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Author Topic: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory  (Read 79431 times)

Liz Smith

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Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« on: January 23, 2011, 02:13:59 PM »

Hi everyone,

I've posted some new ideas about possible navigation errors due to the International Date Line on my website - www.datelinetheory.com. As far as I can tell, the Date Line has not been considered before as a direct cause for Earhart and Noonan becoming lost and/or not reaching Howland Island.

I'm very curious to hear what forum members have to say about my theory, given all of the experience and expertise of the group. I'd be grateful to hear any comments or thoughts on the matter. I propose the theory as one possible scenario, not necessarily the only scenario possible and I remain open to all the possibilities of what happened to the fliers until conclusive evidence of the Electra is found.

Thanks for your time,
Liz Smith

The Date Line Theory
www.datelinetheory.com

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2011, 04:22:27 PM »

Hi Liz,

I commend your enthusiasm and your willingness to subject your theory to review by this forum.
I see a few problems.

1. You've fallen into the "would have" trap.  As I've said in other threads on this forum, the phrase "would have" masquerades a guess as a fact.  You say:
"Even though a date error can have the same effect on navigation as a chronometer error, it was not as much of a practical consideration for Noonan. He would have understood the implications of using the wrong date, but for the most part in his celestial navigation experience, flights had been conducted over the course of one day, and, if the flights were overnight, it was relatively straightforward - his charts were arranged such that he barely noticed the change of dates as a flight progressed. It would not be a major concern of his to get the correct date – it would be an obvious, simple matter of knowing what day it was. Noonan and Amelia Earhart were set to take off on July 2, 1937 and that is the date he would have used to look up figures in his charts. As the night progressed and it became July 3rd, he would continue down his charts in the almanac as usual."

2. You also say, "...his charts were arranged such that he barely noticed the change of dates as a flight progressed."  With all due respect, you don't know how his charts were arranged.  No one does.

3. Your theory is based upon the proposition that a navigator of Noonan's expertise and experience neglected to notice that his course would cross the International Dateline.  During his career with Pan American he navigated the Clippers across the Pacific multiple times, crossing the Dateline on every trip.  Accounting for the Dateline should have been routine for him.

4. Like many others, you also assume that Earhart and Noonan did not have the correct lat/long coordinated for Howland.  This assumption is usually based on the fact that the strip charts prepared by Clarence Williams for Earhart's first world flight attempt show outdated coordinates for Howland. But Bill Miller, the Bureau of Air Commerce representative who later assisted Earhart in her preparations for the world flight, had the correct coordinates for the island. It seems inconceivable that he didn't give her the correct lat/long.

5. As an aside, the video on your "Final Thoughts" page is erroneously captioned "These are the last pictures taken of the female flyer Amelia Earhart. ..."   That newsreel clip dates from preparations for the first world flight attempt in March 1937.  Not even close to being "the last pictures."

6. Finally, any theory that holds that Earhart and Noonan crashed and sank at sea must somehow account for the post-loss radio signals that could only have been sent if the aircraft was on land and able to operate the right hand, generator-equipped engine.

In constructing his theory of how, why, and where Earhart went down, my old friend and adversary Elgen Long stood the scientific method of inquiry on its head.  Rather than assembling the available evidence, then constructing and testing a hypothesis, Elgen began with the received wisdom that the Electra hit the water moments after the last transmission heard by Itasca.  He then selectively interpreted the scant available evidence to build a case to support his theory.  

I fear you may have followed a similar path.


« Last Edit: January 23, 2011, 04:23:58 PM by Ric Gillespie »
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Liz Smith

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2011, 06:11:20 PM »

Hi Ric,

First, thanks so much for taking the time to take a look at the Date Line Theory and for your thorough comments. I'll try to address your comments above as best I can.

1. I understand the criticism about using the term "would have" - I've done my best to take the phrase out of my language on that page. In many cases, I replaced it with "could have" - which is what I'm really trying to say. What I'm suggesting is something that could have happened, not necessarily that it's definitely the way it did happen. I tried very hard in my explanation of the Date Line Theory to stick to that idea - this is one possibility for what happened among many possibilities. 

2. This was a misunderstanding of language and so I've changed my wording here. I didn't mean to suggest knowing the way Noonan's charts (aka maps) were arranged in the plane, but rather the way the navigation tables and information are arranged in an almanac. I would not presume to know how Noonan had his tools arranged in the Electra. I should probably have stuck more closely to navigators' and aviators' specific uses of the terms "charts" and "tables." I interchanged them in this instance, and have now corrected that. 

3. I feel that I did account for Noonan's expertise in my explanation. I point out that he did have experience crossing the Date Line, knew it was along their course and knew he needed to account for it. However, the timing of the flight was such that they crossed local midnight prior to the Date Line and changed local dates twice in the flight. As far as I can tell, Noonan had never dealt with that particular situation before. I also should clarify that my understanding is that Noonan was an excellent navigator and I have a deep respect for his abilities to celestially navigate. That is, in fact, near to the heart of the Date Line Theory - how could such an excellent navigator not find Howland Island? It makes me wonder if he made a simple mistake - in much the same vein that geniuses are inept at tying their own shoes. I find it hard to believe that such a skilled navigator could just "get lost" out there. Too many people underestimate Noonan's (and Earhart's) skills and experience. My theory suggests quite the contrary.

4. I do rely on Elgen Long's account that Howland was mapped as being ~6nm west of the actual Island. However, that fact is not essential to the core of the Date Line Theory. If they had the true coordinates of Howland Island, then the location they were heading for (if the Date Line Theory is correct) was 60nm west of Howland, rather than 66nm west of Howland. True or Mapped Howland coordinates do not change the effect of the Date Line. I chose to use the mapped Howland coordinates because I found Elgen Long's argument for it to be substantial.

5. Thanks for the note on the video caption. That caption is a quote from the source of the video which is labeled in the notes at the bottom of that page. I went ahead and edited the caption to reflect your comments. I took out the quotes for the first sentence and put it in my own words to avoid any errors in facts about the film clip. 

6. I haven't seen substantial evidence that any of the post-loss radio signals were indeed from Earhart and Noonan. Therefore, I didn't include them as evidence in constructing the theory. I should note that while I am relatively convinced that Earhart crashed in the ocean and sank (mostly by the information as laid out by Elgen Long in his book), I'm not sold on any definitive re-construction of what happened. My main interest is in the effect of the International Date Line on the flight's navigation and I've shown that potential effect on my website. From there, many different things could have happened. In fact, the Date Line could have caused such an error, and they may have continued from that position southward, ending up at Gardner, as you suggest. This is one reason why I included both a straight-line and LOP approach to Howland Island in my diagrams. I don't wish to argue about the two different approaches - it seems there is evidence for both. I only wished to show that the Date Line could have been part of the chain of events in keeping them from reaching Howland Island. In my best estimation from reading the varied evidence, I came to the conclusion that crashing and sinking is the most plausible of outcomes from the Date Line error, so that is what I've put forward on the site.

As for your last critique, I would argue that I haven't taken the scant facts and twisted them to my theory. Quite the contrary. I read about the flight and the information we do have (thanks to you, Elgen, and others), and it made me wonder if the Date Line had an effect. So I started with the hypothesis - what if Noonan made an error when crossing the Date Line? What would have happened to their course and position with such an error? In following that hypothesis, it became apparent that such an error would put them ~60-66nm to the west of Howland (actual or as mapped). None of the substantiated evidence we have discounts that possibility, so I put it forth as a possibility. Building on that, I feel that the disparate radio calls (100 and 200 miles out) could potentially support the Date Line Theory, but (as I say on my website) I recognize that these radio calls don't don't make it so either and the discrepancy could be attributed to other explanations. As they say, correlation does not imply causation.

I hope that helps clarify the Date Line Theory in regards to your comments. Again, I do appreciate the feedback. Science and research are meaningless without peer review. I'd be curious to hear more commentary, especially on the celestial navigation calculations and how the Date Line theory works out for those in your forum experienced with using celestial navigation at sea.

clear skies,
Liz

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2011, 10:12:44 AM »

Let's back up a bit.
Earhart and Noonan left Lae, New Guinea intending to fly to Howland Island. They had enough fuel for roughly 24 hours of flight.
Radio transmissions received by Itasca reliably indicate that after roughly 19 hours of flight Earhart was under the impression that they had reached a point from which from she should be able to see the island ("We must be on you but cannot see you..."). The strength of the transmissions suggest that the aircraft was in the general vicinity of Howland (within perhaps 200 miles).  Over an hour later, the aircraft was still aloft, still in the general vicinity, and running on a 157 337 line.  The Electra never arrived at Howland.
 
We know that Earhart and Noonan never intended to use celestial navigation alone to find Howland, but the failure of the radio direction finding part of the plan left no alternative.
What bothers you is why a navigator of Noonan's obvious expertise and experience was apparently so far off course that he couldn't find Howland within the time constraints of the fuel supply. I agree with you that something must have happened to put him off course.  You have suggested one possibility - that he made an error in his calculations by failing to account for crossing the Dateline.  There is no evidence that he made such an error but that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened.  He could have also mis-identified a star during the night, as he did on the Oakland-Honolulu flight. There is no evidence that he made such an error but that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened.  There could have been any number of mishaps for which there is no evidence, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have happened.  There is, however, documented evidence of something that happened that might logically put the aircraft significantly off course. 

The discovery of the James Carey Diary in 2007 (Carey was the Associated Press reporter aboard Itasca) confirmed that during the first transmission heard from Earhart at 02:48 a.m. local time, Earhart was heard to say "sky overcast."  Celestial navigation only works if you can see the sky.  If an overcast was hiding the stars from Noonan during the night he could navigate only by dead reckoning.  The forecast wind for that portion of the flight was East Northeast at 20 knots.  The observed wind aloft at Howland was East Northeast at 31 knots.  It appears that Noonan experienced stronger than expected crosswinds from the left during the night and was unable to correct his course using celestial observations, putting him significantly south of course in the morning.  He could get a line of position once the sun was up but there was no way he could know where he was on the line.

Neither your Dateline Theory nor what we might call the Overcast Theory is a testable hypothesis, so one will ever be able to say that you are wrong.  But when choosing between possible explanations, isn't it more reasonable to pick one that is supported by evidence than one that is based purely on speculation?
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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2011, 01:08:49 PM »

Could you clarify your premise for me?  Do you presume that Noonan used local time for his navigation, then for each individual celestial observation converted his local time to GMT for his celestial computations?  (If Noonan set his chronometer to GMT at departure--1000L was conveniently 0000 GMT--and en-route elapsed time did not exceed 24 hours, he would not have changed GMT dates, and would have not have been exposed to the possibility of a "dateline error".)  I did find your site very well done, but was confused by the basic premise.
Rick J
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Christophe Blondel

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2011, 02:50:46 PM »

I was about to make the same remark as Ricker. Liz you are dragging us into a strange paradox, on the one hand writing (on your web site) that '[FN's] chronometer was set to Greenwich Mean Time and did not imply a date change at all', on the other hand supposing that he had to change twice his reference day during the flight. But he hadn't ! He was on July 2nd GMT on the whole leg and would never have to shift for another page of his almanach. The only possible difficulty could have been to deal with longitudes above 180° or below -180°, but that occurs so often in celestial calculations, even far from the date-line, that it could not be a problem.

Something more important : I find it strange to make celestial navigation referring to the right ascension of the sun, i.e. taking the distant stars as the reference frame. OK, we would see the sun rise 4 minutes later every morning if the day was defined as the time needed for the Earth to come back to the same orientation with respect to the distant stars after one rotation. But the day is not defined that way (do you see the same constellations all year long in the evening ?) The day is precisely defined by the period of our coming back in front of the sun ! This implies that during 24 h, the Earth rotates a little more than exactly 360°. A little more that may be ... 60 miles at the equator (a day is actually the period of a ~361° rotation). As a consequence, because we have defined time that way, except for small variations the sun rises nearly everyday at the equator at the same time (Ric, you've been there, did you notice the sunrise to be delayed by 4 min everyday ??) The small variations, by the way, can be calculated from the tables, but I guess that their main source at the equator (nearly no seasonality) are the variations of the Greenwich hour angle, and it is just a matter of a few ' per day, exactly 2.8' for instance between July 2 and July 3 2010 (sorry I do not have 1937 at hand).

So if FN acidentally skipped by one page (or one line), from 2 to 3 July, he may have been wrong by 2 to 3 nautical miles, certainly not 60.

Christophe Blondel (who never uses celestial navigation in a glider)
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Liz Smith

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2011, 04:30:05 PM »

Wow, thanks for all the input everyone. 

In response to Ric, I'm not really aiming to argue one possibility versus another or discount the enormous amount of work your group has done. I followed one potential idea down its path to see what might happen as a result, and that's what I've put forth (e.g. Fred's Howland as shown on my website). In an effort to extrapolate on that result and suggest a practical search area, I've chosen to use the calculations and ideas put forth by Elgen in his book as I felt his numbers were more substantiated. It doesn't mean they're right, just that I felt more swayed by his arguments and chose to apply them since we don't know what happened.

I think it's possible that the radio calls from Earhart support my idea, just as you think its possible they support yours. However, taking small fragments of information from those calls is hardly factual evidence. We don't know what else was said or what the context of each statement made by Earhart was, so it's really difficult to place any absolute value on them. There may also have been missed radio calls that amounted to "we're out of fuel and ditching" or "we're heading south in search of other islands" - we just don't know, so it's impossible to rely on them for evidence. (In a personal side note - I almost died in a head-on car collision years ago because the end of a sentence was cut off in a CB radio transmission, so I understand the value of not taking radio calls at face value.) Sometimes what's missing is just as important as what's there.

In response to Mr. Blondel and Mr. Jones, you make very good points and I'm re-assessing the conclusion based on what you've said to see how it affects the theory. The work I've done is based on astronomy calculations and is theoretical. As I stated on the website, I do not have practical experience celestially navigating. My hope in posting the information here and consulting with others familiar with celestial navigation is to test my hypothesis: could the international date line have affected the navigation of the flight and, if so, what kind of calculation error would that result in?

As far as I can tell, changing the date by one day and using the same time (hours/minutes) will move your location by 60 nautical miles. Could that have happened on the flight? Would Noonan have made that kind of error? Is it more likely than other scenarios? I'm asking the members of this forum about it to help clarify the factors involved. I don't wish to definitively declare what did happen, only to suggest ideas for what was possible. If, in effect, I have shown through these calculations that the date line most definitely did not affect the flight, then we still have learned something. As always in scientific research, a negative or positive outcome for an experiment isn't good or bad - what we aim for is that the result will add to our knowledge of the subject. I hope that I've added something valuable to the discussion by posing my hypothesis - whether or not Noonan actually made such an error.

I look forward to hearing more specifics - perhaps we can put the date line to rest if there is significant factual evidence that proves the contrary to what I've suggested is possible.

Once again, thanks again for taking the time to look into these ideas!
Liz


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Ricker H Jones

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2011, 05:41:50 PM »

Here is the July 2,1937 Nautical Almanac page for the sun.  You can see how the GHA values change from day to day.
Rick J
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Bruce Thomas

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2011, 06:45:04 PM »

Do you presume that Noonan used local time for his navigation, then for each individual celestial observation converted his local time to GMT for his celestial computations?

Thank goodness you posted, Rick.  (Having read the mini-bio for you on Ameliapedia, I was fervently hoping that you would!) 

I know next to nothing about navigation, much less celestial navigation.  But it struck me as quite odd that the procedure given for finding out where you are on the surface of the earth would require that you know what the local date/time was at that spot, which then presumes you know where you are ... like a dog chasing its tail.  When it's so wellknown that FN had calibrated his chronometer in Lae and knew exactly the date/time at the Prime Meridian, and since by that standard it was never July 3 for him, I was quite puzzled why we should ever think that he was required to use the July 3 figures -- but only up to the International Date line -- and then somehow he forgot to drop back to July 2 for subsequent calculations.  That made no sense at all.

But, of course, the idea that his eyes were tired and he mistakenly used the July 3 figures is certainly an intriguing possibility... even though the post-loss messages throw a monkeywrench into the works.
LTM,

Bruce
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Christophe Blondel

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2011, 02:31:15 AM »

Here is the July 2,1937 Nautical Almanac page for the sun.  You can see how the GHA values change from day to day.
Rick J

Thank you Ricker. From this page one can see that at a given time in the day (typically Oh GMT), the Greenwich hour angle (GHA) of the sun varies by 2.8' or 2.9' (actually something in between, the variation being only due to rounding errors) between July 2 and July 3. The error due to taking the July 3 GHA instead of the July 2 one would thus be less than 3 nautical miles, quite the same order of magnitude as the one I estimated yesterday using the 2010 almanach. Since the sun was a bit further in the east at 0h on July 3 than on July 2, erroneously using the July 3 reference on July 2 would actually have made FN believe he was further in the east than where he actually was. But only by a few miles, for this does not result from the average 1°/day displacement of the sun with respect to the distant stars. It only appears because the increase of the sun's right ascension is not a linear function of time, due to the ellipticity of the Earth orbit and a seasonal effect. It is only a correction to the ideal circular-orbit model, which thus has a much lower magnitude than the 60 NM effect that Liz estimated.

To say it again in short words, since the sun rises everyday at the same time on the equator, you can know your longitude by measuring this time, without bothering too much about the date. Maybe if you take your almanach on January 2 instead of July 2 (that may happen too ...) you will get a total error of more than 100 NM, but the day-to-day variation, or possible error, is just a few arc-minutes, i.e. a few NM, to my opinion nothing more.

Christophe Blondel
« Last Edit: January 25, 2011, 02:33:48 AM by Christophe Blondel »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2011, 07:14:02 AM »

As an aside, when the colony was on Nikumaroro the sun rose every day at precisely 6 a.m.
This was quite puzzling to a visiting British administrator until he realized that every morning when the sun came up everyone set their clocks to 6.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2011, 09:40:39 AM »

In sum it seems that FN may have gotten caught a bit short on opportunities to make-up for lost RDF once the problem was realized after a night of mostly dead-reckoning due perhaps to overcast.

I'm pretty sure that the recognition that RDF was not working came well AFTER dawn.  Fred would have had only the sun and perhaps the moon to work with--all the stars and planets would have disappeared shortly after sunrise (I don't know where Mercury and Venus were that day).

Quote
Gee Marty, aren't you proud of me?  I finally 'did a link' (I hope it worked...)!  :)

Well done!
LTM,

           Marty
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h.a.c. van asten

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2011, 11:03:32 PM »

Mrs.L.Smith , "local midnight" and "the date line"  depend on definitions having not existed on board of Earhart´s aircraft since it was flown on Z (GMT) time schedule as usual. It was therefore for the navigator not needed to use any other almanac pages than the ones for July 2 , 1937 . The flight deployed ( by plans and by reality) between 0000 and 2400 GMT of one single day and it ended about 4 hours before sun´s sub point came to the Greenwich anti meridian for the start of July 3. Hence , the phenomenon that the crew " lived one day after they disappeared" is not valid , except for the facultative case that they survived until after that point of time. Flying an aircraft long range  on " local" time is impossible since the time zones as well as Local Mean Time have administrative definitions only , and both , like the international date line which geometrically is the Greenwich anti meridian , have virtual quality only. Therefore neither the dateline , nor the local (zone or mean) time do not have any importance for navigation , let be the concerning remarks above. The 180 degrees meridian btw was crossed about 1725 GMT , or 6 1/2 before July 2 ended.
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h.a.c. van asten

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2011, 02:38:21 AM »

Mrs.L.Smith , By recomputing the 0720 radioed fixed position near Nukumanu island(s) , proof comes up that the great circle route seen in many maps , books and internet sites does not at all apply to the July 2nd flight. And it has been published : European Journal of Navigation , vol. 9 , no.1 , april 2011 : "Frederick Noonan Precomputed  a Running Sunset Fix for Amelia Earhart´s Flight from New Guinea to Howland , July 2 , 1937".
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david alan atchason

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Re: Seeking Comments on New Date Line Theory
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2011, 08:07:23 AM »

I am writing this as a rookie when it comes to navigation. This comment may be logical, simple and WRONG. I recently read a book which I did not thoroughly understand, but one of the points explained was that while the earth takes 365.25 solar days to orbit the sun, in a year the stars do 366 rotations, that is an observer would see the stars revolve 366 times in one exact year assuming they could view them, presumably also during the day. So the star chart would not completely agree with the sun chart. The book said the "Ancients" knew this, think Stonehenge, so I pondered if the date used was wrong, is it possible that would throw off the plotted position by 1/366 of the earth's circumference? Like about 68 miles by simple division? I haven't read the link to that new dateline theory yet, but I will. I remember when a Mars satellite or lander went wrong because the NASA engineers used feet instead of meters in their calculations. So couldn't Fred make a similar mistake? I think Ric wrote about them being tired, so they took a day off in Lae, and/or Fred was too drunk. You have to remember in 1937 excessive imbibing was not then a "disease" and was likely to be covered up in most cases. Even if Fred was simply fatigued and stressed as he would not have been  when sitting in a breezy office making calculations for Pan Am flights it could have led to a mistake date line or not. As has been said, possibly they were planning to depend on their radio and direction finder, which failed them. As soon as I take a course in celestial navigation and astronomy I will comment again.
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