Forum artHighlights From the Forum

March 18 through 24, 1999

Subject: Getting Hawaii Radio on Niku
Date: 3/18/99
From: Kenton Spading

Ric posted the following question to the Forum

> The question we have asked ourselves is - How likely is it that Earhart and Noonan were able to
> RECEIVE signals while on the ground/reef/whatever at Niku? This was actually the subject of an
> experiment carried out by team member Kenton Spading during the Niku III expedition. Maybe
> Kenton would like to summarize his findings for the forum?

Yes, I did conduct a radio experiment (in addition to watching tides) during the NIKU III trip (with the help of TIGHAR member Frank Lombardo). Most of the radio-related Earhart discussions focus on the likelihood of her being able to transmit radio signals and whether or not the various post-loss messages were from her or other sources.

My experiment tested her ability to RECEIVE radio signals. What are the chances that she could HEAR messages being sent to her? In particular, I wanted to test the ability of a radio, in the vicinity of Nikumaroro, to pick up signals from Hawaii. Why Hawaii? That question requires a little introduction.


  1. The Earhart Project, An Historical Investigation, 7th Ed, TIGHAR, April 27, 1993
  2. Niku III Radio Experiment Report (Untitled), Kenton Spading and Frank Lombardo, Oct. 9, 1997

The following is a short chronology of radio signal traffic associated with the Earhart investigation. Note that many of the post-loss messages are not confirmed and the signals associated with direction finding equipment could be from sources other than Earhart and/or from directions 180 degrees from Niku. The following is meant to test a theory.

  • July 2, 1937, 21:13 hrs GCT, the Itasca receives Earhart's last message, Ref No. 1, p. 21.
  • July 2, 1937, approx. 21:30 hrs GCT, Earhart allegedly reaches Nikumaroro, Ref. No. 1, p. 46.
  • July 2, 1937, that evening the first of many alleged signals from Earhart are reported, Ref. No. 1, P. 48.
  • July 4, 1937, 1530 hrs GCT, Pan Am takes a bearing on a signal from the direction of Niku, Ref 1, P. 49
  • July 5, 1937, 0630 hrs GCT, Pan Am takes another bearing on a signal from the dir of Niku, Ref 1, P. 50

This last bearing is taken after Hawaiian Radio station KGMB sends a message to Earhart requesting her to transmit 4 long dashes if they hear the KGMB broadcast. Immediately, 4 long dashes are heard in response ( Ref. 1, P. 50.).

So, the theory I tested during Niku III was......can a commercial radio station from Hawaii be heard in the vicinity of NIKU? The theory and operation of the radios used in 1937 are basically no different than a simple AM radio in use today. I used a small Walkman-type AM radio powered by AA batteries.

In all I heard 8 different Hawaiian radio stations in addition to dozens of other stations throughout the Pacific region (Ref No. 2).

Does this prove that Earhart heard KGMB or anyone else for that matter? NO. Anyone familiar with radio skip properties knows that radio signals can be heard 1000's of miles away from their source. It is nice, however, to have test data to that effect specific to NIKU. Besides, it gave me something to do onboard the ship to keep things interesting.

Kenton Spading

Subject: Navigation Plan B
Date: 3/19/99
From: Skeet Gifford

To put the subject of planned fuel at Howland in perspective, AE/FN had about four hours of fuel in the vicinity of their intended destination. In 1937, it was the exception to have the luxury of an alternate airport. Today, there are only a few airports in the world that don't have suitable alternates. For these, FAR 121.641 specifies three hours fuel reserves at normal fuel consumption.

From a fuel standpoint, I'd say our duo had a viable plan.

Skeet Gifford, 1371CB

From Ric

Seconding Skeet's observation, according to the report submitted by the Army Air Corps liaison officer aboard Itasca, Lt. Dan Cooper, a 20% reserve was considered standard for long distance flights at that time. Earhart left Lae with 24 hours of fuel for an anticipated 19 hour flight. She had a 20% reserve.

When, in her 20th hour of flight, she said "We must be on you but cannot see you, but gas is running low." she had just started to burn into that reserve.


Subject: Naval Institute Proceedings
Date 3/19/99
From: Phil Tanner

> go to your library and find the back issues of Naval Institute Proceedings magazine. Find the February
> 1993 issue and turn to page 73, where you will find an article entitled "Why the Navy Didn't Find Amelia".
> Therein you will find a pretty good discourse on how and why the search failed. (oh, yeah, the article was
> written by some fella named Gillespie)]

I'd love to read this but I'm in the UK and a web search failed to turn it up - though "Naval Institute Proceedings -> Amelia" produced a fantastic tale about Saipan by someone called Stewart. Would it be possible to scan Ric's article onto the site as the answer to an FAQ, or if it's copyright to the Naval Institute could someone post me a copy via Email if it's not too much trouble? Thanks. Phil 2276.

[Please see the Document of the Week for March 29, 1999, to read this article.]

Subject: FN & Weems, Message in a Bottle
Date: 3/19/99
From: Daryll Bollinger

1. Ric, are you or anyone on the Forum, familiar with the letter that is referred to in the following.

....... on May 11,1935, Fred Noonan replied to a letter from Navy Lt. Commander, P. V. H. Weems , an authority on aerial navigation, in which Noonan wrote about certain equipment for the planned flight. He stated , "For reasons which I am certain you can understand, we are not permitted to discuss the particulars of the flight for dissemination among the general public."

The date would indicate that it was written after the survey flight from Oakland to Hawaii and before the survey flight from Hawaii to Midway. Does anyone know if the quote is correct and what FN meant? If the quote is correct, it would seem that FN separated himself, figuratively speaking, from the general public and aligned himself (PAA) with the Navy.

2. I would like to know more about the "message in the bottle" that Genevieve Barret found in Oct. 1938, in France. What did the message say, what language was it in, French or English and did it use the name Jaluit Atoll in the message? Trying to trace the genesis of AE as a spy or prisoner it would seem this bottle message predates the " Flight to Freedom" movie by about 5 years and postdates AE's flight by only a year.

A message in a bottle does seem far-fetched, but if the name Jaluit Atoll is used, it does show that the writer had some knowledge of insignificant Pacific geography and who (country) owned what in the Pacific.

The only thing I'm aware of earlier is the Aussie newspaper article that you (Ric) referred to.


From Ric

The quote is correct. It appears in the letter Noonan wrote to Weems on May 11, 1935 and was published in Popular Aviation, May 1938. However, I confess to being baffled by your interpretation that Noonan "separated himself, figuratively speaking, from the general public and aligned himself (PAA) with the Navy." Where did the Navy come from? Fred's employer was pioneering transoceanic air travel. He could not publicly discuss proprietary company information.

I don't know anything about a message in a bottle found in France in 1938.


Subject: Message in a Bottle
Date: 3/20/99
From: Randy Jacobson

The message in the bottle was found on the beach of Soulac, France on October, 30, 1938. Translated from the French:

Have been prisoner at Jalint (Marshall) of Japanese in a prison at Jalint. Have seen: Amelia Earhart (aviatrix) and in another prison her mechanic (man), as well as other prisoners held for so-called espionage of the gigantic fortifications which are built at Atoll. Earhart and her companion were picked up by a Japanese seaplane and will be held as hostages, say the Japanese. I was a prisoner becuase I debarked at Mila Atoll. My yacht 'Viveo' sunk, crew massacred (3 Maoris), the boat (26 T) (sailing boat) was supplied with wireless. Having remained a long time at Jalint (or Jaluit) as prisoner, was enrolled by force as bunker-hand, simply fed, on board 'Nippon Nom?' going to Europe. Shall escape as soon as the boat is near the coast. Take this message immediately to the Gendarmerie in order that we may be saved. This message was probably thrown off Santander, and will surely arrive at the Vendee towards September or at the latest in October, 1938, remaining in the bottle tied to this one, Message No. 6.

In order to have more chance of freeing Miss Amelia Earhart and her companion, as well as other prisoners, it would be preferable that policemen should arrive incognito at Jalint ? I shall be with JO....eux and if I succeed in escaping....for if the Japanese are asked to free the prisoners they will say that they have no prisoners at Jalint. It will therefore be necessary to be crafty in order to send further messages to save the prisoners of Jalint. At the risk of my life, I shall send further messages.

This bottle serves as a float to a second bottle containing the story of my life and....empty, and a few objects having belonged to Amelia Earhart. These documents prove the truth of the story in ordinary writing and shorthand and that I have approached Amelia Earhart...believed to be dead. The second bottle doesn't matter.

I am writing on my knees for I have very little paper, for finger prints taken by the police. Another with thumb. Message written on the cargo boat, No. 6.

The second bottle was never found, by the way.

Subject: Message in a Bottle
Date: 3/20/99
From: Cam Warren

The whole story about the "message in a bottle" is told in Chapter 11 of Amelia Earhart, Her Last Flight by Oliver Knaggs, published in 1983. (Other writers, including Goerner in his first book, mentioned it also).

It all sounded very promising - the writer had his facts right, but like most AE survival stories, it never checked out. The original document was lost during the war, while in the custody of the French district police. A second bottle, said to contain a lock of Amelia's hair, was unfortunately never found (goodbye, DNA test!).

You could look it up.
Cam Warren

From Ric

Did the story get play in the press in 1938? This could be the genesis of the Japanese capture myth. The 1937 Smith's Weekly article alleged that the U.S. Navy had used Earhart's disappearance as an excuse to search the Marshalls, but did not claim that Earhart was involved with the government or was "captured" by the Japanese.

Subject: Message in a Bottle
Date: 3/21/99
From: Herman de Wulf

What a clever idea! Being captured by the Japanese, throwing a bottle overboard and it washes ashore in France of all places. Someone should write a novelo around it. Perhaps it needs some updating. Today one would write a message saying he was captured by martians. Has anyone ever checked whether there has ever been a French yacht Viveo of 26 tons missing in the Pacific ?

I have one question on an other subject. I think I read somewhere that the Colorado launched its seaplanes to search for AE + FN and that these were of a type called SO3 or something. I looked it up and found that that such a type was not flying before 1939. Does anyone know what type of aircraft the Colorado was actually equipped with ?


From Ric

The idea was that the guy was forced to be a "bunker hand" aboard a Japanese merchant vessel sailing to Eurpope. He threw the bottle overboard when the ship was off the French coast. (I didn't realize that the Japanese were using galley slaves in the 1930s.)

USS Colorado (BB45) was a Maryland class battleship and carried three catapult-launched floatplanes which were used for scouting and for "spotting" for the ships big guns. In 1937 the airplanes were Vought O3U-3 Corsairs. The specific airplanes that participated in the Earhart search were Bureau Nos. 9167, 9197, and 9288.

Subject: Message in a Bottle
Date: 3/22/99
From: Russ Matthews

Okay, so the message was supposedly found in 1938. Was it REPORTED in 1938? Or did the incident first suface publicly in the 1960s (a la FN's drinking)?


From Ric

That is precisely the question. Does Knaggs cite a source? I've never seen his book, but most of the books by conspiracy authors - Goerner included - are not footnoted and do not cite primary sources.

Subject: How Old Were the Shoes
Date: 3/24/99
From: Kenton Spading

Don Jordon recently posted this on the Forum:

> My question is, if shoes and boots can stand all that abuse, what in the world could reduce a shoe to nothing
> more than heel fragments in just three years on an uninhabited island?

Various people responded with theories about feral dogs or other animals chewing up the shoes. But someone pointed out that the recovered shoe artifacts exhibit no chew marks. Someone else pointed out that indeed Niku can be a hostile environment (wet, moist?), but on the other hand it can also be very dry there. At the other extreme it is not a rain forest or a place that gets 300 inches of rain a year (e.g. parts of SE Asia). I certainly agree that stuff can rot away there quickly if the conditions are right. But then again, it is not a preservative environment (like the desert). The relatively thin leather gloves that Ric left behind in 1991 (recovered in 1997) are they only test case that we have. Extrapolating that data (having seen the gloves) to shoe soles and uppers makes me lean toward a pair of leather shoes being fairly intact after only 3 years. But that, like all other responses to Don's comment is pure speculation on my part.

Anyway....... Don's general question has been bothering me. Especially in light of the fact that the shoes are not the only artifact that appeared, to the folks who examined the artifacts, to be abandoned for a period longer than 3 years. Lets look at some of the various statements of the people who directly observed the bones and artifacts with the hope that we can learn something from the bigger, global picture. Along with evidence suggesting the bones/artifacts are older than 3 years I will include references to observations of the artifacts belonging to a woman. If the alleged woman was Amelia, the age observations are wrong. On the other hand if the age observations are correct the castaway arrived pre-1937. Of the two it would seem harder to misidentify a woman's shoe and easier to guess age wrong (i.e. the ravages of the environment". In either case the whole global set of alternatives related to statements concerning age deserves examination.


  1. TIGHAR Tracks, Sept. 30, 1997, Vol 13, No. 1/2
  2. Western Pacific High Command Files, Hanslope Park, England

Gallagher on 23 Sept 1940, (Ref. 1, Page 20)

"Bones look more than four years old to me but there seems to be very slight chance that this may be remains of Amelia Earhart" also "Shoe was a woman's and probably size 10"

Gallagher on 6 Oct 1940, (Ref. 1, Page 22) in response to the question "In what state of preservation is shoe?" "Only part of sole remains"

Gallagher on 17 Oct 1940, (Ref. 1, Page 24)

"Difficult to estimate age of bones owing to activities of crabs but am quite certain they are not less than four years old and probably much older." also " sex........conclusion based on sole of shoe which is almost certainly a woman's"

Dr. Lindsay Isaac on 11 Feb 1941, (Ref. 1, Page 29)

"......indications are that bones have been in sheltered position for upwards of 20 years and possibly much longer"

Kingsley Rupert Steenson on 1 July 1941, (Ref. 2, MP 4439)

"Apart from stating that they appear to be parts of shoes worn by a male person and a female person, I have nothing further to say"

(apparently the shoes have deteriorated to "parts") (Gallagher also uses the word "parts")

Resident Commissioner, GEI Colony on 17 Feb 1941, (Ref 2, MP 4439)

"He [Isaac] notes some disintegration of the bones in the course of transportation and suggests if they are considered of archaeological interest Your Excellency might wish to strengthen by a method with which he states Your Excellency knows he is specially familiar."


None of the people who examined the bones directly thinks they are only 3 years old. All agree they look much older. What we don't know is if these people have professional experience regarding what bones exposed to the elements would look like after laying around on a Pacific Island for 3 years. What is their knowledge base? Obviously they could easily guess the age wrong. Two people observe that some of the shoe parts appear to be from a woman. But (as Don stated) how did they get reduced to "parts" in such a relatively short time? Lots of unknown variables here. In the end the statements of witnesses leans toward the castaway being female and the age of the bones being greater than 3 years. It is an interesting paradox.


Kenton Spading

From Ric

Here's another way to approach it. Let's say that the age estimates are correct and the castaway(s) perished on the island sometime between 4 and 20 years prior to their discovery in 1940. That means that a European woman, and possibly a man also, were somehow marooned on Gardner Island between roughly 1920 and 1936.

It is difficult to believe that any castaway could have been alive on the island and have gone undiscovered during the Norwich City disaster of 1929 when two ships circled the island looking for survivors of the wreck. Rescue operations spanned two days. So it seems likely that either the castaway(s) were already dead or not yet there in December 1929.

In January 1934, Albert Culas, a French sailor aboard the French ship S.S. Eider was lost at sea somewhere in the central Pacific. We don't have any details about this disappearance except that the Eider does not seem to have been lost, just poor Albert. Three and a half years later, his wife was still looking for him and when she read that during the search for Earhart, white people had been seen on Hull Island in the Phoenix Group, she asked the British authorities if Albert might have been among them. She was told that only one white person, overseer John W. Jones, was on Hull. Albert Culas is the only person (except for AE and Fred) that we've been able to identify as missing in that part of the world during this entire time period.

In 1935 HMS Wellington made a survey of Gardner Island. Just as in 1929, it would seem that the castaways were either already dead or not there yet.

In summary:

Probably no castaway alive in December 1929 or 1935 (not sure what month Wellington was there). More significantly, no sign of a shipwreck or lifeboat on the beach or reef at those times. We know from experience at other islands in the region that the wrecks of even small wooden ships remain visible for many years. SO - if the castaways of Gardner Island were not AE and FN they got there with their shoes and their sextant box by some means that did not leave a wreck or a lifeboat. Go figure.


Subject: How Old Were the Shoes?
Date: 3/24/99
From: Tom King

In an earlier post I mentioned finding relatively intact WWII-era Japanese boots on the surface of an old AA site on Wene, Chuuk in 1978, in an environment not much different from Niku. This would tend to support the notion that if the Niku shoes were as deteriorated as they seem to have been in 1940, they had to be a lot older than 1937. However, the boots my group found pretty evidentally hadn't been on a body when they were left; they were virtually standing upright next to a rock that was convenient for sitting. There was a rice bowl nearby, and a large bomb hole; we speculated that the poor fellow who owned them had just sat down to cool his feet and eat his lunch when some Yankee devil blew him off the mountainside, or at least caused him to abandon his boots and flee. Ric suggested earlier that we'd have a completely different situation if the shoes were on decaying feet. The feet would be attractive morsels to dogs, crabs, and any other scavengers wandering around; the shoes would be incidental, but would have to be torn apart to get at the feet.

We need some experimental data. Who'll volunteer to lie around in shoes long enough to see if somebody eats them?

Tom King

Subject: Those Friendly Americans
Date: 3/24/99
From: David, Dave Baker, Herman de Wulf

Herman wrote:

> Gyroscopic compasses tend to veer off to the left or the right according to your heading if you
> fail to reset them from time to time. It is good practice to trust a gyroscopic compass only as long
> as you can check it against a liquid compass and adjust it from time to time.

Our Belgian buddy has really hit the nail on the head there!! When I did my private license training here in Canada a few years ago, I recall an amusing story that my instructor told us about a student pilot who forgot to reset her heading indicator.

It was in a Cessna 150 that this gal's career got very interesting! She took off from Montreal on a short eastbound leg of her three leg solo trip. After a short bathroom break or whatever at her first stopover, she jumped in the plane and away she went heading southwest to her next stop, with the hopes of reaching it before turning northwest back to Montreal. Unfortunately, although she diligently turned to her planned heading, our young heroine forgot to reset her directional gyro and ended up heading nearly due south, which put her out of friendly airspace. Oops! I meant into American territory! ;-) Quickly realizing that nothing on the ground matched what was on her map, she was getting a bit panicky and didn't know what to do until she spotted an airport below her - a VERY LARGE AIRPORT!!

She decided that it was better than trying to continue on and run out of fuel in the (by now) somewhat hilly terrain (the Adirondacks) so she made a circuit and landed on the longest and widest runway she'd ever seen in her life. As she taxied off at the first intersection, she noticed a lot of dark green military trucks closing in around her at high speed!! As she stopped the tiny airplane, several dozen big guys with lots of guns pointed at her got out and surrounded her, and it was only then that she noticed the neatly lined up row of Stategic Air Command's B-52s all loaded with live nukes and the whole nine yards!! She was escorted from the aircraft, and it was seized on the spot. I didn't hear too much about the subsequent interrogation or the diplomatic goings on that followed, but they eventually made a phone call up here and let her go after being satisfied that although she'd come from the north, she hadn't come all the way over the pole.

So that's why pilots should always remember to check and reset their heading indicators against the magnetic compass relatively often.

From Dave Baker

Having worked in Military Flight Operations, and airfield management, I could recite probably thirty more stories just like yours. S.A.C bases are unlike other command bases, (By the way, it's not called Strategic Air Command anymore) in that nuclear equipped bombers sit on alert pads, and are zealously guarded by Security Police. (We used to call them "APES") When an unexpected arrival occurs, several scenarios are enacted. One is called a "Nordo" or "No Radio" emergency. Nine times out of nine, a civilian light airplane will be lost, or experiencing some type of emergency situation that requires an immediate landing. They don't have time to fish around for the sectional to find the tower frequency. Generally, the tower spots the airplane in the pattern, broadcasts a warning to the airplane, determines that it will land, activates the primary crash circuit, and notifies flight operations, crash rescue, and the hospital that an aircraft is arriving "NORDO" As the aircraft lands, the Crash vehicles generally have first access, Security will be next, then Operations. The airplane is blocked from exiting the runway, if possible, or not allowed to proceed farther than where it is blocked. Now, on a (until recently) SAC base, the airplane's occupants will kiss and taste the cement.

This happens rather quickly if there is no sign of medical problems, and believe me, the Barney Fife squad has taken the bullet out of their respective pockets!! They aim their M-16s directly at your head, and command you to lie face down on that (depending on the season...scorching hot, or freezing cold) cement. When it is determined that you are not a Godless commie/drug dealer/airplane thief or Sixty Minutes correspondent, you will be allowed to reboard you plane, start up, and be led to Base Operations, where I will be waiting patiently to make out the necessary paperwork, and release you and your airplane from the base. This has happened many times, and it ain't fun, neither!!!!

From Herman

I understand Ric's scepticism on my suggestion that Amelia Earhart MIGHT have forgotten to check the directional gyro at one time, thus unwittingly introducing a navigation error. His comment that this is possible but unlikely since both AE and FN were experienced aviators is understandable.

But when one studies flying accidents worldwide one can't help noticing that very often very experienced pilots are involved. That is why Airbus Industrie trusts computers more than humans designing their aircraft.

David's story about the Canadian girl who got lost because she forgot to reset her gyro can be explained by her lack of experience as a student pilot. One day, a few years ago, I have seen with my own eyes how a Qualified Flight Instructor (QFI), taking off with a formation of four airplanes, turned 180 degrees to fly a reciprocal course until somebody in one of the other planes, all flying the right heading, asked him what he was doing. And can anyone remember the Northwest DC-10 that landed at Brussels airport a couple of years ago, believing to have arrived at Frankfurt ? I heard them on the radio declaring an emergency because they had "a major electronics breakdown" with none of their VOR/DMEs working. So convinced were they that when they broke cloud, being guided down by radar, and saw their mistake, they decided to land anyway "since they couldn't trust their instruments". These were experienced professional airline pilots (ATLP) who flew airplanes every day. These these things do happen......

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