Forum artHighlights From the Forum

May 10 through 16, 1999

Subject: Excavating the Kanton Engine
Date: 5/10/99
From: Christian Duretete

Now that I have spent several weeks getting a good handle on what this website is all about, it is time I put together my idea of the best way to excavate the "Kanton engine". Based on the time I spent in the area in late 1996, including 3 weeks on Kanton.

It seems to me that most Tighar people are quite busy with their careers in the US... So they can only go on Missions of short duration, and planned to a date fixed months in advance.

Hence, one way to dig Kanton that was suggested was to charter a Boeing 727 to bring 200 volunteers for a frantic one day hand dig...

As Ric said, Tighar doesn't have that kind of money. It's not easy to arrange for the fuel at all... I knew about the jet fuel which had been "recently" positionned in brand new tanks in Kanton, but I had no idea it could go "bad" so soon... And then Niku-IIII is a higher priority as well.

Soooooooo, lets approach the problem the way the local I-Kiribati do: for transportation we use the 4-5 times a year Government ship. As this would put you on Kanton for over 2 months, and the dump seems to have a volume of approx 100-200 cubic yards, we then need only one man.

I would think that it is possible to find in the US a reliable, knowledgeable person, willing to dig dirt for a non-astronomic wage????

A few thousand pounds of gear (groceries, tent, hand tools, small power winch, photovoltaics, tiny desalinator...) would have to be shipped ahead of time. Either to Tarawa to be put on the ship whenever it would start on its trip. (They have no planned schedules to speak of...). Alternatively the stuff could be put on the charter cargo plane which brings used cars once in a while to Kiritmas Is.

The way the Govt ship works, it starts its trip from Tarawa, stops in Kanton ('not sure if it does it W'bound as well as E'bound...) and then spends 2-3 weeks unloading supplies and loading exports, by surfboats, at Fanning and Washington. In Kiritmas, the containers are brought to the dock on a lighter, on which they remain, to be unloaded by hand, as the crane which used to transfer them to the dock has been broken for a few years: so the ship spends quite a bit of time in the 3 Line Is.....

So: once KSSL (Kiribati Shipping Services Ltd) in Tarawa, confirms that the ship is about ready to start on its next trip, our "C.E." (Chief Excavator) can be put on stand-by wages. And when the ship is done doing the rounds of the Line Islands, and on its way back to Xmas, our CE can take the weekly direct flight to Kiritmas from Honolulu. And the ship will take him to Kanton with the gear.

Kanton has more than a dozen heads of family. In 1996, all but 3 were Govt employees, paid full time by Tarawa. I'm not clear how much they'd be allowed to work full time on the side... One private citizen was Luke, the owner of the small Kubota tractor; he CHOSE to retire on Kanton... Then there was Ioakim, semi retired: ready to be an airline agent -LOTS of upstart companies have tried to run an airline from Honolulu to Kanton to Tarawa, etc to Fiji... They don't last long! If there was a need for extra help for our CE, the only "youngish" civilian was, I think, Tembeu. A really great guy, smart and an excellent fisherman. He is the only one I could see to be potentially interested in working for cash. So, not much for local labor; by the way most all teenagers are away at he hi school in Fanning.

As the dump is a "dug out", made by a Cat, it is likely to have a slope at ea end. I reckon the first 20% of the excavating would be tough: going DOWN from ground level, following the slope. The next 20% or so would be easier: going horizontally. After that, an option would be to shift stuff behind, onto the bottom area just cleared -no more raising above ground level. A tiny gas powered winch would help move the big chunks. I realize we are not talking loose soil here, but a compacted mess of coral rubble and metal junk! Still, I would bet it could be safely done in a couple months. And, as someone has said, there is no need for trained archeologists here! Tarps and some framing would be a must for shade: unlike during the Feb 98 Mission, I had NO rain in 96, and once away from the village trees, Kanton is incredibly dusty and HOT! AND the runway end tends to be in the lee of the "hills"...

It would be hard to put a $ figure on such a scheme. But as it is entirely lo tech and off the shelf, I'd bet it must be MUCH cheaper than any other plan involving a chartered plane to the most remote airstrip in the world (?). Say a LOW five figures????

Sorry this got to be longish; but as almost nobody ever gets the chance to discover Kanton nowadays, I decided to share my knowledge with all the Tighar people, see what they think?


From Ric

I think that any TIGHAR member could tell you that we don't operate like that, and your assumption that the excavation wouldn't require a trained archaeologist is in error.

Subject: Re: Excavating the Kanton Engine
Date: 5/11/99
From: Tom King, Natko, Dennis McGee

From Tom King:

> I think that any TIGHAR member could tell you that we don't operate like that, and
> your assumption that the excavation wouldn't require a trained archaeologist is in error.

Oh, wait, Ric -- I think Christian's got a good idea, and his observations on Kanton are invaluable. As you know, I've argued for hiring all the residents to sling rocks by hand, rather than flying/boating in heavy equipment, and though I recognize the wisdom of not doing it this way (since you and others have pounded it into me), I think Christian's idea actually makes better sense. I'd go spend three months on Kanton in a heartbeat if I could afford the time away from paying work, and I'll bet one could find a graduate student historical archeologist, or a retired archeologist (avocational or professional), who'd be able to take the time and jump at the chance. I know, we don't want to get deflected from Niku and Fiji at the moment, but when and if the time comes, I think Christian's approach to Kanton makes a lot of sense.

Tom King

From Natko:

With all due respect, why so curt? Mr. Christian obviously means well and his thinking is at least not unreasonable. Considering the 'breath' you waste answering stupid questions on this forum, I believe Mr. Christian would deserve a little bit more explanation.

Btw, I too would be interested why you find his idea not even worth thinking about .

LTM who digs it on Kanton

From Dennis McGee:

I kind of like Christian's idea for getting Bruce's engine out of the dump (oops, "land fill") at Canton. Maybe we (all TIGHAR members; it would be a condition for joining) should draw straws and the loser has to take 90 days leave-without-pay from his or her job to go dig for the engine.

Or even better yet, I could nominate a couple of former Earhart Forum contributors who would be sentenced to 90 days hard labor on Canton before being re-admitted to the E. Forum. The "reeducation" would cleanse their souls and put them on the road to correct thinking.

We could do it even cheaper if we didn't have to ship the person there; a single low-and-slow (100 kts, at 300 feet) pass with a C-130 and a size 12 brogan in the buttocks and our hero is on-site. A second pass to drop equipment and supplies, and there you have it, a S*M*A*S*H*E*D (Semi-Mobile Archeological Survey and Historic Excavation Development).

Let's chew this over some more, guys and gals.

LTM, who is giddy with excitement
Dennis McGee

From Ric

Okay. Here's why we're not going to do this.

  1. At this point there is not sufficient evidence that there is an engine there at all to justify any further expenditure of money. In 1998 we dropped something over $50,000 to go to Kanton and see if there was an engine where Bruce said he put an engine. It made sense based on what we knew at the time. Now we know more. We know that the engine is not where Bruce says he put it and we're assuming that it got buried along with the other stuff that was once in the dump -- but we don't know that for sure. We also know that despite having now found several individuals who were involved in helicopter operations on Canton during this time period, we have found no one who remembers such an incident and there seems to be a consensus that the helos did not go to Gardner during the time Bruce was on the island. If Bruce's engine did not come from Gardner, it greatly reduces the chances (in my opinion) that the engine is related to the Earhart disappearance. I've been down this road many times before with other projects and all my instincts tell me that, at this point, we need more corroborative evidence before we go further with field work.
  2. One of the biggest pitfalls in carrying out this kind of investigative work is the very romance that makes the project so appealing. The notion of a lone digger on a remote tropical isle is a perfect example of the kind of romantic adventure that makes no sense at all for the organization. If the dump on Kanton is worth excavating it's worth excavating right. If the evidence is sufficient to warrant the work, I should be able to raise the money to put a tractor with a backhoe and a small team of people on site for the few days it would take to do it. If the evidence is not that good we have no business messing with it.

We've resisted this what-the-heck, on-the-cheap approach from the beginning. There have been any number of marginal vessels we could have chartered for our expeditions to Niku for much less money than we've spent on the ships we have used. I refuse to do that. We've run four expeditions to Niku and, although we've had plenty of mishaps and a couple of disasters, we have yet to lose or even injure a team member beyond an occasional bee sting, minor cut, or rousing case of seasickness.

If you want to see what happens to aviation archaeological expeditions that are done on the cheap, just look at Greenamyer's botched attempt to salvage a B-29 from the Greenland icecap. Net result: one dead team member and one dead B-29.

No, TIGHAR will not recruit someone to go and live on Kanton for 3 or 4 months and scrabble in the coral rubble in the hope of finding an anecdotal engine.

Love to mother,

Subject: Priorities
Date 5/11/99
From: Dfarkaly

On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you place the value of the wreck photo? Since you have have labored mightily to search niku several times, do you consider articles like the Kanton engine or the wreck photo leads or distractions?

The most pertinent question for myself (and possibly others) is; what would you prefer to actually find, the aircraft (parts possibly moved to other places) or possible evidence of remains of AE/FN ? (Gallagher direction) I realize that you are a serious and tireless researcher, but from a polite perspective, is not the finding of the aircraft a more lofty goal?

From Ric

Interesting questions.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I'm about 8 in thinking that the Wreck Photo probably shows NR16020 on Niku, but I know that a lot of people wouldn't agree with me. The photo is only important if it helps us find the wreck, and it really can't do that, so - yes - in some respects it is a distraction. On the other hand, if it turns out that the wreck is on Niku and is clearly a more deteriorated version of this same scene, then the Wreck Photo is extremely important in documenting how it once looked, not to mention the fact that somebody once took a picture of it.

The Kanton engine is a different situation but, at this point, it's also a distraction.

I don't think that the wreck of the airplane is a loftier goal than the wreck of AE or FN, but I do suspect that it may be easier to find. Ultimately we want it all. If we find just the airplane some bozo is sure to claim that the Japanese came and "captured" the people. If we find just the bones the same will be said of the airplane. If we find everything except one engine, then we go and dig the Kanton dump. If we find nothing we sit down with a cold beer and try to figure out where we screwed up.


Subject: Digging on Kanton
Date 5/12/99
From: William Webster-Garman

> If you want to see what happens to aviation archaeological
> expeditions that are done on the cheap, just look at Greenamyer's botched
> attempt to salvage a B-29 from the Greenland icecap. Net result: one dead team
> member and one dead B-29.

I've never fully understood how anyone with any technical understanding could sit inside a B-29 that has sat abandoned on an ice cap for over four decades, and seriously consider trying to fly it after making field repairs, however intensive.

In any case, a disaster like that would not only destroy TIGHAR, but could destroy or compromise Earhart evidence too.

Isolating a few amateur diggers on Kanton to plow through an industrial grade 20th century military landfill is nothing but asking for trouble. The possibility of forgotten toxic waste alone makes it unthinkable.

Subject: Digging on Kanton
Date: 5/12/99
From: Tom Robison

> If Bruce's engine did not come from Gardner, it greatly reduces the chances (in my
> opinion) that the engine is related to the Earhart disappearance.

Agreed, but aren't you the least bit curious as to the origin of this engine? Even if it didn't come from NR16020, where did it come from? Bruce found a radial engine on a beach, somewhere in the South Pacific. There might be an interesting story here.

If nothing else, put this on the back burner; the name of the group is TIGHAR, not AE International. Who knows, this engine may have a real history.

You da boss, Ric, and this ain't a democracy, so we'll do it your way. But I think you're wrong, as do several folks on this forum, apparently. The Kanton engine may just be the smoking gun Tom Crouch wants to see.

Tom #2179

From Ric

1. Our funding, such as it is, is for the Earhart Project. If someone wants to fund a search for old Pacific airplane engines I'm all ears.

2. An Earhart engine on Kanton could not be Tom Crouch's "smoking gun" because there could be no way to prove how it got there or where it came from. We need the main body of wreckage in situ.

Subject: Re: Excavating the Kanton Engine
Date: 5/13/99
From: Clyde Miller

Insane it was....However, they accomplished the task. If I remember the plane was actually taxiing to take off when loose equipment in the plane sparked a fire that destroyed the aircraft. The death was attributable to illness, exposure, etc. and the distance from medical assistance (something TIGHAR has gone to great pains in their expedition planning to account for). Challenges are often very personal and their efforts (although to us foolhardy) were extraordinary! The death and destruction are a tragedy, but what courage, what ingenuity, and once again a statement on the human spirit when focused on a single task. Tighar is fortunate to have leaders who have the same spirit, but whose credo also includes ( try again another day)!

Clyde Miller

From Ric

I really can't agree that an effort apparently motivated solely by anticipated financial gain and some juvenile desire for "adventure", and carried out according to the most misguided principals of historic preservation, and which killed one of its team members through the wholesale negligence of its leader, is in any way laudable.

Subject: Kanton/Greenland
Date: 5/13/99
From: William Webster-Garman

>Insane it was....However, they accomplished the task

They did not. The plane (artifact, really) never got airborne, was heavily damaged by fire, and the remaining wreckage (as I understand it) is now at the bottom of an arctic lake. One team member tragically died as a direct result of inept planning and management, and the pristine artifact was essentially destroyed. Everything about that project was probably "wrong" in terms of responsible expedition planning and, certainly, proper archaeological or preservation procedure. However, I wouldn't call the project "insane"-- just irresponsible (to put it mildly) and probably more than a little desperate.

Subject: What's the Best Evidence
Date: 5/13/99
From: Tet Walston

I can only base my opinions on what I consider to be the "Best Evidence". According to the reports which Mary Lovell has in her book, Amelia was not well and she and Fred must have been near their limits. Come on, Ric, have you EVER flown for that length of time on a leg which was so potentially vital? Look at those last photos of Amelia. Of course she was under great stress.

I'm sorry that I used the wrong words. What I meant to say was that both occupants were unlikely to be properly restaired in their seats in the event of a crash.

Be honest Ric, I know of what I speak. The restraints of those days were not the now required shoulder/crotch type. Noonan COULD crawl into the cockpit, but seemingly spent his time in the rear, passing his nav. notes forward on a stick.

Any questions?


From Ric

No questions, just recommendations. If you're looking for "Best Evidence" don't rely on secondary sources like Lovell. There are no contemporaneous accounts from Lae to indicate that either Earhart or Noonan was suffering from any illness aside from one mention of "personnel unfitness" in a telegram explaining a delay in their departure. Nobody knows what that meant. Neither Chater nor Collopy mentions any concern about the crew's physical condition. Earhart's comments about stomach upsets are from much earlier in the world flight and have been taken way out of context to support the recently-popular notion that she was debilitated at the time of the last flight.

Take a look at the film of the last takeoff on the TIGHAR website. Do those bouncy cheerful people look sick or hungover? Notice that Fred gets in through the cockpit hatch, not the cabin door. This and other photographs taken during the world flight, and several references in Earhart's notes as they appear in the posthumous book "Last Flight" make it clear that Fred rode up front most of the time.

I have never flown a 24 hour leg in an airplane, but both Earhart and Noonan were highly experienced long-distance fliers. By the time they reached the vicinity of Howland they were surely tired and adrenalin can only do so much to make up for exhaustion, but they were no strangers to such situations and the "Best Evidence" suggests that they kept their heads a lot better than the Coasties who were there to help them.

It's true that the pilot and copilot seats had simple lap belts rather than shoulder harnesses or six-point aerobatic restraint systems, but it's also true that the available "Best Evidence" suggests a safe landing rather than a crash.


Subject: Messages in Bottles..... Again
Date: 5/15/99
From: Daryll

When I first raised the questions about the "Message in the Bottle" found on a beach in France, and which I now believe I have identified the author of the "Message", it was an attempt to discover the earliest references to a "Conspiracy theory" about AE/FN. At that time I believed the "Bottle Message" was the genesis of the conspiracy theories. I now believe that I have to amend that thought for the Forum.

I realize that we as Forum members are not permitted to discuss on the Forum, theories that are put forth by "Conspiracy Books". I do not believe that pertains to contemporaneousness documentation that are put forth in those books. If I am wrong, this posting will obviously not be posted.

What I submit to the Forum is a diplomatic message that appears to have been preserved by the Japanese. The message was put forth in a book by V. Loomis. I admit that I cannot read Japanese and I must accept the translation of the message at face value. The reproduction of the message does contain in english the name " LONDON INTERNATIONAL NEWS" . In the translation of the message, I have added the words To: and From: for clarity, and the capitalization of ADVERTISER and LONDON INTERNATIONAL NEWS.


July 13,1937 11:20 A.M.
To: Ambassador Yoshida, England
From: Foreign Minister Hirota

#270 ( Most Urgent )
Re: Rescue of the Earhart Plane.

The ADVERTISER here reports that they received a LONDON INTERNATIONAL NEWS dispatch at 2:00 A.M. today to the effect that a Japanese fishing boat had rescued the Earhart plane. Please verify this and confirm by return.


Why is this rumor important?

1. The date, July 13, 1937. It has only been about 10 days since AE/FN have disappeared and someone has implicated the Japanese.

2. It appears to be a Japanese document.

3. The ADVERTISER, ( who I am trying to identify ), is important enough to have gotten the "Ear" of Foreign Minister Hirota and caused his inquiry of Ambassador Yoshida in England.

4. This diplomatic message and the "Message in the Bottle" seem to have origins in the same part of the world.

It appears that conspiracy theories are as old as the disappearance itself, and not a fabrication of a few Authors trying to make a buck.


From Ric

I'm confused (as usual). You say "I now believe I have identified the author of the 'Message'" but I'm not at all clear who you've decided is the author of the message. You cite a wire from the Japanese Foreign Minister to the Japanese ambassador in England which appears to me to say (I paraphrase):

"Hey! I read in the paper here that a London newspaper is claiming that Earhart was rescued by a Japanese fishing boat. See if you can find out if that is correct and let me know."

It was, of course, just one of many false rumors that were flying around during the search, but I guess I'm not imaginative enough to see any connection to the message in the bottle unless the London news item prompted somebody in France to cook up the hoax, but that's pretty speculative.


Subject: Diplomatic Message and Author of Bottle Message
Date: 5/15/99
From: Daryll

Referring to Ric's questions

1. I don't think the diplomatic message indicates that articles where actually printed in those papers. Newspapers ( publishers & reporters ) then and today are sometimes used in the diplomatic sense, to put out feelers in an unofficial capacity.

2. Author of the "Message in a Bottle":

I know it is unfair to the Forum to referrence material that they have not seen, but I did indicate when I posted the "Bottle Message" that the file contained enclosures about M. Eric de Bisschof. It is my understanding that Randy J. has those same enclosures in his file and if anything that I say is incorrect about M. Eric de Bisschof, there is another source. Sorry Randy if I put you on the spot, maybe you could FAX it to Ric, if not, I could.

1. Although no one in the files comes out and says M. Eric de Bisschof is the author of the bottle message, his short file is included along with the "bottle message" file.

2. I think the finger prints on the message lead whomever to M. de Bisschof. You don't have to sign something if you leave finger prints.

3. He had already reported what he knew about the work going on in the Mandates, to the Navy in Honolulu (1937). The bottle message, I believe, was for public consumption.

4. He had the expertise (" wellknown French navigator" ) to predict were the bottle would come ashore . The writer of the bottle message ( short of paper ) used 23 translated english words to say when and where the bottle would end up ( bragging ? ).

5. He gave a lecture on Nov. 25 in Paris about one month after the bottle was found Oct. 30, by Genevieve BARRET.

6. The title of his lecture, " Six Years of Adventure in a Chinese Junk and a Polynesian Canoe", contains the number six (6). The bottle message has the number six (6) twice in the message, I am always suspicious of what seems to be arbitrary numbers.

7. Both the writer of the bottle message and M. de Bisschof are French speaking ( I don't know if M. de Bisschof knew shorthand ).

8. The writer of the message and M. de Bisschof were in the same Pacific waters at the same time (1937).

9. M. de Bisschof had said he had a modest sailing ship while in the Mandates and was currently building a NEW boat, which he expected to depart the Rivera in April for the Marquesas. The author of the bottle message referred to (26T) (sailing boat).

10. M. de Bisschof referred to AE's flight in his lecture to the Geographical Society in Paris on Nov. 25, 1938.

11. The writer of the bottle message made it a point to indicate that the sail boat had a wireless (radio). In the interview of M. de Bisschof at his home, 96 Ave. Mozart in Paris, he indicated that the Japanese had radios on the smaller islands that were not on the official list of radio stations.

12. Both the bottle message writer and M. de Bisschof had incidents with the Japanese that had connections with Mila Atoll, one of the eastern most atolls in the Marshall chain.

13. The bottle message indicated that there were prisoners at Jalint (Marshall). M. de Bisschof had been to Jaluit as he indicated in his interview.

14. The interview of M. de Bisschof at his home seemed to indicate that he and his wife, an American citizen, a half-breed Hawaiian ( their words ) were very pro-American. The bottle message seemed to concentrate on the rescue of Amelia.

M. de Bisschof reported seeing 3 inch shells but no guns ( I believe there were probably concrete pads for them ,Tojo's orders allowed about one month to mount the guns in the Mandates, Oct.-Nov. 1941 ), deeper channels , the beginning of construction on a concrete dock,seaplane ramp etc. This is what was meant by fortification of the Mandates the smaller islands is where the Japanese maintained radios for radio intelligence operations.

General Miles of G-2 in his testimoney at the second Pearl Harbor hearing,

felt he could not send anyone into the Mandates before WWII for intelligence purposes and get them out alive.

If ( we don't have an admission) M. Eric de Bisschof, a wellknown French navigator and lecturer is the author of the "Bottle Message", then he claims to have seen Amelia and maybe Fred alive after they disappeared and possibly gave that information to Adm. Yarnell and Commander Kilpatrick in Honolulu in 1937.

I know all this is circumstantial evidence, but if it walks like a duck.......


From Ric

> I don't think the diplomatic message indicates that articles
> were actually printed in those papers. Newspapers ( publishers &
> reporters) then and today are sometimes used in the diplomatic
> sense, to put out feelers in an unofficial capacity.

First let's be clear that this is not a diplomatic message in the sense that it is not a government to government communication. It's just an inquiry received by the Japanese ambassador in London from his boss. What it says is:

"The ADVERTISER here reports that they received a LONDON INTERNATIONAL NEWS dispatch at 2:00 A.M. today to the effect that a Japanese fishing boat had rescued the Earhart plane. Please verify this and confirm by return."

I fail to see any basis for your suggestion that this is something other than simply news. The LONDON INTERNATIONAL NEWS puts out a dispatch. The ADVERTISER (apparently a Japanese paper) receives it and, seeking verification, calls the Foreign Minister. The Foreign Minister has no idea what they're talking about so he wires the ambassador back in London. You'll notice that the Loomis book does not provide a copy of any response from the ambassador.

I'll leave it to the forum to decide what sort of animal your speculations about M. de Bisschof walks like.


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