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Author Topic: October 1937 exploration  (Read 77566 times)

Ric Gillespie

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2010, 12:59:32 PM »

The aviators scouting the island see only parts of the plane they presume to have come from the SS NC. AE and FN are already too debilitated if not one or both already deceased, and no ground signal profound enough to be visible is made to the planes.
A photo taken during the search confirms that the tide was high with significant surf along the reef edge.  An aircraft hung up on the reef edge would obscured by the surf.  AE and FN need not be debilitated or dead to not be seen.  If they were any distance inland in the shade they could easily have not had time to get out into the open in time to be seen.  I can tell you from personal experience that, due to the ambient noise of wind and surf, you don't hear a low flying plane on Niku until it is almost directly overhead.  Even if the were able to get to the beach in time there is a good chance they wouldn't be seen.  Again from direct personal experience from a helicopter in 2001, it's very difficult to pick out people on the ground at Niku. The vegetation is  deceptively bigger than it looks so people are smaller than you expect them to be. Even if they wave, the vegetation along the beach is also waving in the wind so there is no relative motion to catch your eye.

Do historical tide charts for that part of the world support a low tide necessary for landing late on the morning of July 2nd?

There are no historical tide charts for Nikumaroro.  We've had to reconstruct the tides by taking the modern tables for nearby Orona (formerly Hull Island), correcting them based on tidal observations we've made during our expeditions to Niku, and "hindcasting" the tides to 1937.  We've then verified the calculations by comparing them to historical aerial photos of the island taken at known times.  During the window of time on the morning of July 2nd when the aircraft could have arrived over the island, the reef was dry enough to permit a safe landing.

Is there any significant breakup of the ship upon landing?

All we can say is that the plane was apparently intact enough to be able to run the right-hand, generator-equipped engine to recharge the batteries for radio transmissions.

Upon final approach why is landing location chosen that could put the plane dangerously close the the existing wrecked ship?

There is no indication that the landing was made dangerously close to the shipwreck.  The "Nessie" feature is over 400 meters north of the wreck.

In that part of the world what was the approximate tidal shift for the first few days after July 2nd? Six feet? Eight feet?
At low tide the reef was dry. At high tide on July 2nd the water level on the reef at the hypothetical landing location was less than half a meter.  The water level at high tide increased over the next few days until, by July 8th (the day before the search planes arrived), the water was nearly a full meter deep at high tide.  Those calculations are for still water, but the water there is almost never still.  Surf running across the reef would raise the water level by as much as another half meter.

Is there any way to know how strong the surf was running in the first few days after July 2nd?

Not that I know of.

How high would the the electrical circuitry of the Electra stand with wheels blown? High enough to still be out of the surf at high tide?

Yes.  That shouldn't have been a problem.

How much of the ship is coming apart due to daily tidal and surf action alone?
I would say not much. As long as the plane can "weathervane" freely it should be okay. Maybe some damage to the vertical tail surfaces due to surf impact. 


Sometime after the last radio reception but before July 9th the ship goes into deeper water. How large a time window is that?
Probably two days.


Does the ship just slip over the edge or does it float some distance out into deeper water?

I wish I knew.


Was there particularly high surf shortly before July 9th? Was there a storm? What event exclusive of ordinary surf and tide puts the plane into deeper water?
No indication of a storm or high surf, but high tide does get steadily higher.  All it would take is for one of the wheels to drop into a hole or groove in the reef surface and get stuck there.  The plane would then be prevented from "weathervaning" as the waves hit.  At that point something has to give, most likely the landing gear attach points on the side with the stuck wheel.

Does FN possibly go down having been still inside the craft when it slips into deeper water?
Possible?  Yes.

Could rising tide and surf ever acted quickly enough to trap the fliers on the disabled craft when they would have preferred to return to the beach?
I suppose, but if they both went down with plane who is the castaway at the Seven Site?

The 1937 expedition does not see evidence of the wreck, but noteworthy is that they aren't looking for it. Yet, how do islanders three years later report a visible, well known airplane wreck on the reef?
Nobody reports a visible well-known wreck.  Circa 1940 or '41, Emily's father reportedly pointed out some wreckage that was only visible at low tide.  By 1944, there was only a story that there was a wrecked plane somewhere when the first settlers arrived in late 1938.

How much of the plane washes back up onto the reef over time?
No way to tell.

Does a large section wash back up intact? How would the islanders identify it as an airplane wreck if only bits and pieces wash back up?
One islander told of seeing part of a wing on the reef flat in the 1950s.


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Ric Gillespie

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2010, 01:04:55 PM »

Are you saying that, in the higher res view it no longer appears to be a main mount stanchion? Just some other as-yet-unidentified man-made object..still possibly of Lockheed manufacture?

I'm saying that it's easier to imagine that it's a main gear assembly in the fuzzier image but we've haven't ruled out anything.
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #17 on: June 28, 2010, 02:12:24 PM »

The aviators scouting the island see only parts of the plane they presume to have come from the SS NC. AE and FN are already too debilitated if not one or both already deceased, and no ground signal profound enough to be visible is made to the planes.
A photo taken during the search confirms that the tide was high with significant surf along the reef edge.  An aircraft hung up on the reef edge would obscured by the surf.  AE and FN need not be debilitated or dead to not be seen.  If they were any distance inland in the shade they could easily have not had time to get out into the open in time to be seen.  I can tell you from personal experience that, due to the ambient noise of wind and surf, you don't hear a low flying plane on Niku until it is almost directly overhead.  Even if the were able to get to the beach in time there is a good chance they wouldn't be seen.  Again from direct personal experience from a helicopter in 2001, it's very difficult to pick out people on the ground at Niku. The vegetation is  deceptively bigger than it looks so people are smaller than you expect them to be. Even if they wave, the vegetation along the beach is also waving in the wind so there is no relative motion to catch your eye.


yes, I agree that with the surf noise and wind it would be hard to hear any aircraft, but a turbine powered helicopter and a radial engined grumman seaplane are TOTALLY different from a noise standpoint. modern helicopters like the one you used are specifically designed to reduce noise signature. I live in between hartford and springfield, there's a wing of national guard helicopters to my north and an airport full of private ones to my south. when they fly over my house on a quiet night they are only within audible range for 10 seconds or so and the noise is scattered and hard to detect the source.

when the PT-19 flies over you can hear it for 5 minutes and point it out in seconds.

I know it was pure luck that you got any sort of aircraft to overfly the island, but IMO the helicopter should not be used as an indicator of whether a castaway would have heard an overflying plane. especially one that "zoomed" over the island.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #18 on: June 28, 2010, 02:25:05 PM »

In 1999, two separate teams working on different parts of the atoll reported hearing what sounded for all the world like a radial-engined airplane fly low over the island.  None of us saw it due to the overstory of vegetation but nobody heard it coming for more than a few seconds.  To this day we have no idea what it was.
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #19 on: June 28, 2010, 02:30:11 PM »

In 1999, two separate teams working on different parts of the atoll reported hearing what sounded for all the world like a radial-engined airplane fly low over the island.  None of us saw it due to the overstory of vegetation but nobody heard it coming for more than a few seconds.  To this day we have no idea what it was.

not to be argumentative, but the bold alone precludes its use in any sort of argument one way or the other.

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Bill Lloyd

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #20 on: June 28, 2010, 09:39:07 PM »

The aviators scouting the island see only parts of the plane they presume to have come from the SS NC. AE and FN are already too debilitated if not one or both already deceased, and no ground signal profound enough to be visible is made to the planes.
A photo taken during the search confirms that the tide was high with significant surf along the reef edge.  An aircraft hung up on the reef edge would obscured by the surf.  AE and FN need not be debilitated or dead to not be seen.  If they were any distance inland in the shade they could easily have not had time to get out into the open in time to be seen.  I can tell you from personal experience that, due to the ambient noise of wind and surf, you don't hear a low flying plane on Niku until it is almost directly overhead.  Even if the were able to get to the beach in time there is a good chance they wouldn't be seen.  Again from direct personal experience from a helicopter in 2001, it's very difficult to pick out people on the ground at Niku. The vegetation is  deceptively bigger than it looks so people are smaller than you expect them to be. Even if they wave, the vegetation along the beach is also waving in the wind so there is no relative motion to catch your eye.

It is most apparent that the Niku hypothesis turns on the issue of whether or not the scout planes from the Battleship Colorado missed seeing Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Gardner Island on July 9, 1937 either because they were not there or were there on the island and simply overlooked. The official report of the search by the Colorado stated that no one was seen on Gardner Island while a report written by Flight Leader Lt. John O. Lambrecht stated that it was taken for granted that no one was on the Island.  This issue had been discussed many times in the old forum and I would recommend reading all of those discussion posts as they are very informative.

It appears to me that previously there were very good arguments in favor of  the scout/search planes not seeing the Electra nor the crew because they simply were not there, however, the consensus now seems to be that the scout planes did not see the Electra because it had disappeared into to the sea and the crew was concealed in the bush. It  has also been inferred that the Colorado planes did a cursory search and were simply in a hurry to get to the next island.  For whatever reasons, Lt. Lambrecht and his three scout planes did not find Amelia, Fred nor the Electra, and if they were really there on Gardner Island, then that is the essence of the tragedy.

Notwithstanding Ric’s comments about the ambient noise of the wind and surf and his personal experience with the helicopter ride, which I can identify with, I believe that competent aviators in three search planes should have found Amelia and Fred if they were indeed there. I say this admitting that I am biased in my opinion because of my experience as an aviator and flying scouts in Vietnam for three years.  We were so well trained and experienced in flying at treetop level in the OH6-A (Hughes 500) that we could detect even the slightest signs of human activity and could distinguish a human form from a tree or bush while flying at 80 kts a half mile away.

I would assume that the Colorado aviators were not as keen and  proficient as we were in the 1968 air cavalry, but the record indicates that Lambrecht was indeed a competent individual. He was a Naval Academy Graduate, 1925, an engineer, and attended flight school at Penascola  and San Diego in 1930. In later service he was promoted and commanded two aircraft carriers and served on the staff of the National War College. 

According to what I have read, Lambrecht’s flight plan was to proceed to Gardner at 1000’ and at three mile interval.  This interval put the three planes about two minutes apart. In current terminology that would be a loose trail formation. Once at the Island they descended to about 400’ and circled around looking for the Electra and signs of life.  The three scout planes were Vought 02U-3s and were powered by R-1340 wasp engines and certainly made enough racket to alert anyone on the island.  The photo that was made appears to be from about 2500’ so one of the planes climbed up and the observer probably snapped that picture. That photo indicates that the tide and surf were high and could have very well concealed aircraft wreckage.

If it were possible, it would be interesting to talk flying with Lambrcht or Lt(jg) Short and Fox, his wingmen. It might be plausible to understand just what they thought they saw and did not see and how they went about it.  Lambrecht and the other two pilots did give several taped interviews on the subject in the 60’s and 70‘s, but of course by that time it appears that they were strongly defending the position that they saw nothing that would warrant a further search of the Island.







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Alan Williams

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #21 on: June 29, 2010, 05:56:05 AM »

How easy is it to imagine the searching fliers missing the lost crew and craft? I'd say effortless...

Regarding the fliers, it's still the relative infancy of aviation. You don't have years of detailed training in exotic techniques of air search and rescue, you're focusing on flying you're bi-plane and you've got a long way to go. You've got three planes whose observers are deaf from the roar of the engine and numb from spending the majority of time over trackless ocean. You've got wind blown skin and mostly what you're seeing from your open cockpit is the inside of your goggles. You have no voice communication with your fellow fliers to ask, "Did you see something down there?" and in fact you've only got hand signals to indicate whether the search on this particular island is over or not yet. You're overflying the island for ten minutes, and much of that time is spent trying not to crash into each other or into one of the frigate birds. You're not really aware of the RDF lines crossing at Gardner and you possibly don't even believe you're looking in the right part of the world.

Regarding the unseen aircraft, I can tell you as a former surfer, being hit by big surf coming in in a meter of water is like getting hit by a freight train. A lightly constructed aluminum craft that is mostly skin/shell could be battered and hidden in a matter of minutes. You get lines of heavy silvery surf overrunning the silver aircraft and it disappears easily. Besides, isn't it just more debris from the SS NC?

Regarding the survivors, let's say you've got howling wind and the roar of big surf and you're screaming in the other person's ear to be heard. You've mostly got your eyes closed due to sand blowing in the wind and you're focusing on keeping the crabs away. You've possibly got broken bones and you're dehydrated and limbs are sore from sitting because you can barely stand up. If you do hear the whisper of an engine above do you dash up and run out to the beach like a hundred other false-alarms with the mirror in your compact to signal them? Can you see them over the sixty foot tall trees? Maybe if you even hear them, maybe if you can even get up, maybe if you can even get into a clearing where you can see them, all you see are the planes departing in the distance.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2010, 06:00:09 AM by Alan Williams »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #22 on: June 29, 2010, 07:14:28 AM »

In modern Search & Rescue terminology, what the Colorado fliers performed was a "hasty search."  It's the first step in the search process. Statistically, the probability of finding what you're looking for in a "hasty search" is about 10%.
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Michael HALL

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #23 on: June 29, 2010, 07:43:35 AM »

Once TIGHAR find the plane (and they will ;) ) The search in 1937 I am quite sure will go down in history as the biggest failure in search and rescue ever to take place.

Based on everything I have read AE SHOULD have been found, COULD have been found and FOUND alive.

My gut feeling is the leaders of the search were too caught up in the belief she landed at sea "so whats the point of looking further"

In regards to being alive in October, this i still struggle with, AE would have by then made quite clear tracks down to the lagoon, daily walking paths that would be impossible to miss, even after one week on a tiny maldivian island i had made my own track from my little beach bungalow to the sea, and those tracks were still there two weeks later. If the exploration in 1937 did not go anywhere near that end of the island then I guess there is a chance she could have been missed, but my understanding is the whole island was explored, even if it was a quick scout about.

But we will never know, what we do know thanks to Ric is AE did make a safe landing she did survive "for a time" and we can only hope her demise was not met with immense suffering.

Once the plane is found, the How did she survive and how did she die questions will become a lot more talked about i am sure, but these answers I think can never be answered sadly :(
« Last Edit: June 29, 2010, 07:47:04 AM by Michael HALL »
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Michael HALL

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #24 on: June 29, 2010, 07:45:11 AM »

In 1999, two separate teams working on different parts of the atoll reported hearing what sounded for all the world like a radial-engined airplane fly low over the island.  None of us saw it due to the overstory of vegetation but nobody heard it coming for more than a few seconds.  To this day we have no idea what it was.

I think that may have been AE coming to see how you were getting on in her search ;)
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #25 on: June 29, 2010, 10:58:59 AM »

In modern Search & Rescue terminology, what the Colorado fliers performed was a "hasty search."  It's the first step in the search process. Statistically, the probability of finding what you're looking for in a "hasty search" is about 10%.

interesting. I just did a little reading on SAR terms and probability based on that. seems there are lots of variables that they can take into account that push the stats around.

they said a hasty search is actually very effective if the person is in good condition to mildly injured. up to 70% effective. given injuries, unconsciousness and terrain they go WAY down.
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Alan Williams

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #26 on: June 29, 2010, 11:28:12 AM »

Not sure of when or where studies have been done or what assumptions have been made...

I'm seeing potentially a very different set of search presumptions from what was the case in this situation. When stats are talked about is it presumed that the highly trained observers will be in air conditioned cabins without a hair out of place in big swiveling chairs wearing blue jump suits and looking out specifically designed side-viewing windows through high power binoculars and on head phones talking to each other about what they see? The actual search was done by dedicated guys that enjoyed flying working in harsh conditions, pre-WWII and therefore peace-time fliers with no experience searching bloody war wrecks for possible signs of life, just guys that flew well and were told to go look to see if you see anybody.

Again, I'm with Ric. I'd say a 10% chance of them having been seen. However, even in hindsight, one could ask why they didn't identify any pieces of the plane. I'd say poor search conditions were contributed to by poor equally poor luck.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2010, 02:24:16 PM by Alan Williams »
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Mark Petersen

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #27 on: June 29, 2010, 01:11:12 PM »

My personal opinion after seeing the helicopter overflight of Niku is that it would be very low odds to see someone on the ground (maybe 10%).  With all due respect to the aviators from the Colorado, it's also well known that our military was in a sad state during that period of time.  The country was still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression and pilot readiness was low.  The military in 1937 was a far cry from 1968 or even 1943. 

As far as the Bevington expedition is concerned, I would agree with Ric that it would be easy to miss someone if each party had no knowledge that the other was on the island.  About the best chance that Bevington would have had would be to spot foot prints in the sand near the 7 site, but that means being in "search mode". 
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Chris Johnson

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #28 on: June 29, 2010, 03:00:04 PM »

Once TIGHAR find the plane (and they will ;) ) The search in 1937 I am quite sure will go down in history as the biggest failure in search and rescue ever to take place.

Based on everything I have read AE SHOULD have been found, COULD have been found and FOUND alive.

My gut feeling is the leaders of the search were too caught up in the belief she landed at sea "so whats the point of looking further"

In regards to being alive in October, this i still struggle with, AE would have by then made quite clear tracks down to the lagoon, daily walking paths that would be impossible to miss, even after one week on a tiny maldivian island i had made my own track from my little beach bungalow to the sea, and those tracks were still there two weeks later. If the exploration in 1937 did not go anywhere near that end of the island then I guess there is a chance she could have been missed, but my understanding is the whole island was explored, even if it was a quick scout about.

But we will never know, what we do know thanks to Ric is AE did make a safe landing she did survive "for a time" and we can only hope her demise was not met with immense suffering.

Once the plane is found, the How did she survive and how did she die questions will become a lot more talked about i am sure, but these answers I think can never be answered sadly :(

If you look through the site you will see that TIGHAR has photographic evidence of tracks leading to the Lagoon and Windward Shore from the Seven Site.
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Mark Petersen

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Re: October 1937 exploration
« Reply #29 on: June 29, 2010, 03:08:49 PM »


If you look through the site you will see that TIGHAR has photographic evidence of tracks leading to the Lagoon and Windward Shore from the Seven Site.

Eh?  I hadn't heard this before (my apologies for playing catchup).  I checked the FAQ but didn't see mention of footprints.  By site do you mean the Forum or elsewhere on the website? 
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