lastly, I continue to be in absolute awe of the spectrum of knowledge shared by these forum members. The learning factor they provide far outweighs the pucker factor brought on by TIGHAR’s detractors.

Jack J.

PS I rechecked my Atlas and Viagra is indeed that honeymoon/tourist trap in the Northeast part of New York State. In the 1930s people went there to gamble on whether their honeymoon would result in progeny, now people go there to gamble in the casinos! (Sorry, I could not resist!)

From Ric

I love it when people ask me questions I can actually answer.

The photo of AE being “sworn in” was the subject of a newspaper article in the San Jose Mercury News on July 5, 1995 following the publications of Brink’s incredibly bad book. It seems that one Bill Palmer of Novato, CA has a photo almost identical to the one in the book (apparently taken at the same event) which shows his father, Captain Burdette Palmer, U.S. Army Air Corps, pinning wings on AE at Crissy Field at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1928. AE had just made headlines for her first transatlantic flight (as a passenger) and was receiving honors from many quarters. At that time it was not at all uncommon for military units to make celebrities honorary members and, indeed, the roster of the 381st Service Squadron (of which Palmer was the commanding officer) lists Amelia Earhart as an “honorary major.”

As for the leading edges of the wings of c/n 1055 – as far as I can see from the many photos taken of the airplane fromthe time of its delivery in July 1936 until its disappearance in July of 1937, the wings were unpainted until January or February of '37 when the orange (edged in black lines) was applied. Some later Lockheed 10s were fitted with de-icer boots, but not this one. The leading edges of the horizontal stabilizer and vertical fins, however, featured what appear to be black rubber anti-abrasion boots. Back in 1995 we ran a two-part piece in TIGHAR Tracks which traced the evolution of the Earhart Electra. We should probably put it up on the website.

Regarding the Third Estate – thank you for an excuse to look this up (actually Pat looked it up). Just prior to the French Revolution, the realm was said to be comprised of four “estates”:

  • The First Estate was the clergy
  • The Second Estate was the nobility
  • The Third Estate was the popular majority – the people.
  • The Fourth Estate was the press.

Love to mother, Ric

Subject: ROV deployment of Earhart search
Date: 12/22/98
From: Dave Bush

It might be pointed out that the exact coordinates of both the Titanic and Bismarck were well known, the only area to be searched was the distance from that point on the surface to the furthest point that the wreckage would have “glided” on its descent to the bottom.

The problem with the Electra, if it went down at sea is WHERE? If the Navy and Coast Guard had the info they could have steamed to that site immediately and not had to search 100s of 1000s of miles of ocean for the plane. THAT is a vast difference and IF AE/FN went down SOMEWHERE in the ocean, it would take about a 1000 ROVs a few 100 years to search the area thoroughly. And IF AE/FN DIDN’T make it to Niku, there is ZERO chance of ever finding the final resting place of the Electra.

I am not shouting, just EMPHASIZING. But really, if you put the numbers on paper, it is a sure bet that the likelihood of finding one lone plane whose final contact with the surface world isn’t known within a 1000 miles, is astronomical.

LTM, Dave Bush #2200

Subject: Historic Preservation
Date: 12/22/98
From: Dave Bush

>This gets to the heart of some very basic historic preservation issues. I'd be very interested to hear some
>opinions on this from some of our trained preservationists on the forum.

I am not a trained preservationist, but would like to offer my “opinion”, if I may.

Actually I am torn between two choices, and hope some of the preservationists can offer a better alternative. On the one hand, I would like to see a “Museum” dedicated to TIGHAR and its mission of locating historic aircraft. In that museum, it would be nice to have on display a working model Electra 10-E that could be flown around the world on tours with artifacts and/or displays describing the scientific methods employed and the results (ie the catspaw heel, the sextant box – if recovered – etc.).

On the other hand, two people perished and it seems almost irreverent to display any of the items – sort of like grave robbing. But we have been putting such things on display for years – mummies, tomb articles, etc. What is the “correct” thing to do? That varies with every person. The furor surrounding artifacts taken from different countries is tremendous. Yet, we surrounded by artifacts from dead people and dead cultures.

Airplanes exist because of the efforts of the Wright brothers, and thus are modern “artifacts,” yet we don’t have a problem with them. So many things that we take for granted are so. Great paintings abound in both private and public collections – most are the legacy of people long dead. What about the great music of Bach, Beethoven, et al? We are listening to the innermost being of these great composers. Poems, original manuscripts, letters, etc. Do we have a “right” of access to these? Would our knowledge and understanding be diminished if we didn’t have access to them? What if we didn't have access to the writings of the great philosophers – Plato, Socrates, Charlie Brown?

You have said many times that if we don’t know the past we are doomed to be children all of our lives. These artifacts are part of the past and provide us with a link to those people and times and show us insights to their actions and thus insights to guide our future actions. Should we go through the wreckage of airplanes? YES! For only then can we determine ways to prevent such tragedies in the future. But, when does it become voyeurism and when is it a monument to the human spirit of adventure and sacrifice?

Yes, I think the items should be displayed in a manner that builds up the human spirit and edifies the sacrifice that Amelia and Fred made in trying to expand the boundaries of our world. Some of what they did may have been for selfish purposes, as is most of human endeavor. But also, much of their efforts were for selfless purposes and the human spirit of adventure and learning. Why else would the TIGHAR members spend so much time and money and energy to go to a small island that is probably the arm pit of the south Pacific, if not the world. Not much glory, unless you find Earhart, and then not much chance of any great monetary reward. Why go at all? To expand our boundaries of knowledge and to connect to the past while showing future generations the connections to a different era. And more than I can express through mere words.

Love to Mother,
Dave Bush #2200

From Ric

I think you hit the nail on the head when you speak of the feeling of connection with the past. That is the almost magical function of historic properties. That, I think, is why people want to bring up chunks of the Titanic. It somehow makes them feel closer to the tragic events of that long ago night. It’s an emotional thing.

Certainly, no one would argue that we should not exhibit, study and enjoy the works of great artists and thinkers. Preservation questions arise there when we consider whether to “restore” something like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

As for airplane wreckage – it is hard to argue that studying the wreckage of a 60-some year old accident could contribute anything to modern air safety. Like the Titanic stuff, it is primarily a catalyst for an emotional connection with the past. Whether or not to disturb a wreck is usually decided by economic rather than ethical factors.

Subject: ROV deployment of Earhart search
Date: 12/22/98
From: Russ Matthews

>Consequently, we’re not much inclined to consider ROVs to search where we think the airplane probably ain’t.

Of course, Mike (Ruiz) and the NLC* contingent might argue that there is a need to search the deep water immediately surrounding Niku. In any case, deploying ROVs to find the Electra would still be a very tricky (and expensive) proposition at best.

For comparison, just imagine that someone MAY have dropped a mobile home somewhere in Yosemite National Park. You have to search for it by flying at 15,000 feet above a solid cloud deck towing a TV camera at the end of a long line...and, by the way, it’s NIGHT.

Dr. Ballard’s job was made easier (read “possible”) because in his case it was more like looking for the Empire State Building that someone had first smashed into a million pieces and then dropped from two miles up.

If Elgen Long (or anyone else) wants to try using the technology that found the Titanic and Bismarck to locate Earhart’s Electra, I wish him luck – but, I sure ain’t gonna pay for it.

LTM, Russ

P.S. This past summer, Dr. Ballard spent a month or more criss-crossing the site of the Battle of Midway. His expedition team found the wreckage of the carrier U.S.S. Yorktown...but NOT the destroyer that sank right along side it, nor any of the four Japanese carriers, nor any of the scores of aircraft also lost in the area.

“Stuff is hard to find.”

–old TIGHAR saying

From Ric

And as Dr. Ballard has repeatedly demonstrated, it’s hard to find stuff that isn’t even lost in the first place.

Subject: ROV Deployment of Earhart search
Date: 12/23/98
From: Mike Cundiff

>It might be pointed out that the exact coordinates of both the Titanic and Bismarck were well known,
>the only area to be searched was the distance from that point on the surface to the furthest point that
>the wreckage would have “glided” on its descent to the bottom.

Not neccessarily so, in fact Texas oilman Jack Grimm (AKA: “Cadillac Jack”) spent millions of dollars on three separate expeditions to try to locate Titanic’s final resting place, only to come up empty handed. After exhausting their resources the French IFREMER team abandoned their part of the joint effort, and with less than a week remaining Dr. Ballard with the company of Jean Louis Michael discovered the wreck of Titanic. Ballard also spent a great amount of time in locating the Yorktown whose remains are also at an enormous depth in the vast Pacific.

I feel that if a serious “deepwater” search were undertaken of a general area when AE/FN picked up the clear messsages from Itasca yet.......“can not see you", which I think had them in the general area, then perhaps a substantial amount of debris or large portion of Electra could be found.

As an aside, Jack Grimm came within one-half mile of locating Titanic.

Mike Cundiff Carson City, NV

From Ric

When last heard from at 08:43 local time AE and FN (according to our calculations) had roughly four hours of fuel left. At 130 knots that gives you a circle (with an unknown center point) with a radius of roughly 510 nautical miles. I’m not sure how long it would take to search that much ocean bottom, but I’d suggest that you pack a lunch.

Subject: Historic Preservation
Date: 12/25/98
From: Bill Leary

>>This gets to the heart of some very basic historic preservation issues. I’d be very interested to hear some opinions on this from some of our trained preservationists on the forum.<<

It seems like nothing more than degrees to me. You guys brought back bits of shoes which you hope to find were AE’s. I see it as only a degree if you found and returned the whole plane... or any part or series of parts in between. Somewhere along the curve from “bits of shoe" to “whole plane" people get a glitch that they see as the difference between research and preservation and grave violation.

You see the same thing in Titanic circles. At one end a large number of people would object to raising, say, the bow section, preserving it, and putting it on display. A lot fewer people objected to recovery of shoes and suitcases. An even smaller number objected to the recovery and sale of coal. The age of the artifact has impact on people too. Few object to the raising of an entire ship that sank with many of its crew in the 1600’s. But people get considerably more worked up about raising a submarine sunk, also with crew, during WWII.

Ballard didn’t recover anything from the Titanic, but someone else sure has.

If you do find the Electra broken up on Niku, if you don’t recover the parts, someone will. I’d kind of prefer it to be someone who’ll respect it’s history and preserve and display things correctly.

– Bill

Subject: Historic Preservation
Date: 12/25/98
From: Tom King

Since I practice historic preservation for a living, I’ve stayed out of the discourse on the subject here, but I can’t help applauding Bill Leary’s point of view. It really is, I think, all a matter of degree. And as lots of people have pointed out, it’s also a matter of practicality – if we find something salvageable, do we salvage it and treat it right, or leave it for somebody else to do the wrong thing with.

And as Ric and Pat have repeatedly noted, it’s really for the Government of Kiribati to decide.

As far as the “ethics” of historic preservation go, we obviously do not routinely treat every old building, archeological site, or wreck as a shrine, whatever the number or notoriety of the people who lived and died there. Yes, the loss of Amelia and Fred was a tragedy, as was the loss of the Titanic, the sinking of the Hunley, the burning of the Alexandria Library, and the Holocaust, but that certainly doesn’t mean to most of us that we should avert our eyes from the artifacts that represent those events. In historic preservation we routinely try to learn from them, interpret them for the public, and in many cases (as with most old buildings) reuse them for modern purposes.

I just don’t see an ethical issue here. If we find the Electra, or the bones, or the sextant box, or whatever, we ought to study them, recover them, learn from them, and make them available for others to learn from, to the extent and in the manner permitted by the government of Kiribati and the realities of finances and logistics.

Tom King

From Ric

Thus sayeth the Project Archaeologist, and I agree.

Subject: Calibration of HFDF–Howland Island
Date: 12/26/98
From: Randy Jacobson

I would like to see that letter, as there is no evidence of the Itasca sailing around the island, according to its bridge logs. If there was a date/time, or some other indication, it would prove quite helpful in determining if the HF/DF did indeed get calibrated. I still doubt it, as the direction device was a pocket compass. Note that the correspondence cited below is not contemporaneous:

From Gene Bialek

In the matter dealing with the calibration (or lack of calibration) of the HFDF on Howland by the Itasca, I would like to point out that the recently aquired papers of Rear Admiral Richard Black by the Naval Historical Center (Wash. DC) states that a calibration was done. Black, in an exchange of letters with the folowing people, stated that the HFDF was set up on the Island by Ciprianni and the Itasca steamed around the Island and calibrated the radio:

  • A 1971 letter to Frank Uhlig, Jr., Senior Editor, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD.
  • A 1982 letter to Warren Norville, author of “Celestial Navigation Step by Step”, International Marine Publishing Co. (Norville was a Marine Consultant)
  • A 1984 letter to Don Wade, a writer and AE history buff. Wade sent Black a photograph of what he claimed was the HFDF as set up on the Island.

Gene Bialek, Wash. DC

Subject: Calibration of HFDF-Howland Island
Date: 12.26.98
From: Russ Matthews

None of the Richard Black letters cited were written less than 34 years (1971, ’82, and ’84) after the events in question. Show us an account recorded contemporaneously and we might have cause to debate the question. “The best human memory is not a sharp as the dullest pencil” (or words to that effect – I can’t really remember).

LTM, Russ

From Ric

This comes up time and time again in the Earhart case:

– Lae radio operator Harry Balfour later claimed that he had been in two way communication with Earhart for the first seven hours after she left New Guinea. Comtemporaneous sources contradict that assertion.

– Page Smith, who was flying the PBY sent south from Pearl Harbor to help in the search but was forced to turn back due to bad weather, told me in 1989 that the aircraft’s radio operator clearly recieved dashes in direct response to his radioed request for Earhart to send dashes. There is no mention of such contact in any of the official reports.

– Mr. Russel Creider told me in 1991 that he had been Lt. John Lambrecht’s observer during the Navy’s search for Earhart. USS Colorado’s records show that Seaman J.L. Marks was Lambrecht’s observer. (Creider later acknowledged that he had been confused. He had flown with Lambrecht two months earlier off the Lexington.)

People just flat remember stuff wrong.

LTM, Ric

Back to Highlights Archive list.

About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at:  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW