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Author Topic: Why no flares fired by Itasca?  (Read 13334 times)

Kent Beuchert

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Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« on: May 06, 2014, 11:59:54 PM »

I have re-read Finding Amelia and observed that Commander Thompson ordered the Itasca to make
smoke when it became obvious that Amelia was in the vicinity but couldn't see Howland. But why on earth didn't he begin firing a steady stream of flares?  Every ship has flares and a Coast Guard cutter probably had thousands  of them, considering its primary duty as a rescue vessel. He should have fired them from his ship, regardless of where it was (since if Amelia saw it he could direct her to Howland) as well as from Howland Island as well. A flare had been the standard way to attract attention at sea for a very long time by 1937. It was one of the first things the Titantic did after striking the berg. Or did he do the obvious but it was not mentioned in the book, even though the book seems very detailed?
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2014, 01:26:40 AM »

Would Flairs work during the day?

Titanic was at night.
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JNev

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2014, 11:29:11 AM »

Smoke issuing from a vessel seems to have been the accepted daytime standard for attracting attention; flares sound interesting, but I suspect not the greatest daytime exercise - they are of course hampered by daylight conditions and would be fleeting compared to lingering smoke.  Not that flares aren't useful for distress signals, etc. by day - that is often the case.

Tragically, whatever smoke trail was laid down by Itasca was apparently not noticed - it was never mentioned by the flight, and they rather clearly did not find it by which to track to the island.  As to whether flares would have made the difference on that day, it is an interesting thought - but it seems we'll never know.
- Jeff Neville

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Monty Fowler

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2014, 12:03:18 PM »

Flares or distress rockets used to attract attention in the daytime typically attract it because of the smoke, or smoke trail, that they emit. Trying to pick out the burning part of a flare against the blinding background of a tropical sea, on a sunny day, is theoretically possible. As a practical matter, however ...

Indeed, standard US Navy pilot training teaches them that if they're bobbing around in the daylight their life raft, or, worse, just their life jacket, to ignite their day/night flare and then hold it under water for a bit so that it starts to smoke a lot when exposed to the air and waved around.

LTM, who knows about holding things under,
Monty Fowler, TIGHAR No. 2189 CER
Ex-TIGHAR member No. 2189 E C R SP, 1998-2016
 
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Kent Beuchert

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2014, 03:46:04 PM »

Whether flares work better at night (which they should) does not answer my question of how well they
work  in the morning of a cloudy day. In that situation, you don't sit around theorizing about the efficacy of flares during cloudy morning conditions - you have them, you fire them off. They certainly cannot hurt and it doesn't in any way detract from your search to fire as many as you can lay  your hands on. I see the problem as existing in large part  because the island was so low that it blended in with the horizon. Flares rise into the air and can be seen from a distance, certainly far better than that island can be seen. I would find an experiment along these lines interesting, even though it has no bearing on finding Amelia. Anybody got some flares and a boat?
As for getting attention, I would have turned on any revolving searchlight. Or fired my main canon as well. I would have done anything I could possibly think of as commander of the Itasca to draw attention to my ship, no matter where it was. If I can be seen by Amerlia's airship, it doesn't matter where I am - I can always direct her to the island via hand signals, which  happened all the time during WWII when carrier pilots got lost and were looking for their ship. They would fly over any friendly ship they could find and even drop a note on the ship's deck with their question. I'm afraid I have a very low opinion of  Commander Thompson's abilities as a ship's captain.
 To better understand flare rockets, I looked round and found this description of a packet rocket for launching a distress signal flare - note that it is U.S. Coast Guard approved FOR DAY OR NIGHT USE.
   "The Orion Pocket Rocket is durable and waterproof.  The Pocket Rocket Signal Flare Kit is Coast Guard approved as a day/night distress signal. "
  I believe a rocket distress signal could have been seen from a distance (exact distance, at this point, unknown, of course) that morning of Amelia's disappearance, and firmly believe she was close enough to potentially have seen rocket flares. The strength of her radio signal, i believe,  indicated she couldn't have missed Howland by all that much.


« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 04:11:18 PM by Kent Beuchert »
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don hirth

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2014, 05:05:56 PM »

To me, as well.............It "appears" Thompson screwed up, big time. With haze and wind, and also the
sun to contend with, flares, by the hundreds if necessary, should have been utilized. Too bad Thompson's
lack of imagination and judgment prevailed on that morning.
dlh
 
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2014, 06:52:30 PM »

Something very similar was tried a few years later Kent in another lost plane trying to find Canton Island...

Eddie Rickenbacker and Six Other People Survive a B-17 Crash and Three Weeks Lost in the Pacific Ocean

"Thanks to a broken hydraulic line, the takeoff on the 20th had to be aborted. All on board plus luggage, mail bags and navigation equipment were transferred to another B-17. They finally took off at 1:30 a.m. on October 21, bound for island 'X' (so designated for security reasons; actually Canton Island), about 1,800 miles to the southwest.

An hour before the estimated arrival time, Captain Cherry throttled back, slowly descended to about 1,000 feet and began looking for Canton Island. It never came into view. Thinking they had overshot their mark, Cherry and De Angelis made a 180-degree correction and began looking for their destination from the opposite direction. Again they saw nothing but ocean.

Reynolds kept in constant contact with personnel at Canton. He requested a bearing, but the island did not have the equipment to provide one. He next contacted another island, known as 'Y,' for assistance and was told to circle at 5,000 feet for 30 minutes and to keep sending continuous radio signals. In the end, however, all Y could provide was a compass course reading, which was worthless since that did not tell the crew whether they were flying toward or away from their destination. Without a bearing the pilot did not know in which direction to fly.

There was no question about it now — they were lost. De Angelis offered one possible explanation: His octant had been aboard the plane during the aborted take off in Hawaii, and it might have been jarred enough to throw his observations off. Even a few degrees could have caused them to fly many miles to the right or left of their destination. The crew asked Canton to fire off anti-aircraft shells, set to explode above the clouds at 7,000 feet, and also to send out search planes in every direction. Nothing worked. Their only hope was to spot a ship, but that also proved fruitless."

I guess it all boils down to being in the right place. Where you think you are and where you actually are plus, where they are in relation to actuality and thought.

http://www.historynet.com/eddie-rickenbacker-and-six-other-people-survive-a-b-17-crash-and-three-weeks-lost-in-the-pacific-ocean.htm
This must be the place
 
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2014, 01:48:45 AM »

Are we over thinking the whole thing?  He had his orders and he had his protocol to follow regards laying down the smoke.  Doesn’t make him a bad commander, just one who isn’t prepared to think outside the box.

You could go at this all day with ‘why didn’t he’, here’s mine.  Why didn’t he put all non essential crew on shore and build a human pyramid and have the top person wave a large improvised flag.  Could have worked?
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Monty Fowler

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2014, 07:04:16 AM »

Could have ... would have ... should have ... all we have left after 70-odd years is the few bits of fragmentary records that have survived, and they oftentimes raise more questions than provide answers.

Hindsight is always 20-20, so the saying goes. But that will ultimately not lead to us finding Amelia and Fred.

LTM, who is poindering the new secret code on his membership card,
Monty Fowler, TIGHAR No. 2189 CER
Ex-TIGHAR member No. 2189 E C R SP, 1998-2016
 
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Kent Beuchert

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2014, 05:46:20 PM »

Quote
Are we over thinking the whole thing?  He had his orders and he had his protocol to follow regards laying down the smoke.  Doesn’t make him a bad commander, just one who isn’t prepared to think outside the box.

  I doubt whether there was ever a protocol for the situation he was in. My first thought if I were in his position would have been that Amelia's plane is lost and flying at 150 knots and therefore isn't likely to be inthe neighborhood very long. Making smoke not only takes time to get it going, but takes a considerably time to get any into the air, assuming that there is no breeze and it will actually rise to some visible altitude. The situation requires speedy decisions and action, which Thompson failed to do. I might add that officers are not graded highly if they merely "follow standard procedures (which for this situation I'm not even sure what they would be, or even if a relevant protocol exist).  The most important factor in rating  an officer for promotion is that he demonstrate personal initiative and show skill in using whatever he has at hand to get the job done.  The military services are not looking to promote officers who simply do the minimum (which Thompson clearly was doing, i.e. Ric's description of how Thompson basically was most concerned that he wouldn't get blamed for what was happening). There are many things Thompson could have done beforehand in anticipation of problems with radio contact. I'll leave it to you to think of some of those things that could have, but weren't, done.
  My main effort this past week has been to ascertain the visible range of a rocket parachute flare. While I don't know precisely the characteristics of a pre WWII flare, descriptions of same lead me to believe that not much has changed since then. Rocket flare guns today cost less than$30 and fire flares that generally rise to 500 - 650 feet and stay suspended in flare mode for quite a few seconds.  Their  luminosity ranges from 16,000 to 30,000 candles.
Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain any data concerning visible range of lights/flares  during daytime, except to note from my own observations of the Atlantic Ocean out my window that you can see lights during overcast days from quite a distance - beyond what I can see at the horizon, which at my condo's altitude, is 13 miles away. I was able to obtain data on visibility during good viewing conditions for lights at night. Of course, the curvature of the Earth means that your horizon will, at some point, interfere with your line of sight. For example, at Amelia's presumed altitude of 1000 feet, the horizon is 37 nautical miles away. The horizon for a flare at 500 feet is 27 nautical miles, which means that Amelia would have unobstructed line of sight to a flare suspended by parachute at 500 feet from 27 plus 37 or 64 nautical miles away - over 70 statute miles. But could she see the flare during overcast? I don't know, but here is what she could have seen in near darkness - a 100 watt incandescent light bulb which produces 1850 lumens can be seen by the unaided eye at a distance of 118 kilometers, or over 60 miles. I would estimate the flare to be several times brighter than a 100 watt lightbulb, leading me to guess that it could be seen from more than 100 miles away, if the line of sight were unobstructed. So if Amelia had arrived in the vicinity of Howland ( which she clearly  did, based on the strength of her radio signal) in early twilight, unless  both she and Noonan were looking directly away from the island, it would have been, in my view, impossible for them to have missed seeing a flare shot from the ship or from the island.  And, of course, you don't just fire a couple of flares.
A Coast Guard vessel I would guess has hundreds, perhaps thousands of flares on board, and quite a few flare guns as well. But again, I wonder how far a flare in overcast or cloudy conditions can be seen. Certainly further than a during a bright sunny clear day. My experience looking out my window tells me that much. The way to find out is, of course to fire some flares on a cloudy day in the morning as occurred during Amelia's approach and make observations at various distances. Haven't tried that yet. Probably won't. I  have convinced myself, however,  that Amelia would have easily seen flares while she was in the vicinity of the island and most likely from quite a distance as well. It's just too bad that Amelia didn't request the Itsca to fire flares during one of her broadcasts. I'm also surprised that Noonan didn't suggest doing the same.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2014, 07:59:31 PM by Bruce Thomas »
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don hirth

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2014, 06:30:35 PM »

A nice piece of work on this flare 'thing', Kent!
With all of the other misunderstandings, lack of preparation and antenna damage........
the flares may have made all the difference in the world!
dlh
 
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Kent Beuchert

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Re: Why no flares fired by Itasca?
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2014, 05:15:37 PM »

 Today, while reading the technical explanations of signal strength/proximities, I realize that my assumption that a stronger radio signal necessarily meant closer proximity was incorrect. That was the reason I believed  that AE was probably  close enough to see flares. I don't believe that any more. In fact, from the signal propagation data,it looks as though that strength 5 signal might well have been received when she couldn't have seen flares even at night, with a 50 mile unobstructed line of sight. Of course, had it been me, not having a clue as to where AE's plane was, I would certainly have shot off as many flares as I could get my hands on.
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