Forum artHighlights From the Forum

September 12 through 18, 1999

Subject: Another Slice of Gatty
Date: 9/12/99
From: Tom King

I think Phil makes an excellent point. I'm now in touch with Sir Ian Thomson, Sir Harry's Aide-de-Camp in 1941 (he was said to be dead, but turns out to be living in Scotland, which he says might be equated with heaven or hell, depending on one's perspective), who has no recollection of the bones, but I've just dropped him a note mentioning the sextant box, and it's just POSSIBLE that he can provide some insight into Sir Harry's chats with Gatty on the subject. I can't think of another way, off the top of my head, to get a handle on this. Stay tuned.


Subject: Re: Another Slice of Gatty
Date: 9/12/99
From: Ric Gillespie

Phil Tanner writes:

>But for him to make that point, he must have been told that it
>was thought possibly linked to the Earhart disappearance.

Astute observation. There is also specific reference to Noonan in the yacht Yankee's request to visit various British islands to search for Earhart. Sir Harry Luke had a rather low opinion of these "searches" and suspected that they were a cover for American snooping into possible commercial seaplane bases. I can easily see him thinking, "Tell the Americans? Oh right! Let's just give the Yanks an excuse to invade the Phoenix Group."


Subject: Noonan and Finding Howland
Date 9/12/99
From: Simon Ellwood

Dennis McGee wrote:

>For decades I'd heard what a great navigator FN was (plus
>the normal rumors, of course) and was puzzled how a "professional" navigator
>could make such an error. Now I know. He was under a lot of stress,
>probably hungry, tired, and angry (at himself), perhaps a bit nauseous from
>the oil and gas fumes, and certainly worried over the mission's
>communications problems. That is not a good environment to solve
>complicated problems.

I think we all agree with your sentiment here, but I'm not at all convinced we can conclude that Noonan actually "made an error" -- except in the general sense that he didn't find Howland.

I seem to remember reading that maps at the time showed the position of Howland slightly in error -- by a couple of miles.

Coupled with the problems we've discussed on the forum with distinguishing small islands from cloud shadows -- even at quite close ranges, and especially when flying into the rising sun -- I suggest that it may have been possible that Noonan navigated accurately (or to within the accepted error range for the technique) to the Howland position shown on his map, and that AE/FN just couldn't find the island visually from that position.

Simon Ellwood #2120

Subject: Re: Another Slice of Gatty
Date: 9/13/99
From: Vern Klein

It seems to me that the note, repeated below, suggests that Gatty was not aware of Fred Noonan's practice of carrying a "preventer" (marine sextant) when he was navigator on PAA flights. And that he probably had a marine sextant on board the Electra. Or... As suggested, the point was not made for political reasons.

August 8, 1941
Typed note to file 4439-40 in red ink (39)
Sir Harry Luke to Vaskess

Sec., H.C.,
I return the sextant box which I had retrieved from Captain Nasmyth in order to show it to Mr. Gatty who has expert knowledge of such matters. Mr. Gatty thinks that the box is an English one of some age and judges that it was used latterly merely as a receptacle. He does not consider that it could in any circumstance have been a sextant box used in modern trans-Pacific aviation.

Subject: Re: Drift
Date: 9/14/99
From: Mark Prange

>Any good navigator or airman would......descend below
>the clouds to a suitable height above the waves to effect drift readings
>regardless of the time of day or night.......

The wind vector can be deduced from its effect on the plane's track, even without descending to see the surface. When good celestial sights enable the navigator to get accurate fixes, then successive fixes allow the navigator to know his drift angle and groundspeed. He already knows the true airspeed and heading flown. From those he can compute the wind speed and direction, and revise his wind correction angle for the next leg of the flight.

The climb back up to altitude can be so consumptive of fuel that descending is avoided unless necessary.

From Ric


Subject: Wreckage
Date: 9/14/99
From: Forest Blair

Can anyone answer?

If the Electra landed, but damaged the engine that powered the transmitter, could a battery(s) be used--maybe jury-rigged--to power the transmitter? If such happened, could be reason signals stopped a couple days after semi-controlled crash--dead battery(s).

LTM ( who believes Kanton engine was NOT found on Niku)
Forest #2149

From Ric

If I understand the system correctly (check me on this guys) the battery ALWAYS powered the transmitter via the dynamotor. The engine-driven generator just recharged the battery.

But transmitting drains down a battery real fast and the reason that Lockheed originally said that the plane had to be on land and able to run an engine is because the alleged post-loss signals went on for way too long to be powered by an unrecharged battery.

If you want the post-loss signals to be genuine but you don't want the airplane on Niku, you have to find someplace else to land it and have it remain intact enough to run the starboard engine but still not be found by the Navy search, and then separate an engine from the rest of the wreckage for Bruce Yoho to find it later.


Subject: Re: Drift
Date: 9/14/99
From: Michael Real

The recent continuing discussions on this subject with new input from highly experienced airmen has prompted the following particular related information which I haven't seen discussed previously, but before I broach this subject, I would like to mention that I find puzzling the similar remarks made by many contributors to the Forum when discussing the various navigation and radio scenarios which A.E.and F.N. could have chosen to implement during the closing stages of their flight, i.e. "It doesn't really matter because we will never ever know", or similar words to the same effect. I would have thought that the whole aim of this Forum is to locate the wreck or the best-fitting scenario of where its final resting place should be, and therefore if and when it is found, on an island or submerged somewhere, there must be some possibility that amongst the wreckage, remnants of navigation and radio equipment and recorded information of different sorts will hopefully be found to give a better clue and assist in moving closer to the truth as to what actually did take place in those last important hours.

The main subject of this post was to inform the people who are interested in the drift and celestial problems that Noonan could have encountered taking into consideration the current known available cloud cover data which I have interpreted as partially cloudy from time to time over the 20 hour period:

Any good navigator or airman would ascend above such cloud masses to take celestial observations when they were required, and would descend below the clouds to a suitable height above the waves to effect drift readings regardless of the time of day or night. During the 1920's and 1930's,the pioneering flights of Kingsford Smith used waterproof flares consisting of separate bouyant canisters of calcium phosphide and calcium carbide , which, when ejected from a suitable aperture in the aircraft, would react simultaneously on impact with the seawater creating acetylene gas by one of the canisters and ignition by the other, the resulting flare lasting up to ten minutes. Drift readings could also be taken successfully during the daytime without the need to view the white crests of wavetops if the sea was becalmed, by using paper bags (smoke bombs) containing fine aluminium powder dropped onto the water, the resulting easily visible circle could then be subsequently tracked.

Modern day bright orange flares are used in a similar manner by aircrews for search and rescue operations.

Whether or not Noonan carried these early types of flares is pure conjecture at this stage, but if he had used them he should have had no problem in obtaining some idea of the drift he was experiencing during the dark hours of the flight.

There are no reasonable grounds to believe that he was unable to effect these two types of observations throughout the preceding night in order to navigate successfully to the vicinity of Howland - it is what happened at Howland which is causing this riveting speculation.

Michael Real

Charles Kingsford Smith by Pedr. Davis, Summit Books, Sydney, n.d. (pp. 61-65)

Subject: Re: Harold Gatty
Date: 9/14/99
From: Michael Real

>I do have a couple of questions.
>It is my understanding that Gatty was instrumental in the founding of the
>airline that eventually became Air Pacific, the national airline of Fiji, and
>that he spent a lot of time in Fiji before and during the war (hence, Sir
>Harry Luke showing him the sextant box in August of 1941). Is that correct?
>Also, it sounds like Sir Harry may have been sticking his neck out a bit to
>consult Gatty if he was persona non grata with the Brits.

Gatty succeeded in winning the contract to establish an inter-island (domestic)airline for the Fijian government after an endless battle with Qantas (who bitterly resented him for his previous efforts in establishing Pacific routes) which already had an international service to the main island of Fiji along with Ana and Teal, although he had previously recommended Qantas while sitting as a member of the local air service committee, which had been established to investigate the formation of an island air service. The unanimous recommendation of the committee was presented to the colonial office in Whitehall for consideration, which rejected it .

After several attempts at joint partnerships, Gatty went out on his own and the licence was awarded to his company, Katafaga Estates, the airline being named Fiji Airways, which later became the current Air Pacific.

His time spent before the war in Fiji was only transient, in the capacity of Pan Am's chief negotiator for landing rights and airbase construction with the British authorities, and, of course in this capacity, he was constantly in discussions with senior governmental personnel, politicians and senior military personnel from the U.S.A., Great Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand. He did hold the rank of Group Captain in the R.A.A.F. in the early stages of the war, reponsible, as the coordinator of Allied Air transport and later Director of Air Transport, amongst other things, for the evacuation of civilians and military personnel during the retreats from the Japanese advances in the South-Western Pacific, and therefore his military position coupled with these activities naturally softened the British attitude to him during this hectic survival period. Hence Luke's quite acceptable discussion with him about the mysterious sextant box.

After the war he settled in Fiji and became a member of the Legislative Council.There he was visited by many famous people, including Trippe, who sought his advice on establishing environmentally suitable types of transit accommodation facilities.

It might be interesting for you to know that as a young man , he rubbed shoulders with many famously important people; apart from the ones already stated, these included:

In the war, he worked directly with McArthur-- a fracas with him causing the resignation of his commission with the British, promptly taking up his other position back with the U.S. military in 1943 where the USAAF and the U.S. NAVY used him to good effect in compiling those valuable navigation manuals.

Before the war, he taught Anne Morrow to navigate for the Lindberghs' transcontinental flight which he had planned for them, and she was warm in her praise of his techniques and equipment which they experimented with during their flight and which proved to be a good test bed preparatory to his own upcoming north Pacific flight (the flight of the Tacoma with Bromley):

Colonel Lindbergh wanted me to tell you first that he felt my experiences in the navigation were very successful. He was afraid i would emphasize too much the things I could not do, chiefly because of the weather. As a matter of fact I was very much surprised at how easy it was to take sights, how quickly and easily one could use the curve and then transfer it onto the mercator chart and - finally - how increasingly good the lines of position turned out to be. Colonel Lindbergh knew our exact position for the moments when I took the sights in the morning......

and further

.......Excuse me for going into this so minutely. I meant only to tell you that we were satisfied with the experiment and to thank you very warmly for everything you did to help us (including the plotting board and your kind words of encouragement - and for our two very absorbing and interesting weeks of work).

Although he did reject a 'blank cheque' offer to participate in that flight of Howard Hughes, he was responsible for selecting 'replacement' crew members and possibly planned the flight, although this fact is hard to establish. He received 2 telegrams from Hughes for his contribution to this successful flight:


and shortly after,


Michael Real

Subject: Dem Shoes
Date: 9/15/99
From: Patrick Gaston

I am indebted to Adam Knott of Alden of Carmel for providing the following info re "blucher" oxfords:

A blucher is distinguished from a bal [oxford] by looking at the two pieces of leather which are fastened by the laces. On a blucher, the two flaps of leather run parallel to each other, and they are sewn to the outside of the shoe. On a bal, the two pieces of leather form a 'V', and as they near the toe of the shoe, they disappear under the front of the shoe. A bal style shoe is considered more formal and dressy, while a blucher is often a more comfortable style, and easier to fit.

Mr. Knott offered no information on the origin of the term "blucher", Napoleonic or otherwise. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "oxford" as any shoe that laces over the instep.

Which brings me back to Biltrite's opinion re the shoe remnants found on Niku in 1991. Since the identifying characteristics of a blucher (and an oxford, for that matter) are related to the uppers, it puzzles me how Biltrite could make such a positive identification from badly-deteriorated sole fragments alone.

By the way, I attempted to persuade Mr. Knott to join the Forum, but I'm afraid my explanation scared him off. ("See, a civil servant named Gallagher, who was British although his nickname was 'Irish', found some shoe parts near a skeleton on a remote Pacific island in 1940, and fifty years later an outfit named TIGHAR found more shoe parts on the same island that may or may not be from the same pair of shoes...") Adam, if you're out there we need your help!

From Ric

Biltrite's identification of the shoe as having had "blucher" style uppers was based upon the stitching holes visible in the sole which showed where the uppers had been attached. As Mr. Knott correctly pointed out, it is how the uppers are constructed and where they are stitched to the sole that determines the "blucher" style. The "oxford" part comes from the fact that almost all bluchers are oxfords unless they are "jodphur" boots which are secured with a leather strap rather than laces. Found with the heel and sole was a brass shoelace eyelet which pretty much settled that question. The eyelet is too small to accommodate a man's shoelace from the 1930s or '40s and the heel is datable to the mid-1930s. Hence, a woman's blucher-oxford.


Subject: Wreckage
Date: 9/15/99
From: Don Jordan

[Note: Don raises a whole bunch of questions and, for the sake of clarity, answers have been embedded in the text of his message. Don Jordan's remarks are in black; Ric Gillespie's remarks are in blue.]

Ric wrote:
>See if this makes sense to you.
>The airplane is landed safely on the reef on July 2nd and sends radio
>transmissions until the night of July 4th (when the "281" message is
>sent) and shortly thereafter is destroyed by the surf, leaving only a few
>heavy structures visible at low tide. The torn, scattered, and chewed up
>aluminum is distributed southeastward across the reef flat. On July 9th,
>when the Navy flies over at high tide there is nothing visible.

I'm not sure what the significance is of the "281" message and why you bring it up just now. However, that message has intrigued me also. I would like to know the full text of that message. Is it on the Web some place? I believe it was something like, "281 miles north of Howland" My thoughts are, what if it were copied wrong by mistake. It could have read 281 miles north to Howland or 381 miles north to Howland. Maybe it was degrees, not miles. There are lots of possibilities.

From Ric

The "281 message" was reported to the commander of the Coast Guard's Hawaiian Section (COMHAWSEC) by Navy Radio Wailupe, the primary USN communications facility on Oahu in the wee hours of July 5, 1937. We don't have, and haven't been able to find, a copy of the Navy's original notification to COMHAWSEC. It may have come by telephone. What we have is COMHAWSEC's relating of the information to Itasca. The message says:


It's the only known case where intelligible information, believed at the time to probably be authentic, was copied by a highly credible source. As pointed out, we can't be sure that even the "fragmentary phrases" were copied accurately. The actual message may have been:


but if we're going to look for anything useful we have to start from the assumption that the three operators copied the bits that they got fairly accurately.

The reason I bring it up now is that, fragmented as it is, it seems to describe just the sort of desperate situation other clues have led us to imagine.

The "281 Message' is a fascinating puzzle in itself and probably deserves its own FAQ on the website.

From Don

But, more importantly if you believe that signal was from the Electra, then you believe the Electra land safely on the reef and was able to run the engines and send signals. And if that were the case, it meant the Electra was fully intact and operational at that time. Then why would they just stand back and watch the sea wash over it without taxiing it up out of harms way. At the very least, why would they just stand back and watch the sea claim all of the survival gear and equipment they had on board. It would seem to me that they would have saved as much equipment as possible and moved it inland above water. They would have had plenty of time by July 4th.

From Ric

If you were standing on the reef at Nikumaroro at low tide, out near the ocean in the spot where Emily says she saw wreckage, you could look to the north along the edge of the reef and see a stretch of flat coral before you that was at least a thousand feet long by maybe two hundred feet wide. However, between this "runway" and the beach several hundred yards away, the coral is very jagged and pitted with large depressions. You probably couldn't drive a jeep to the beach, let alone taxi an airplane. You could certainly carry survival gear from the airplane to the beach, if you had any. I just haven't seen any documentation that they carried any "survival gear" to speak of.

From Don

Also, I have seen pictures of airplanes that crashed just off shore and were washed up on the rocks and destroyed. One was a C-47 just off the coast of Oregon. It did indeed shred the poor thing, but the wings and fuselage were more or less intact. In other words, there were plenty of big parts to see. It was easily recognizable as airplane wreckage. Even in the pounding surf!

From Ric

And from this you conclude that it is impossible that a Lockheed 10 (a fraction of the size of a C-47) could have been rendered into pieces small enough to not be seen and recognized on a surf-swept reef?

From Don

And then there is the Kanton Engine. It was found within feet of where it was deposited. (When ever and how ever that was). If it were deposited on Niku or any other island, it would have been seen by someone over the many years since. Especially on Niku, because there has been people on and off that island since 1938. If the 1938 survey party would have found a radial engine or airplane wreckage on that island long before any war in the area, it surely would have gotten their attention. Were there any surveys of any other islands and do we have access to the other reports? Something might just turn up in the others as well.

From Ric

I'm curious to know how you know that the Kanton engine was found within feet of where it was deposited. If you don't think that the surf at Niku can move something that weighs a thousand pounds I'd ask you to look at what it has done to chunks of the Norwich City that must weigh several tons. As for other surveys of other islands, I think that both the New Zealanders and the Bushnell may have looked at Hull and Sydney, but we've been assuming that if they had stumbled upon Amelia Earhart we would have heard about it. TIGHAR is testing the hypothesis that the flight ended at Nikumaroro. If you come across evidence - any evidence - that the flight ended someplace else please let us know.

From Don

Ric also wrote:

>The lightweight stuff (most of the airplane) is soon widely scattered
>and, over the years, various people at various times stumble across
>bits and pieces.

i would think the fuel tanks not be broken up and in fact float. they have washed on shore line just like wreckage from john denver airplane did. of course his was made aluminum so much more

From Ric

If floating debris from that part of the reef washes up on the ocean shore, I wonder how a steel tank from the Norwich City ended up on the lagoon shore?

From Don

And, over the years the only people we have found so far that say they have seen wreckage are a couple of islanders. And two of them are related. Father and Daughter I think!

From Ric

I guess I don't share your view that "islanders" are less credible than white folks, but we actually have 4 anecdotal accounts of airplane wreckage seen on the island.

  1. 1940/41 Emily Sikuli sees airplane wreckage on the reef north of the Norwich City.
  2. 1944/45 PBY pilot John Mims (a white guy) sees an aircraft control cable being used as a heavy-duty fishing line leader. Locals tell him it came from an airplane that was there when people first came to the island. Asked where it is now, they just shrug.
  3. 1959 (approx.) Pulekai Songivalu, the island schoolmaster, sees airplane wreckage on the lagoon shore opposite the main lagoon passage.
  4. 1959 (approx.) Tapania Taiki (Pulekai's daughter) sees a piece of a wing on the reef flat near the entrance to main lagoon passage. She also sees airplane parts in the bushes along the ocean beach in that same general area.

From Don

More from Ric:

>No moving of wreckage back and forth. No delayed arrival on the island.
>Just the natural fate of a delicate machine subjected to the enormous forces
>of nature".

I can't believe that Amelia would have landed intact on the reef and then left the plane out there for the sea to claim. And even if she did, the sea would have pushed it up on the beach. Not take it out to sea. In all the news reel footage taken after a major hurricane, all the boats are pushed up on the beach and left high and dry. Most are intact because they float, but they are far inland. If it were pushed into the trees intact, how could a large "Red" heavy structure come out of the trees and go back out on the reef a hundred yards or so?

From Ric

Nobody said it did.

From Don

As I suggested before, a delayed arrival until after the aircraft search, could explain why nothing was seen by the Colorado pilots. But, to find absolutely nothing that could be considered aircraft wreckage on the reef, or on the beach is a little harder for me to explain. I have been to many aircraft wreck sites where the Air Force had cleaned up everything, and there is always something left behind.

Don J.

From Ric

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but if you wish to contribute to this aspect of the investigation you'll need offer something more than opinion. LTM,

Subject: Debris and Cold
Date: 9/15/99
From: Dennis McGee

Don Jordan said: "But, to find absolutely nothing that could be considered aircraft wreckage on the reef, or on the beach is a little harder for me to explain. I have been to many aircraft wreck sites where the Air Force had cleaned up everything, and there is always something left behind."

I appreciate Don's frustration over the lack of identifiable debris on the beach. And certainly many of us share that same concern, but we also have keep in mind the wave action on the island. This is a continuous event, 24/7 as they say nowadays. The pieces would be continually tumbled -- 24/7 -- getting pushed and nudged hither and yon, and covered and uncovered perhaps several times a year.

I have no serious problem over the lack of a debris field or even the lack of the big stuff. As an example, when I stand in the surf I can feel the sand washing away from under my feet after a wave breaks and retreats. Similarly I can look down and see sand being deposited on the top of my feet. In theory, if I stood there long enough all 6-feet 2-inches of Dennis would eventually be buried where he stood. So, given enough time, I sure bits and pieces of me would eventually resurface (UGH!) off and on over the years and may or may not be discovered.

Tom Van Hare commented: " . . . low temperatures in the deeps and the fresh water means that metals aren't even rusted and panels are fully workable even 100 years after a ship went down."

The same is true for wood. There is a company in Wisconsin that is "logging" the bottom of Lake Michigan, recovering logs that sunk 80-100 years ago during the first wave of logging in the Midwest. The logs are from old-growth forests -- the nation's original forests! -- and are dried, cut, and milled before being sold. The wood is prized among today's woodworkers because of its tight grains and large widths.

LTM, who often feels dried, cut, and milled
Dennis McGee #0149CE

Subject: Re: Native recollections
Date: 9/16/99
From: Patrick Gaston

Allow me to come to Don Jordan's defense (even though he never asked). I don't for a minute believe that Don is racist. I think perhaps he was trying to point out that Niku was continuously inhabited from 1939 to 1964, and one assumes that there was always at least one resident British colonial official during this period -- not to mention the American LORAN crew. Unless the white guys spent all their time on the veranda sipping Mai Tais (an old Cary Grant movie comes to mind), one further assumes that they got out and about occasionally.

What's puzzling is that, apparently, none of these European/American observers noticed anything out of the ordinary at the same time that, according to islander accounts, visible aircraft wreckage was scattered all over the place and the village children were even playing with it. Hard to believe that nobody would have asked, "Where did all this stuff come from?" And let's not forget the Wreck Photo, which seems to have disappeared from the forum of late. Doubly hard to believe that no Niku denizen, white or brown, would have stumbled across wreckage of this size in the course of 25 years of continuous habitation.

You are not the first person to note that Pacific Islanders (among others) have a tendency to tell Whitey what he wants to hear. I suspect that's what Don meant. If any of the above assumptions about European presence on Niku are erroneous, I'm relatively sure you'll let me know.

Wow. Three posts in one day. I GOTTA get a life.

LTM (who's out beachcombing),
Patrick Gaston

From Ric

You know you can count on me. Your assumptions are erroneous.

In the 24 years that Niku was inhabited (December 1938 to sometime in 1963) there was a resident European adminstrator on the island for all of ten months. Gerald Gallagher, Officer-in-Charge of the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, arrived on Niku in early September 1940 and left June 4, 1941. He returned gravely ill on September 24th and died three days later. Aside from that, as far as we know (and the record is very clear) the only time there was a British administrator on the island for more than a couple of days at a time was in early 1949 when District Officer Paul B. Laxton was there for about three months to reorganize the colony.

The men of the Coast Guard LORAN unit did not get out and about as you suppose. Their commanding officer, Ensign (later Lt jg) Charles Sopko restricted them to the the immediate vicinity of the LORAN site on the southeast tip of the island. There were occasional organized visits to the village nearly three miles away but it is possible - even probable - that none of the Coasties ever got across the main lagoon passage to Nutiran district where the airplane wreckage was allegedly seen. Maybe that's why, when I interviewed Sopko several years ago, he was quite sure that there was no shipwreck on Gardner Island.

There was a New Zealand survey party on the island and living on Nutiran from December 1, 1938 to February 5, 1939. There was also a US Navy survey team on the island for about a week later year. These would seem to have been the most likely Europeans to have seen airplane wreckage, and there is no indication that they did, but that doesn't mean there was none there.

It is not the case that islanders have reported airplane wreckage "scattered all over the place." In fact, very few of the former residents we have interviewed remember any such wreckage. It seems that, from the very first, there was very little wreckage and it was widely scattered.

It is true that people of Pacific cultures tend to tell the interviewer what they think he or she wants to hear. I've found the same to be true of the cultures of downeast Maine and the Capeshore Peninsula of Newfoundland. We're aware of that danger and we try to be very careful. What I really like about the interviews we did on Funafuti and Fiji is that, in both instances, the information about an airplane wreck came "out of the blue" in response to questions on a completely different subject.

You haven't heard much about the Wreck Photo lately because the new information we have makes it clear that the scenario implied by the photo conflicts with that described by Emily. As Don Jordan pointed out, it doesn't make sense to have a wreck up on land get pulled back onto the reef. I still think the photo shows a big-engined Lockheed 10, but if I have to choose between the Wreck Photo and Emily, I choose Emily.


Subject: Re: Native recollections
Date: 9/16/99
From: Tom King

It's important for everyone to be disabused of the notion that there have been all kinds of European type people running around on Nikumaroro who should have seen and reported wreckage, and it ought also to be noted that most normal people just aren't as frantically interested in old wrecked airplanes as are most who take part in this forum.

Still, we've got to acknowledge that it is a puzzle that all the Europoids who moored off the stern of the Norwich City, wandered around looking at her, climbed around on her, and so forth --including the New Zealand group that was there BEFORE Emily and whose business involved airplanes -- never seem to have seen the wreckage that Emily reports. It doesn't mean that Emily's testimony's no good, or that there was nothing there, but it is a puzzle, and thinking about ways to account for it may lead to some new ideas.

The only thing that occurs to me -- and it seems like, and maybe is, a terrible rationalization -- is that Pacific Island people out fishing on the reef have their eyes attuned to very different things than people do who are not from the islands, not out fishing, not experienced with the reef. I've been out on reefs with Pacific Island people and had them point out things that were perfectly obvious to them but didn't register on my optic nerves as anything at all. So somebody out on the reef edge fishing is going to notice stuff that somebody climbing around on a shipwreck isn't. But why should they notice airplane wreckage as such, and make anything of it? And given that they certainly had never seen airplane wreckage before, why should it be more evident to them than to a group of aerodrome planners to whom wreckage was doubtless a fact of life? I dunno; it's another thing to lie awake nights puzzling about.

LTM (who just doesn't know WHAT to think)
Tom King

From Ric

Let's remember that Emily never said she saw anything that she recognized as airplane wreckage. She saw wreckage roughly 500 feet away which her father told her was from an airplane. There's no reason to think that anybody else seeing it from a distance would take it for airplane wreckage.

Did the Gilbertese fishermen on Nikumaroro at that time, who may have been the only ones to see the wreckage up close, have any familiarity with airplanes? Well, the decklog of the seaplane tender USS Pelican which visited Niku on April 30, 1939 shows that at least five of the workers then clearing land on Gardner came aboard the ship while the airplane (probably a Grumman "Duck") was on the deck. Does that make them aviation wreckage experts? No. Does it mean that they might later recognize something like a radial engine with a propeller on it if they saw one? Maybe.

LTM (who weighs the same as a Duck and so is made of wood and is therefore....)

Subject: Power for Electra
Date: 9/18/99
From: Art Carty

It occurs to me that something just doesn't jibe here. On the one hand, there isn't enough battery life to support the number/duration of transmissions, even discounting for a number for fake messages. On the other hand, the engine can not be run long enough to recharge the batteries to either restart the engine later or to power the radio, due to overheating. Do I have this right?

There's a basic bad assumption here somewhere. Either the batteries need to last longer than supposed, the engine needs to not overheat as supposed, or the batteries need to be able to be recharged at a lower rpm.

It seems that a lot rests with some statement(s) from Lockheed; have they ever been rigourously tested/challanged? Are we sure about the battery life? For all of the rigor around other parts of the investigation, this seems to not be "up to standard".

The existence of at least one message after projected fuel exhaution is a key piece of the puzzle; it would be nice to have a plausible way for it to have happened.

LTM (who gets a headache trying to figure this out)
Art Carty

From Ric

This is exactly the kind of confusion that results when we start making assumptions based upon our own personal experiences and then use them to draw conclusions about something that happened in a completely different context.

As a novelty, let's return to the facts for a moment. On July 5, 1937, in the wake of the big flap over the "281 message" which had been interpreted as meaning that the plane was floating around in the ocean 281 miles north of Howland, the commander of the Coast Guard's San Francisco Division sent the following message to USS Colorado and USCG Itasca:


Note that there are three distinct groups of experts quoted:

  • "TECHNICAL AIDS" who think that Earhart will be found on the original line of position.
  • "RADIO TECHNICIANS FAMILIAR WITH RADIO EQUIPMENT ON PLANE" who say that the radio can't function now, 3 days after the disappearance, unless the plane is on land and able to run the starboard engine.
  • "LOCKHEED ENGINEERS" who say that if the plane is in the water it will float just fine as long as "the tanks hold."

We don't know for sure who is meant by the term TECHNICAL AIDS, but we do know that Paul Mantz was Earhart's "technical advisor" and that he was of the opinion that the plane came down somewhere on the line of position, probably on an island in the Phoenix Group.

Likewise, we can't be sure who RADIO TECHNICIANS FAMILIAR WITH RADIO EQUIPMENT ON PLANE may be. There was a guy by the name of Joe Gurr who helped with the radios and in later years was interviewed extensively by Fred Goerner, but he made no mention of this episode.

Neither do we have the names of the LOCKHEED ENGINEERS who spoke about buoyancy, but it seems safe to assume that they are not the same people as the TECHNICAL AIDS and the RADIO TECHNICIANS.

We know that a Lockheed 10 sitting on the ground can start its engines from its own battery. (duh) NR16020 even had an extra battery. If the airplane was sitting on the reef at Niku intact it should be no big deal to start an engine. As for how many rpm for how long, using how much fuel, it takes to recharge the batteries with a set-up exactly like Earhart's, and whether cooling would be an issue - I have yet to hear an educated opinion.


Subject: Euros on Niku
Date: 9/18/99
From: Patrick Gaston

Ric, thanks for setting me straight on the "resident administrator" issue. Evidently the colony was pretty much left to fend for itself after Gallagher's demise. Your response is doubly valuable in that it's the first concise chronology I have seen of European/American presence on Niku. Suggest you post it as a FAQ, or perhaps an IABNNQ (Infrequently Asked But Nevertheless Nagging Questions).

I also appreciate Tom King's acknowledgment that my point is a valid one, even though I overestimated the number of Euro-types on Niku during its 25 years of habitation. The New Zealand survey seems to become more and more crucial. These guys lived on the island for two months, arriving only 17 months after AE's disappearance. They were there before the war (so no possibility of "contamination" by military wreckage) and, more importantly, before the colonists. Sixty days -- actually 67 -- is a long time to spend on a relatively small island. If they didn't see anything worthy of note, it probably wasn't there.

Have we had any success in locating the complete records of the 1938 New Zealand survey? Are any of the team members still alive? Any Kiwis out there on the forum who could lend a hand?

LTM (who bets you didn't know that the "Kiwi fruit" used to be called the Chinese gooseberry),
Patrick Gaston

From Ric

We think we have what records there are. Quite a bit of information really, and some very good maps. We don't know if any of the team is still alive but we've been actively seeking help from our Kiwi brethren in tracking them down.

The only statement I'd disagree with is, "If they didn't see anything worthy of note, it probably wasn't there." I think a more accurate way to put it might be, "They didn't see anything they perceived to be worthy of note."

Subject: Re: Survey Party
Date: 9/18/99
From: Warren Lambing

> From Don Jordan
> On July 9th, 1937, Lt.Lambrecht made several passes over the island
> during the Earhart search. He made note of and inspected the Norwich
> City
from the air. He did not see or note any wreckage! At that time
> the ship was fairly complete and pieces scattered on the reef would
> surely have stood out. I think it is fair to say, the wreckage was not
> there!

Looking at Lt.Lambrecht report, it is of interest that he described the wreck of the Norwich City in great detail. There is a trick a Ventriloquist uses when he has to move his lips, he makes sure the Dummy movements catches the attention of the audience, so that they are watching the Dummy instead of him while he moves his lips. Is it possible that Lt.Lambrecht was so involved with viewing the wreck of the Norwich City, that he could miss and smaller debris left by the Electra (if nearby the Norwich City) by the time he flew over? For that matter people who where there later and were not looking for the Electra, is it possible that their attention was focus on the wreck of the Norwich City, keeping them from noticing or distinguishing what may be left of the Electra?

Warren Lambing

From Ric

Exactly. It is beginning to look as though the wreck of the SS Norwich City was a key factor in the apparent "disappearance" of NR16020. Although still largely intact, the ship was obviously a wreck in 1937, with (as Lambrecht notes) "her back broken in two places." Only someone intimately familiar with the weather patterns that affect the island would see anything suspicious about a little bit of debris nearby on the reef to the north of the wreck. Over the years, the more the ship broke up the greater the "noise" in which any airplane debris might be obscured.


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