Volume 12 Number 2/3
October, 1996
earhart logoearhart logoParadise Lost

On February 15, in response to new American claims of ownership to islands of the Phoenix Group, H.M.S. Leith calls at the atoll just long enough to send a party ashore to erect a flagpole and placard proclaiming British ownership. This renewed interest in Central Pacific atolls is prompted by the emerging prospect of trans-Pacific commercial air travel and the need for suitable refueling locations.

On July 2, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappear aboard Lockheed NR16020. When last heard, they are near (but unable to find) Howland Island 350 nm to the northwest. Earhart says she is proceeding along a 157°/337° navigational line, but does not specify in which direction. Gardner Island lies very close to the 157° line and is within the aircraft’s hypothetical fuel range.

During the nights of July 3 and 4, bearings are taken by Pan American stations at Oahu, Midway and Wake, on radio calls suspected of originating from the lost airplane. The majority of the bearings cross in the vicinity of Gardner Island. Experts at Lockheed assert that the signals indicate that the airplane must be on land and able to operate its right-hand, generator-equipped engine. The battleship U.S.S. Colorado is dispatched to search the islands of the region.

On July 9, three Vought O3U-3 floatplanes launched from the Colorado fly over Gardner Island searching for the lost Lockheed. No airplane is seen but the Senior Aviator later reports that “signs of recent habitation were clearly visible but repeated circling and zooming failed to elicit any answering wave from possible inhabitants and it was finally taken for granted that none were there.” (The last documented habitation of the island was the brief stay by Arundel’s coconut planters in 1892.) The earliest known aerial photo of the island is taken from one of the Navy search planes.

On October 13-15, a party of 19 Gilbertese delegates led by Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony Lands Commissioner Henry E. (Harry) Maude, assisted by Cadet Officer Eric R. Bevington, perform a cursory inspection of the atoll to evaluate it for future colonization by settlers from the overcrowded Gilbert Islands. Prominent among the Gilbertese delegates are Ten (Mr.) Mautake Maeke, Permanent Head of Delegates; Teng Koata, Magistrate of Onotoa; and Assistant Native Medical Practitioner Tutu. Severe back pain limits Maude’s activities but Bevington makes a difficult all-day trek around the atoll with some of the Gilbertese. His diary describes coming upon ”signs of previous habitation” which he later described as “looking like someone had bivouacked for the night.” Although only 111 of Arundel’s coconut trees had survived, the island’s lush environment was judged suitable for future colonization. Because of the atoll’s unusual abundance of Buka trees (Pisonia grandis) the Gilbertese name the island Nikumaroro after the legendary home of the goddess/ancestor Nei (Miss) Manganibuka who was said to have come from a beautiful island covered with Buka trees which lay southeast of the Gilberts.

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