Our current working
hypothesis is that the aircraft debris found on Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner
Island) originated from two distinct aircraft. One was a B-24. The other
was Earhart’s Lockheed. To test that theory it is essential that we make
a conclusive identification of the only aircraft known to have crashed
and been salvaged for metal by the Phoenix Island colonists. The only written
mention of this crash found so far appears in a scholarly report entitled
Titiana written in the late ’60s by anthropologist Kenneth Knudson. According
During the late war
years, a large four-engined aircraft from Canton Island crashed on Sydney
(an island about 200 miles east of Nikumaroro). Apparently low on fuel
or with one engine on fire, it circled the island once before attempting
to ditch in the lagoon. The approach was made too low, however, and the
airplane sheared off a palm tree and crashed just inland from the village.
...[T]he wreck became the chief source of aluminum for the islanders,
who had learned on Canton Island to make women’s combs and other ornaments
from this material. Eventually almost nothing remained of the aircraft.
The Niku II expedition
recovered just such an aluminum comb from Nikumaroro in 1991 and the island’s
former residents now living in the Solomons recently told a TIGHAR researcher
that such objects were made from pieces of the wreck on Sydney (see “Solomon
Islands Expedition,” page 14). Part numbers on two other artifacts
found on Nikumaroro confirm that they are from a B-24 aircraft. We can
pin it down even further. At least one of the parts came from either a
B-24C (not likely, because only nine were built) or one of 1,559 B-24Ds.
If the Sydney crash was one of those B-24s that would handily explain the
origin of all the non-Electra parts on Niku. If it was not one of those
airplanes then the Liberator parts had to come from somewhere else and
our working hypothesis needs changing.
To date, we’ve been
unable to find any other record of the Sydney crash. Knudson does not specify
the nationality but, coming from Canton Island, the airplane was almost
certainly either American or British. Both, of course, operated the Liberator,
and Canton was a hub of ferry activity. “During the late war years” is
vague but PBY pilot John Mims remembers no such wreck as of the time he
left Canton in the spring of 1945. We’d like to hear from anyone
who can help identify and document this loss.