Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 27 through March 4, 2000

Subject: Happy Trails
Date: 2/28/00
From: Ron Bright

Your answer seems to contradict itself. You say you can easily see the "trails" in the website photo version---here and there. Then conclude with "whether or not the anomalous features are trails is open to debate. That the features are present in the photo is not." Exactly my point. I can clearly see squiggly features or lines of different texture in the photo but I can't classify them as "trails". Are we saying the same thing? Or are you saying the anomalous, irregular features in the photo are different from the so-called "trails"?

In your first posting re "New Bulletin" you indicated that photographic evidence, i.e.the trails, may show human presence on NIKU prior to the arrival of the l938 colonists at the "site where we now most strongly suspect the bones of the castaway were found in 1940 (by Gallagher)". I guess what you're saying now is that the area around the figure "7" seems the more likely spot where the remains were found, not where they are pointed out to be on your Niku map, the Kanawa Pt and Aukaaraime South areas. Or do I have that confused too.

I think I read somewhere that because of the drought conditions AE may have lasted only a few months. But I agree with Harry Maude. He stuffed himself with plentiful crabs, fish and birds for 3 days; you could last forever. Rainfall was normally about 100 in. a year. Plus coconuts.

Maybe your new Tracks has a revised map or you could send out a new Niku map with the areas where the various artifacts were found. TIGHAR's discoveries would remain identical but the Gallagher discovery may have moved.

Ron Bright

From Ric

Let me see if I can make this clearer for you:

  1. There are features visible at and near the "7" site on the 1938 map that are anomalous --- that is, we don't see them anywhere but there.
  2. On other, later, aerial photos we see very similar features which we know are manmade trails.
  3. We know of no other explanation for such features and do not see such features in other photos except where we know there were manmade trials.

While we can not state categorically that the features seen in the 1938 photo are trails, all of the available evidence points to that conclusion. That's the best we can do.

Our previously published maps of Niku showing Kanawa Point and the Aukeraime site do not include the "7" site because, at that time, we did not regard the "7" site as a serious possibility. We had checked it out in 1996 and found that the "water collection device" we had hoped might be an aircraft fuel tank was in a fact a steel tank brought down there from the village. It was only recently that Tom King suggested that the village-related material at the site may have been brought there BECAUSE the bones had been found there and the WPHC had ordered an "organized search." Reviewing what we learned about the site from our 1996 investigation, and in the light of new information we have found since then, several aspects of the "7" site now make it the prime suspect.

The new Tracks does indeed have a map showing the "7" site as well as an in-depth, point-by-point analysis of all three sites. It does not, however, include a discussion of the apparent "trails." That all came up after the magazine was already set and ready for the printer.

Over the years I've found that this investigation proceeds very much like the solving of a large and complex jigsaw puzzle. First you define the edges, and that's relatively easy. Then you start constructing individual elements, often not knowing just where (or in this case, if) they will eventually fit into the puzzle. There are long dry spells where nothing seems to fit and you wonder if the dog has eaten so many pieces that the puzzle is impossible to solve. Then you look at a piece you had previously discarded from a slightly different angle and - bingo - it drops into place. Once that happens, other pieces suddenly make sense and whole chunks of the puzzle come together very rapidly until you hit the next big snag. And so it goes.

The realization that the "7" site was worth a fresh look may have been a breakthrough, or it may be yet another red herring. It's too early to tell. The important thing is to have the courage to pick up the pieces, see if they fit, accept them if they do, and put them back down if they don't.


Subject: The yacht Yankee
Date: 2/28/00
From: Dennis McGee

Ric said:

>The American yacht Yankee cruised the Gilbert Islands in
>1940 ostensibly searching for Amelia Earhart but the WPHC, from
>whom they asked permission, suspected it was a scam to help fund the trip.

The yacht Yankee . . . how big was it?

I'm asking because I've just starting reading the biography of William "Wild Bill" Donovan the first head of the Office of Strategic Service (later the CIA) during W.W.II. Last night, in the book, Donovan's wife was taking a sea voyage on "the Yankee" to the South Pacific in the summer of 1940 to recuperate from recent surgery. The trip was cut short when the Donovan's daughter died in an auto accident near Fredericksberg, Va. Mrs. Donovan was dropped off at Guam (???) and picked up three weeks later by a Japanese (yes, Japanese . . .this was 18 months before Pearl Harbor) freighter for the return to Hawaii. An American ship took her back to L.A. and she took a train to D.C. for the funeral.

Anyway, I just thought is was a marvelous coincidence that the Yankee in this book was in the South Pacific in the summer of 1940 at the same time another (?) Yankee was in the Gilberts.

I will re-read that part of the book tonight and post appropriate passages (copyrights be damned!) for the Forum, if you want me to.

P.S.: No conspiracy-theory lovers needed for this one. Donovan was not yet the head of OSS (though he did have FDR's ear on a number of current issues) and his wife truly was recuperating from surgery.

LTM, who really is THAT prissy
Dennis O. McGee #0149CE

From Ric

I'm not sure how big Yankee was but it's almost gotta be the same boat. Randy? Didn't you find a National Geo article about the voyage of the Yankee?

Subject: Artifacts at the "7"
Date 2/28/00
From: Andrew McKenna

I must have missed it, but could you summarize the artifacts that were discovered near the "7" in 96?

Andrew McKenna

From Ric

Here's a repeat of the forum posting I put up on January 28th:

As forum readers will recall, we are considering the possibility that a site surveyed and dismissed by TIGHAR in 1996 may, in fact, be the place where the bones of a castaway were found in 1940.

The site surveyed by TIGHAR in February 1996 is located on the northern coastline of the atoll about 1,000 meters from the extreme southeastern tip. In this area the ribbon of land surrounding the lagoon is at its narrowest, spanning only a little over 100 meters from lagoon shore to ocean beach. Today the region is solid scaevola ("te Mao") with scattered tournefortia ("Ren") but aerial photos show that in June 1941 there was a band of Pisonia grandis ("Buka") behind the beachfront bulwark of scaevola. The presence of many old fallen Buka trunks today confirms that the area was once open forest such as still predominates just a few hundred meters further along the coastline to the northwest.

TIGHAR's attention was first drawn to this area in 1990 by anecdotal accounts from Coast Guard veterans who told of coming upon an abandoned "water collection device" while out exploring along the shore. The device was said to consist of a tank , possibly metal, with a covering of some kind rigged above it on poles so that rainwater would drain into it. There was said to be a pile of bird bones and feathers nearby and a place where there had been a small fire. We speculated that this could be a survival camp with a cistern fabricated from one of the aircraft's fuel tanks and, during our 1991 expedition (Niku II) we made a concerted but unsuccessful effort to find it.

Late in 1995, forensic imaging of aerial photographs of the area taken in 1941 indicated the presence of manmade objects in a particular spot within the suspect area. Guided by the enhanced photos, a short ( 4 days on the island) expedition to Nikumaroro in February 1996 succeeded in locating the site but we were disappointed to find that the tank and several other artifacts nearby were clearly associated with the British colonial settlement, not an aircraft. Detailed measurements were made and the objects and features found were photographed and videotaped. Five artifacts were collected (see below). It appeared that the expedition had disproven the hypothesis that the site had been an Earhart/Noonan survival camp.

This is what was present in 1996:

About 25 meters into the bush from the vegetation line along the lagoon shore was a steel tank measuring 3 feet square by 4 feet high. It was painted white with the words "Police" and "Tarawa" dimly legible in blue. The corners and bottom were very rusty and the tank had not been watertight for a long time. The top was open, apparently rusted away, and in the bottom lay a steel ring which had clearly once been the fitting for a heavy round steel hatch that lay on the ground nearby with the words "Baldwin Ltd. - Tank Makers - London" molded into it. In the bottom of the tank were six coconut shell halves which had apparently been used as drinking cups. There were no coconut trees in the area.

On the ground beside the tank were three wooden poles, each roughly two meters long, a few very rusted scraps of corrugated metal, and the base of an unusual -looking light bulb (which we collected and have as Artifact 2-3-W-3). About three meters from the tank was a small "Ren" tree at the base of which was a scattering of very dry bird bones. About seven meters from the tank, on the side away from the bird bones, was a depression in the ground roughly 3 meters across by less than a meter deep. The coral rubble in the bottom of the hole was quite loose, suggesting that the hole had once been deeper but the sides had slid down. At the time, we speculated that the hole represented an abortive attempt to dig a wel. Lying amid the loose coral rubble in the bottom of the hole was a spent .30 caliber rifle cartridge with the number "43" on its base (collected as Artifact 2-3-W-4). This is consistent with the M-1 carbines carried by the Coast Guard and reportedly used to shoot at birds.

Beginning about 15 meters from the tank, going toward the ocean beach, and scattered over the next 24 meters were:

  • three small pieces of very fine copper screening. ( Sample collected as 2-3-W-1)
  • a dark brown four-hole button 15 mm (a little over a half inch) in diameter. Material uncertain. (Collected as 2-3-W-5)
  • a broken finished wooden stake approximately 1 inch square in cross section and perhaps 18 inches long.
  • an empty, very rusted can about the size and shape of a can of car wax.
  • a flattened roll of tar paper with green roof shingle material on one side.
  • an irregularly shaped sheet of asbestos (?) roughly a 18 inches square by 1/4 inch thick. (fragment collected as 2-3-W-2)
  • the rusted remains of a steel barrel or drum.
  • a broken shard from a white porcelain plate

The new TIGHAR Tracks has a plot showing where all of these items were found in relation to each other.


Subject: Re: The yacht Yankee
Date: 2/29/00
From: Randy Jacobson

Based upon the NG article, the Yankee was quite large: the family of about 5 or 6 plus a couple of others seemed quite comfortable. Shooting from the lip, I'd say the boat was at least 100'. The NG article ends with the ship in Easter Island. I was curious if the Yankee truly applied to WPHC, but they did visit the Gilberts and a number of the uninhabited Phoenix Islands. The skipper, Irving Johnson, is quite renowned in the yachting community.

From Ric

The WPHC had an entire file on the Yankee. Permission was requested, and granted, to visit the Gilberts for the purpose of searching for Amelia Earhart. On September 14, 1940, Jack Barley, the Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony reported to his boss Sir Harry Luke, the High Commissioner, with the dates that the Yankee had visited various islands within the colony. There is no mention of the yacht calling at any island of the Phoenix Group. According to Barley, the ships compliment was 19 and all were U.S. citizens. Barley concludes his report with this paragraph:

"All my sources of information state that the activities of the party appeared to be only those of ordinary tourists -- batheing, sightseeing and fishing. Mention of Mrs. Putnam was made on one or two occasions, but the "search" was purely incidental to the voyage. Personally I incline to view that the question of Mrs. Putnam's disappearance was linked to the Yankee's voyage very largely in order to ensure publicity for Captain Johnson who, as Your Excellency will be aware, runs these voyages on a profit-making basis."

Gosh. Maybe we've been going about this all wrong.



Artifacts at the "7"

Date: 2/29/00
From: Vern Klein

A lot of things at the "7" site seem to fit, others are just puzzling. The "Ren" trees were there for the castaway to perish under. How about "Kanawa" for the coffin?

Gallagher's people evidently expected to spend enough time at the site to justify setting up a water catching/storage facility, but they did no coconut planting there. Was it just for the search for other artifacts associated with the castaway?

The roll of tar paper is odd. It's of a type intended primarily for roofing although it might well be used on side walls as well. There's no evidence of other materials to suggest an intent to build a shack.

I wonder if the roll of tar paper really belongs in 1940? Were there any markings on the back side that might provide a clue to its origin? I wonder if such tar paper was used at the Loran station? Who knows how it might have got that far away.

From Ric

We know that Coasties visited the site on at least one occasion but it's hard to imagine why they would bring along a role of tar paper. For one thing, tar paper is very heavy and site, although it may look close on the map, is a long hard slog from the Loran station.

Other things about what was found there and what wasn't are puzzling.

  • six coconut shell drinking cups at the tank suggest at least six workers, but only one discarded food can?
  • why only a few scraps of copper screening?
  • whose button? Gallagher's? A worker's? Or is it from the castaway?
  • where's the rest of the plate?
  • a plate? Who eats off a plate? The guy who ate the food in the can?
  • why a tank AND a barrel presumably to collect water for such a small operation?

Maybe a more thorough search will turn up more artifacts that will fill in the picture better (but that's exactly what Vaskess said in 1940).

Subject: Journey of the schooner Yankee
Date: 2/29/00
From: Dennis McGee

The recent discussion regarding the "yacht" Yankee and its appearance near Niku in 1940 has taken an interesting, but peripherally to AE/FN at best, twist. The following passage is from The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan (pp. 141-143) by Anthony Cave Brown, Times Books, 1982.

Note: William J. Donovan was a W.W. I Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and prominent lawyer and political figure in New York who served as Assistant Attorney General under Herbert Hoover. In spite of his Republican affiliation his native intelligence and his ability to get things done earned him high marks in the Roosevelt White House before and during W.W. II. Roosevelt later asked Donovan to create and run the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor the CIA.

Not until October 13, 1939 did her doctors give Ruth [Bill Donovan's wife] a clean bill of physical health, but it was evident that she was depressed and needed a complete change of air, scenery, and companionship. That she discussed with David [her brother in-law, Bill's brother] the twenty-second, when she announced that the schooner Yankee was sailing for the Pacific and she would like to sail with it. . . . With all of the arrangements made, Ruth left Washington . . . on November 19 and joined the Yankee in the Panama Canal four days later. ... Ruth was on watch when the telegram came in over the merchant marine voice radio at dictation speed, while the Yankee was off Samoa in the early hours of April 9, 1940. The telegram from Bill contained the most terrible news: Patricia [their daughter] had died following a road accident at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the eighth. . . . Now followed a period of unbelievable agony for Ruth, as the Yankee put about for Samoa, about four days' distance, where she was to disembark and make her way to Honolulu and Washington."

But how was Bill able to reach her? Read on . . .four paragraphs later

Uncertain about how to communicate with the Yankee, or even which latitude the schooner was in, Donovan gave instructions that Patricia was to be kept in a vault until Ruth's return to Washington. Then, WJD stated later, Roosevelt heard of Patricia's death and directed the naval authorities to find a means of communicating with the Yankee. The message from WJD was passed to Ruth, and a Japanese freighter, the Mariposa, was asked to meet the Yankee at Samoa and take Ruth to Honolulu.

Ruth reached Samoa in the Yankee at 3:00 a.m. on April 15 . . .[and later learned] she would have to wait until May 2 or 3 for the Japanese steamer to arrive because of the great distance it had to travel. . . . At last the Mariposa arrived on May 3, 1940. She sailed almost immediately and arrived at Honolulu on the eight . . ."


  1. If the Yankee's logs are not available this passage reconstructs at least part of its voyage.
  2. Here is another example of Roosevelt using the armed forces to assist in a civilian matter, not unlike his actions in the search for AE and FN.

LTM, who has visited a "schooner" or two herself
Dennis O. McGee #0149CE

From Ric

The following points in the Yankee's voyage are documented in the WPHC file:

April 4, 1940--- Yankee arrives Canton Island from Honolulu with 20 passengers and crew (telegram from "Fleming" to Acting Sec. High commision.

May 10, 1940--- A handwritten (and hard to read) letter to the High Commission from "H.B.M. Agency and Consulate, Tonga" describes the Yankee as having a crew of 14 plus passengers and gives its progress to date as "Panama, Ecuador, Galapagos, Easter, Pitcairn, Mangaina(?), Tahiti, Hawaii, Canton, Pago Pago, Tonga."

September 14, 1940--- report to High Commission from Resident Commissioner, G&EIC gives the following movements:

May 13, 1940 Arrived Funafuti from Tokelau Group
May 14, 1940 Arrived Vaitupu
May 15, 1940 Departed Vaitupu
May 20, 1940 Arrived Nikunau
May 21, 1940 Arrived Beru
May 23, 1940 Arrived Onotoa
May 30, 1940 Arrived Tarawa
May 31, 1940 Departed Tarawa
June 3, 1940 Arrived Ocean Island
June 6, 1940 Left Ocean Island for Vanikoro

It's interesting to note that in a letter written later, Captain Johnson claimed that in June 1940 people on Tabituea told him that they had heard a plane high overhead the island at night. Johnson's visit to Tabituea was not mentioned in the above correspondence and may have occurred later in June.

Had Yankee called at Gardner she would have had to do so sometime between April 4th when she arrived at Canton and April 15th when she arrived at Pago Pago. Gallagher would not arrive to live on Gardner until September of that year and the island had no radio, so it's possible that such a visit could go unreported but Johnson would have had to intentionally omit it from the itinerary he gave the British consulate in Tonga and it's hard to imagine why he would do that given that he freely acknowledged visiting Canton.


Subject: Artifacts at the "7"
Date: 2/29/00
From: Ron Bright

Prof. Harry Maude's book may give some clues to the discovery of various artifacts at the "7" area and possibly the same area his good friend Gallagher found the bones, sextant box etc. (Were ren trees present there in 1940). Prof. Maude says that he brought many more settlers to Gardner in 1940 and in Mar 1941 the settlers began work on "demarcation and plotting" of the land holdings---about 20.

I'm not sure what he meant by demarcation, but it might mean physical boundaries being established and other work throughout the Island for individual land for each settler. He was with a "working party" at the time of the discovery. This suggest that indeed that southeast corner (which he geographically described) might have been an area of settler activity---may account for tar paper,and many of the artificats associated with this "7" area.

Any documentation from the social history of Gardner during those early days of settlers that there was some punishment, isolation from the group at the far southeast corner, or other social outcast type of "relocation"? Maude does mention some cases where the settlers may not have been one happy family.

Ron Bright

From Ric

Maude's description of settlement activity on Gardner in Of Islands and Men is cursory and somewhat misleading when compared with his own official reports from the time and the subsequent reports filed by Gallagher. Maude himself was not involved in the settlement scheme after 1939.

There was no settlement activity at the southeast end nor is there any indication that malcontents were "banished" to some remote part of the island. There was clearing and planting activity on Aukeraime which is both discussed in Gallagher's reports and evident in aerial photos. The little bit of clearing activity at the "7" site in 1941 is not described in any of Gallagher's reports nor have we found any material similar to the tar paper, sceening, plate, asbestos, etc. at the aukeraime site. Whatever was going on over at the "7" site circa 1941 sems to be quite different from anything else we see on the island.


Subject: Another eyewitness
Date: 3/1/00
From: Ric Gillespie

One of the things I love about this job is that the most amazing people sometimes just call on the phone out of the blue. Usually it's somebody from the bank asking about the overdue payment but once in a while it's a guy like Gerald V. Berger of Seattle who called yesterday morning to tell me that he wanted to make some corrections to the book he had just read called Amelia Earhart -- The Mystery Solved. I explained that I had not written the book but Mr. Berger, who is 83, said that was okay. His son had found our website on the internet and so he had called me. He also wanted to know if I would like to have some photos he had taken of Amelia Earhart's airplane when it was wrecked on Ford island. I said, " Sure, you mean at Luke Field?"

"Well, that's what the Army called it. We shared the runway with them. To us it was Fleet Air Base, Ford Island."

"So you were in the Navy?"

"Yup, aircraft mechanic with VJ6. I also drove the crash truck. We had the only crash truck on the field."

"Did you drive the crash truck that morning --- the morning she wrecked the airplane?"

"Sure did. Saw the whole thing. We were following down the runway behind her just in case. Looked to me like she tried to pull if off too soon and it settled back down crooked. The right wing dipped, then the right gear folded and that was it."

"So you were on the scene right away."

"First one there. I ran up on the right wing and leaned across to get the hatch open. Had an awful time. There was this loop antenna and you had to turn it to get it out of the way before you could open the hatch. About that time two Army guys got up on the left wing and we got the hatch open. That's when we saw she was unconscious."


"Yeah, that's where the guy who wrote the book has it wrong."

(On page 101 the Longs say:
"With deliberate calm Earhart shut off the ignition and master switches and opened the overhead hatch. She stood up on the pilot's seat with her head and shoulders out of the cockpit. The fire truck was right behind her. She watched as it pulled up on the left of the plane.")

"Are you sure she was unconscious? What did she look like?"

"She was slumped over sort of down to the right. I guess Newman [sic] must have reached over and released the hatch. He was fine but she was real groggy. We got her up and out of there and standing on the wing and she came around.

(The Longs say:
"Lieutenant Arnold and Chris Holmes arrived at the plane just as Earhart exited from the cockpit. Chris helped her as she came down off the left wing. Amelia asked, "What happened?")

"Newman was pretty uptight about his charts and insisted on getting them out of the airplane. We were all worried because there was gas all over the ground and puddling up where the hot bottom cylinders had dug gouges in the macadam and a bunch of sailors were wanting to come help and they were smoking."

"How many people were in the plane?"

"Amelia and Newman were up front and there was another fella in the back. They had a bunch of extra fuel tanks in the cabin and he was back behind them. I don't think I talked to him at all. I had a little Brownie camera --- servicemen weren't supposed to have cameras in those days, but I did anyway --- and I started snapping pictures. Later that day I took the film in to town to have it developed. When I went back to pick it up I found out that the guy who owned the store had sold one of my photos to the newspaper. I was real mad so he gave me $20."

The Army's official report on the crash contains the following description: "The fire truck had followed along the side of the mat during the take-off and reached the scene within a few seconds as did the observers nearest the crash. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt."

The official report also contains several witness statements including:

Major Phillips Melville, Operations Officer, Luke Field:
"The Luke Field crash truck had followed the the airplane on the take-off and was on the scene immediately. The persons nearest the scene reached it within a few seconds. The undersigned leaped into an automobile and hurried to the scene, arriving first as Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt."

1st Lieutenant Donald D. Arnold, Air Corps, Depot Engineering Officer, Luke Field:
"I grabbed Mr. Chris Holmes by the arm and together we sped to the scene of the crash in my car. Mrs. Putnam was standing upright in the cockpit but Mr. Noonan and Mr. Manning had not yet alighted. Mr. Holmes proceeded to assist Mrs. Putnam and the crowd formed immediately."

Fred D. Wood, Civilian Employee, Hawaiian Air Depot:
"By the time the airplane had stopped doing the ground loop, the Luke Field fire department was at the plane prepared to put out any possible fire. The mechanics from the Hawaiian Air Depot who were standing along the edge of the landing mat ran across the run-way to the plane with fighters. Mr. Mantz with a fire fighter accompanied these mechanics.
"Miss Earhart was standing up in the cockpit soon after the plane had stopped turning, and a short time after that, crawled out of the cockpit and went to the rear cabin door."

This is a classic conflicting eyewitness situation, even among the people who provided written statements at the time. Gerald Berger --- like Leo Bellarts, Frank Stewart, and Harry Balfour --- had some first-hand involvement with an event which was to become legendary. The story each of them tells includes a dramatic element that is unsupported by the written record.

Gerald and I talked for quite a while. He told me that a couple of years later he was assigned to the seaplane tender USS Pelican. The ship had a Grumman J2-F "Duck" on the fantail which they swung out and plopped into the water with a crane. They were sent way down to South Pacific to take aerial photos of a whole bunch of islands.

I said, "Yeah, you were supporting the USS Bushnell's survey."

"Yes!! How did you know that? I have photos of the Bushnell."

"Oh, we've tried to study up on things that happened in that area. Did you take any photos of the islands yourself?"

"Sure. Lots."

"From the air?"

"No. I was the mechanic. I generally didn't ride in the plane except for maintenance tests."

"Do you remember any of the islands you visited?"

"Sure. I remember that when we stopped at Hull Island about 20 men went ashore in the launch and spread out and did a search."

"A search for what?"

"For her plane of course. Didn't find anything though."

"So you guys were still thinking about Earhart?"

"Oh yeah. A lot of people were sure that she had made it to one of those islands."

"Do you remember visiting Gardner?

"Sure. I think I have a picture of it. I'll send you a copy."

"Thanks. I'd love to see it. We have a copy of the aerial photo mosaic the Duck took that day. That was April 30, 1939. Do you remember if anybody went ashore there?"

"I think so, but I'm not sure."

(The Pelican's deck log does not indicate that anyone went ashore but Jack Petro, the foreman on Gardner, and a few of the workers did visit the ship for a few hours.)

Although Mr. Berger's recollections contain no great revelations, it's always a privilege and a little bit spooky to speak with someone who "was there."

I did not tape our conversation and the reconstruction of our conversation related above is a paraphrase done from notes I took as we were speaking. The information and the tone are accurately conveyed if not necessarily the exact words. There was much more to the conversation. I've reproduced only the parts that are relevant to our investigation.


Subject: Artifacts at the 7
Date: 3/1/00
From: Tom King

We know there was really heavy weather on Niku between the time Gallagher was instructed to make an intensive search and the time he put the bones aboard Nimanoa. I wonder if the "house" might have been built in preparation for overnight stays because it was (or was expected to be) too rough to return to the village across the lagoon. I also wonder (sheer, untestable speculation) if after the loss of the inverting eyepiece Gallagher decided he'd search the site by himself, and just camp out there for awhile to do so.


From Ric

An anecdote recently told to me by Kay Kepler, a botanist who has spent a lot of time in Kiribati, may be somewhat apropos to the issue of "inverting eyepiece" and possibly other artifacts.

A while back a crew widening a road on Tarawa knocked down a very old coconut palm and up with the roots came a bunch of human bones. A couple of local young men ran over and collected them along with a set of American dog tags belonging to a young Marine named Dennis Gilmore who had died in the 1943 assault. The proper authorities were notified and eventually a team came out from Hawaii to collect the bones. They also insisted upon having the dog tags which were still in the possesion of the young men who collected up the bones. The young men were very disappointed to lose their souvenir and there was much sympathy in the local community that it was unfair to take the tags away from them. There was no magic or superstition associated with the tags. They were just a cool memento of something really interesting that happened.

For what it's worth....


Subject: Re: another eyewitness
Date: 3/1/00
From: John Raspanti

Fascinating i have a favor to ask. Could you give me your opinion of Witness To The Execution, I'm reading it now. I'm curious about the witnesses, they don't seem to have anything to gain by lying to Brennan. No money was offered..( that i'm aware of). Also the Thomas Devine book...interesting...but do you belive it's all fiction?

Thanks, John

From Ric

I don't believe it's all fiction, nor do I think the witnesses were lying to Brennan or that Devine was intentionally spreading falsehoods. Malicious intent is by no means a prerequisite of bad information. People mean well but they remember things wrong. We all do it. Some memories are absolutely accurate, other aren't. The problem is that there is no way to tell which are which. That's why historians rely upon contemporaneous written records, photographs, and artifacts. Unfortunately there are none of those things to support the various and mutually contradictory Japanese capture stories.


Subject: Gerald Berger Reports
Date: 3/2/00
From: Dennis McGee

What a coup! Getting copies of Gerald Berger's photos will be a real treat. Now I know why we pay you The Big Bucks! :-)

The fact all of the written reports from that era omit any references to AE's injury does not surprise me, and it offers a clear example of the differences in public and medical attitudes of the '30s compared to today's.

In Gerald's account, AE apparently suffered a mild concussion and was unconscious for only a very short time. The fact she recovered so quickly and there was no visible evidence (??) of trauma, led her rescuers to assume she was "unhurt," so there was nothing to report.

Today such an event would dictate the pilot and crew spend the night at a local hospital for observation and evaluation. The fact AE was knocked out would also cause concern among her doctors. With recent discoveries of the real damage concussions can cause (ask '49ers quarterback Steve Young for starters), this minor accident would today be a good reason for a major physical exam. And if the FAA got the info . . . well, just ask Bob Hoover what happens when the FAA starts bumbling around your medical records. (Don't get me started on that!!)

Ric, nice catch on the Berger data! I know it fell into your lap, but don't ignore the importance of good luck (See also the Tarawa papers!). As my poker playing buds tell me, "I'd rather be lucky than good!" TIGHAR, its staff, and members are both!!

LTM, who is afraid of wetting herself at this point
Dennis O. McGee #0149CE

From Ric

We seem to have all kinds of luck. Some of it's even the good kind. It's interesting that Berger read Long's book but ended up calling us. The reason is simple. We're on the web and he's not.

As much as I enjoyed talking with Mr. Berger, I would not be quick to accept that AE was in fact unconscious or that she she hit her head. In fact, Berger never said that she had hit her head. To belabor a point, Berger's information is anecdotal and contradicts, in some respects, contemporaneous written accounts. Unless one of his photos turns out to show AE passed out in the cockpit or with a big lump on her forehead, the rules of the game say that we have to stick with the hard evidence.


Subject: Bevington Interview re Human Activity
Date: 3/2/00
From: Ron Bright

The major clues to AE/FN's presence on NIKU (aside from the LOP and radio signal stuff) between 2 Jul 37 and 13 Oct 37 came from the contemporaneous reports of Lt. Lambrecht and Cadet Officer Eric Bevington, Maude's assistant. The other significant clues were discovered much later---1940 to 1991.

  • Lt Lambrecht says he saw signs of "recent habitation" on 7 Jul 37 as he buzzed over Niku but didn't identify the location or what the signs were.
  • Cadet Bevington, in your interview of him in 1991, says he saw evidence of "recent human activity" on Aukaraime [where the shoe parts were found].

Lambrecht's report must stand on its own, but did Bevington provide additional details concerning his observation of "human activity", i.e., artifacts, campfires, shelters, or whatever. He surely must have recalled more! Did he describe how thoroughly he and Prof Maude explored the island or any other activity that might have flushed out AE? Was that expedition aware of the possibility of Earhart's crash in the Phoenix Is?

Lastly, apparently there is no documented history or reports of organized "human" activity on Niku, say from 1936 to July 1937, other than the turtle hunters, castaways or yachters; or maybe nearby Islanders?

Ron Bright (I need this for a little presentation)

From Ric

First it would be good to get the facts straight.

  • Lambrecht's overflight was on July 9, not July 7.
  • The most important Bevington evidence comes from the diary he kept at the time (a contemporaneous written source), not his anecdotal recollections in 1991.
  • Maude was not a Professor at the time. He was a civil servant Lands Commissioner for the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony.

The evidence in Bevington's diary is contained in one passage:

In the afternoon [of October 14] we got a canoe and Maude came in it, his lumbago being better, and I took him to all the points of special note I had visited the day before. It was a deluxe way of doing it, in a canoe gliding across the lagoon with natives paddling. We found many interesting things including signs of previous habitation.

When we visited Bevington in 1991 we asked him to mark on a map of Niku where it was that the "signs of previous habitation" were seen. We were careful to ask him to do this before we said anything about what we had found or where we had found it. He thought for a moment and put a question mark on Aukeraime just east of Bauareke Passage (we have this on videotape and we have the marked map). When we asked if he could elaborate on the diary entry he said, "It wasn't much. It looked like someone had bivouaced for the night."

Later in the interview he recalled "low walls or mounds." Maude did not apparently keep a diary but he also recently claimed to remember a "mound" of debris which he took at the time to be a relic of the Arundel plantings in 1892.

I don't agree with your final statement:

>Lastly, apparently there is no documented history or reports of organized
>"human" activity on Niku, say from 1936 to July 1937, other than the turtle
>hunters, castaways or yachters; or maybe nearby Islanders?

I'd say, there is no documented history or reports of any human activity on Niku in the years immediately prior to 1938 except for a brief visit by HMS Leith in February 1937 and the confirmed presence of a castaway whose remains were found in 1940.


Subject: Re: Another eyewitness
Date: 3/3/00
From: Jerry Hamilton

RE: Noonan in front during Hawaii crack up.

I was also surprised by the possibility Fred was up front instead of Manning. I remembered that Noonan had been quoted about the accident so I checked the newspaper accounts from the Oakland Tribune. One article from March 21 is an "eyewitness account" which FN gave United Press. Fred is quoted as saying, "I was sitting in the back of the plane among my navigating instruments." QED

blue skies, -jerry

From Ric

There you go. The Anecdote Dog bites again. When you think about it - Berger had never met Noonan or Manning. Whoever was in the right seat probably did not introduce himself when the hatch was opened. All Berger knows is that there's a guy there. In later years, all the press about a man with Earhart is about Nooonan. Ergo, the man becomes Noonan (Newman).

Subject: Re: Another Eyewitness
Date: 3/3/00
From: Dustymiss

For what it's worth -

Why and what people recall of different events is fascinating. Sometimes it is not bad recollections of first hand accounts that lead to erroneous statements by eyewitnesses --- sometimes it is wrong assumptions made at the time one is witnessing an event --- I would suspect that when they opened the hatch, Amelia might well have been slumped over. But what Mr. Berger mistook for unconsciousness may well have been Amelia trying to deal with her emotional disbelief over what just happend, coupled by her composing herself to face Mantz, the Army and Navy, reporters and the entire world that was waiting to ask their endless questions the moment she emerged from the plane.

It is documented fact that before Amelia would go onstage to give a lecture, she would be asked to be left alone so that she could have a moment or so to compose herself before going out in front of a crowd (I have read that in two places --- it will take me some time to find the sources but I will, if you wish.) What Mr. Berger saw may well have been her preparing herself emotionally for the deluge of questions and problems that were about to befall her.

Plus, this accident happened so quickly and was so unexpected that what Mr. Berger saw as Amelia being "groggy" was not necessarily from being knocked out, but from the state of mind and emotion that can often come after something traumatically unexpected happens -- in other words she may not have been recovering from being unconscious, but from shock.

The part of his story that fascinates me the most is Mr. Berger's interpretation of why the accident occured in the first place --- I am sure others have had this interpretation, but reading this description, it is the first time that what happened that day has actually made sense to me --- that "she tried to pull it off too soon", landed crooked on one wheel, blew the tire and ground looped. Because he was in the chase truck, he saw the accident from a unique angle, to which other observers were not privy. Am I totally crazy? Or is this a possible scenario? Was this the first time Amelia ever crashed on take off? Was this the first time she piloted the plane, taking off alone (without Mantz' help) with such a heavy load of fuel? Afterall, Amelia said "Indeed, so easily was the plane moving down the runway that I thought the take-off was actually over" "There was not the slightest indication of anything abnormal." Then she says "Witnesses say the tire blew. However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident. Possibly the landing gear's right shock absorber, as it lengthened, might have given way." She knew that they came down hard when Mantz landed the plane in Hawaii and this may have been her way out of taking the blame off herself, by intimating that the blame might have been Paul's. It also explains why, even before the plane came to a complete stop on the mat, she knew she had to go again. She was far too proud to end this flight on a mistake of her own making. It could also be why Elgen Long said that Amelia was so sure there was nothing mechanically wrong with the plane on the second attempt. Perhaps, it even played a factor in her reversing her course, so she could do a bunch of light fuel take offs before having to do another heavy fuel one.

LTM --- Who adores speculating on events in other people's lives.

From Ric

AE may also have merely been leaning down to shut off the fuel selector.

The Army board of inquiry found that "after a run of approximately 1,200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to the collapse of the landing gear as a result of an uncontrolled groundloop....[L]ack of factual evidence makes it impossible to to establish the reason for the groundloop."

Amelia's other accidents all occurred during landings. This was almost certainly the first time she had attempted a takeoff alone at such a heavy weight. It's also worth noting that the aircraft's CG was probably much farther aft on this takeoff than on subsequent heavy takeoffs if only because there was more weight back in the cabin behind the tanks (Noonan and the trailing wire antenna rig). Berger may be correct or Mantz's later criticism that she "jockeyed" the throttles may be why she lost it. In either case, there seems to be little doubt that the cause of the groundloop was poor piloting technique rather than any mechanical failure.


Subject: Vaguely on topic: Historic Preservation
Date: 3/3/00
From: Ken Feder

CRM (for Cultural Resource Management; this is a magazine published by the National Park Service, focused on historical perservation issues and archaeology) has just distributed its latest issue (Volume 23, No. 2). Its title is American Aviation: The Early Years. It includes a series of articles summarizing the early history of aviation and recent attempts to preserve places (and aircraft) associated with significant accomplishements in early aviation. You can download a copy of the magazine at (I just checked the site and they still have the previous issue up, so you might check back in the next day or two). The magazine also provides the following url for the a downloadable copy of the Park Service's National Register Bulletin titled "Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Historic Aviation Properties:

Ken Feder

From Ric

Along with many others in the aviation historic preservation community, Tom King and I were each independently invited by the Park Service to review the draft bulletin back when it was first contemplated. It turned into a real dogfight and I'm sure there were times when the Park Service regretted ever bringing up the topic. I think the bulletin as published is useful with regard to what might be termed aviation historic real estate (airfields, hangars, light beacons, etc.) but I think it only makes matters more confusing with regard to old airplanes. But that's just my opinion.

Subject: Re: Historic Preservation
Date: 3/3/00
From: Ken Feder

Ric wrote:

> Along with many others in the aviation historic preservation community, Tom
> King and I were each independently invited by the Park Service to review the
> draft bulletin back when it was first contemplated. It turned into a real
> dogfight and I'm sure there were times when the Park Service regretted ever
> bringing up the topic. I think the bulletin as published is useful with
> regard to what might be termed aviation historic real estate (airfields,
> hangars, light beacons, etc.) but I think it only makes matters more
> confusing with regard to old airplanes. But that's just my opinion.

That explains the final pages of the latest CRM written by Patrick Andrus, one of the authors of the aviation bulletin. He makes references to the "issues" some have raised about the bulletin. My head began hurting when he explained why an old plane housed in a modern building that is near a runway at an airport might be eligible for the Register, but an old plane in a museum would not be. Sheesh! I like dealing with archaeological sites. They stay put.

Ken Feder

From Ric

Therein lieth the problem. The National Register of Historic Places was designed to help protect historic properties that could not be put in museums (buildings, bridges, battlefields, etc.). Its use was expanded to include "movable objects" that could not be preserved in museums (battleships for example). Then along came locomotives which, although they can be can put in museums, most people don't --- so, sure why not, put them on the National Register. Well heck, if you're doing boats and trains, why not do airplanes? (As far as I know nobody has yet put any automobiles on the Register but under the current logic I can't imagine why not.)

But an airplane is not a Historic Place. We already have wonderful mechanisms for the protection of historic airplanes --- they're called museums. If the airplane is historic it belongs in a museum. Airplanes should not be eligible for inclusion on the National Register --- end of story. An airplane crash site might be a historic place but it would have to be the site, not the airplane (or whatever is left of it) that is historic because airplane debris goes away over time and can not be preserved indefinitely in situ. Same concept as a battlefield --- this is where it happened and it's worth remembering that even if there is nothing left here from that time. None of this seems very complicated to me but you would not believe the convoluted reasoning and contradictory justifications the Park Service came up with to try to make the National Register work for old airplanes. Naturally, they only succeeded in creating more confusion and pissing a bunch of people off. Your tax dollars at work.


Subject: Bevington's Recollections
Date: 3/4/00
From: Ron Bright

That is fascinating stuff about Eric Bevington's awareness, along with the other Colonial Service officers, that they all knew about Putnam's reward of $2000 when they landed on Niku 3 1/2 months after her disppearance. And in 1937 Putnam and many others speculated about the Phoenix area as a possible crash site.

Along with their three day thorough search of the Island from "end to end", says Harry Maude, I would think that the search for Amelia must have been close to the front of their minds! Then, according to Bevington,he finds "signs of previous habitation" on 14 Oct like "someone bivouaced" for the night. Wouldn't it dawn on that poor fellow that some castaway, if not Amelia herself, might be about and make an effort to find the castaway!!

$2000 in US dollars would go along way to help in their colonization efforts. And the strange thing is that at night they set up large campfires for crab protection, and the bird noise was "deafening" etc and yet AE/FN didn't see or hear this 21 party expedition; and didn't see the 108 ft schooner tied up directly to the Norwich City. Hmmm.

Then circa summer of 1940 Gerald B. Gallagher, a very close associate of Maude's, finds some bones,including a partial skull, during a work party and practically the first thing that comes out of his mouth : "(it) is just possibly that of Amelia Earhart." He must have thought he struck gold until he learned later that the bones were a male and over 45, according to the Hoodless examination. He probably had AE and the Phoenix Is on his mind since 2 Jul 37. Then he goes on and finds a few more artifacts, i.e., shoes (size 10), etc.

It sounds to me that beginning in Oct 1937, Maude, Bevington, Gallagher, et al., were keenly aware of AE and if not specifically looking for evidence of AE, they would have recognised any signs of aircraft wreckage or signs of a survior, other than that vague reference to "recent habitation"...

I think the most interesting aspect of the situation is why didn't AE/FN, if alive, see this expedition group during the three days in Oct 1937.

Although anything is possible it seems quite likely that AE and FN, if they did crash on the outer reef just north of the Norwich City and made it to the wider island area and were capable of assisting rescue efforts (for instance, waving at a flying seaplane with a loud motor overhead on 9 Jul 37) and not severely injured in the crash (as some speculate), they were already dead. It seems the only tenable solution; they had to have died early on and their remains and the aircraft remains, if any, on the island, were washed away, buried, or not in view during Maude and Bevington's exploration.

Particularily, if the Catspaw heel and the sole, found in 1996, and the bones, found in 1940, turn out to be, in fact, AE's.

The other possibility is, of course, AE didn't make it to Niku. You and the forum have been at this for eleven years and are more knowledgeable re all of the facts, circumstances and probabilities of this scenario. What is your opinion?

Ron Bright

From Ric

Remember that Bevington's later recollection of being aware of the reward doesn't necessarily mean that he and Maude were aware of the reward at the time of their visit in October 1937. Bevington was probably aware of Earhart's disappearance because he was still in England when the news hit (Eric, Gallagher and Wernham all came out on the same ship that left England in mid-July). Whether he yet knew about the reward in October or was aware that the Phoenix Group was a suspect area is impossible to say, but it's clear that he heard about it at some point. There is certainly no indication from his diary or from Maude's writings that Earhart was at all on their minds during their visit to the Phoenix.

Maude's thorough search of Gardner from end to end is pure horse manure. Harry didn't even go ashore the first day because his back was killing him. Eric decided to circumnavigate the island with a few of the Gilbertese, thinking that the place was a fraction of its actual size. They didn't even take any water with them. By the time they got down anywhere near the southeast end the hike had become an exercise in survival. No searching was done. Their only desire was to make it back to the west end alive and they walked along the ocean shore where the footing was easiest. On the second day Eric took Harry for the canoe ride described in an earlier posting. The third day was spent digging wells at the west end.

It's difficult to impress on anyone who has never been there just how big a place Niku is. Let me just say that it is totally conceivable that someone camped in the bush near the "7" site may not have had the faintest idea that a ship had arrived at the west end more than two miles away or that people had walked up the beach a few hundred yards away. They might, however, see the footprints the next time they went out to the beach. (Can you imagine how you'd feel, having failed to attract the attention of the search planes back in July and now you've missed people who walked up the beach?)

My opinion? There may well have been airplane wreckage on the reef north of the Norwich City and castaways living in the bush at the southeast end when Maude and company visited the island in October 1937.


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