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Author Topic: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?  (Read 34777 times)

Alan Williams

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Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« on: March 31, 2011, 06:12:44 AM »

Isn't much that hasn't been addressed elsewhere as I'm sure this has, just woke up wondering...

After breaking down in rising tide and surf, what if the buoyancy of empty tanks allowed a majority of the Electra to float some distance off-shore, that is, out of the upcoming search zone before sinking? Hm, to what extent would that contradict historical eye-witness accounts of a wreck on the reef?

Anyhow, let's say accepting the greater Niku hypothesis, what if there was a final unfortunate twist to the mystery in 1937 with key pieces of the plane floating out of the upcoming underwater search area yet again denying the "smoking gun" discovery?
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 09:19:46 AM by Alan Williams »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2011, 09:41:02 AM »

Tough question and, of course, no hard and fast answer. All we can do is speculate.  If the "Nessie" photo shows a landing gear strut torn off and left behind on the reef edge, that could be the wreckage seen by Emily.  A gear leg tearing free would not, in itself, damage the buoyancy of the aircraft.  How long and how far might a mostly intact, buoyant aircraft float before sinking?  A Model 10E with standard fuel tanks ditched off Cape Cod in 1967 and floated for about eight minutes.  NR16020 would probably float longer.  If it floated well out to sea before sinking in very deep water we're probably screwed.  However, if that is what happened we should have no further evidence or reports of airplane wreckage on the island beyond the Nessie photo and Emily's account - but we do.  We have photographic evidence of a debris field of light colored metal on the reef in 1953.  We numerous anecdotal recollections of wreckage seen strewn on the reef and beach in the 1950s. We have scraps of aircraft components used for local purposes that we have found in the abandoned village that are consistent with the Model 10 and do not appear to be consistent with any other type.  So to embrace a "floated away" hypothesis we must discount evidence that something else happened.

Think about this.  If the surf is strong enough to tear the plane free from a gear leg, the sea is by no means calm.  What's going to happen to the suddenly free-floating Electra?  Is it going to drift serenely out to sea?  Or is the next wave going to slam it back against the reef edge only for the plane to be sucked out again when the wave retreats? The cycle repeats until the battered hulk sinks in the relatively shallow water just seaward of the reef edge.  Over ensuing years and storms, various components break free and wash ashore to be found and used.  Heavier components make their way down the reef slope and over the edge into deep water.   
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Alan Williams

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2011, 10:08:17 AM »

Excellent description.

Re.: potential "smoking gun" discovery - as devil's advocate, couple questions:

I believe I've read the most likely candidate representing the "smoking gun" would be an engine, that along with a heavier item like landing strut (anything else that would have been big/heavy enough to have survived and be locatable at the bottom now?) Also, wouldn't the wings have been mostly tanks? Is it possible pounding surf could have separated the wings from the craft leaving the thinner, lighter materials of the fuselage on the reef then floated the engines further out? Related, wasn't there a report of a helicopter crew recovering what might have been a radial engine from a reef on an island that might have been Niku? Ha - if that were accurate wouldn't that be one engine gone, one remaining?

Oh well, just thinking out loud... we know from all the twists and turns this mystery is slippery and isn't giving up easily. With logic pointing to it, it is easy to imagine the next Niku expedition breaking out the champagne on the first afternoon of deep-water surveying... but then again, equally easy to imagine a return empty handed. Just one tough mystery.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 11:16:46 AM by Alan Williams »
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2011, 12:57:48 PM »

Alan,

without referencing any links (sure i'll get a slapped wrist) when i re read Amelia Earharts Shoes the update version the Kanton engine was still a mystery of sorts.  The engine is in land fill so a back hoe would have to get it out.  The pilot Bruce thinks it was from a Phoenix island other than Kanton but other records make this unlikely but not financialy testable.  But i could be wrong in my sumation  :)
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Bruce Thomas

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2011, 02:08:27 PM »

A place to begin reading about the "Canton Engine" is the Ameliapedia article.  It contains links to articles in TIGHAR Tracks, etc.
LTM,

Bruce
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Chris Johnson

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2011, 02:45:41 PM »

Yes but i'd also recommend shoes the book as well
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Alan Williams

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2011, 04:03:01 PM »

Thanks Bruce and Chris for pointing out the Kanton reference. I've read everything in the wiki and looks like the Kanton possibility remains unresolved and historical efforts ended in a somewhat unsatisfying way. Chris, without spoiling the story can you tell me how the book reference differs from the wiki?

  ***

Updated: after reading the account of the Kanton mission and seeing the reasons given for not pursuing the Kanton lead, it seems a non-trivial reason for not pursuing Kanton was that no located helo pilots seemed to remember picking up and transporting a radial engine as claimed. Could it be, let's say if the story were accurate, that the pilot would be hesitant to come forward due to being cast in the negative light of having used the ship in such a frivolous/non-approved/potentially dangerous way?
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 04:35:59 PM by Alan Williams »
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2011, 05:40:57 PM »

Thanks Bruce and Chris for pointing out the Kanton reference. I've read everything in the wiki and looks like the Kanton possibility remains unresolved and historical efforts ended in a somewhat unsatisfying way.

Art Rypinski did a masterful presentation on the Kanton Engine at EPAC in 2003.  He did an analysis of the helicopter traffic in the Phoenix Islands, reported on logs, tracked down personnel who were there are the same time that Bruce Yoho was, and, if I remember correctly, brought in one of the pilots to talk with us.  I was somewhat distracted because I was thinking more about the report that Roger and I were to give on Bones II, so I didn't take careful notes, but at the end of Art's presentation I felt that he had shown beyond reasonable doubt that the engine had to have come from the wreck of the C-87 on Canton.  It was like the climax of a Nero Wolfe novel where all the evidence pro and con was reviewed, given its due weight, and then fit into an overall picture that fits all of the facts.

I don't know why Art hasn't written up a report.  It is a beautiful piece of detective work.  When I drafted the Ameliapedia article, I was hoping that Art would fill in the missing pieces and complete the story.  I'll add the last sentence from this 2007 summary to the article shortly:

"About this time, another story cropped up that seemed worth investigating. Supposedly, in 1970, the crew of a helicopter supporting USAF  operations at Kanton Island, 200 miles northeast of Nikumaroro, spotted a radial aircraft engine on the western reef. Out of curiosity, the crew reportedly airlifted the engine back to Kanton where it eventually ended up in a dump. We inspected the dump but found that it had been bulldozed and filled in. Whatever was there in 1970 was now buried under several tons of coral rubble. Subsequent investigation revealed the story to be, although well intentioned, almost certainly apocryphal" (TIGHAR Tracks, July 2007).

Quote
Could it be, let's say if the story were accurate, that the pilot would be hesitant to come forward due to being cast in the negative light of having used the ship in such a frivolous/non-approved/potentially dangerous way?

Well, yes, of course, people do hesitate to confess stupid and potentially self-destructive behavior.  We didn't take a vote after Art's presentation, but I would say there wasn't one person in the room who thought the Kanton hypothesis was even remotely possible after he finished speaking.  It's far simpler to think that Bruce Yoho got confused than to imagine a pilot agreeing to sling the engine all the way from Niku to Kanton.  From one side of Canton to the other, no problem--not embarrassing, not dangerous, not a big deal.  I seem to remember Art telling us a story about the guys hauling an old cannon from one place to another just for the heck of it until some officer decided to put an end to the shenanigans by deep-sixing the cannon altogether.  
LTM,

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« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 05:47:24 PM by moleski »
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Tim Collins

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2011, 06:42:38 AM »

["About this time, another story cropped up that seemed worth investigating. Supposedly, in 1970, the crew of a helicopter supporting USAF  operations at Kanton Island, 200 miles northeast of Nikumaroro, spotted a radial aircraft engine on the western reef. Out of curiosity, the crew reportedly airlifted the engine back to Kanton where it eventually ended up in a dump. We inspected the dump but found that it had been bulldozed and filled in. Whatever was there in 1970 was now buried under several tons of coral rubble. Subsequent investigation revealed the story to be, although well intentioned, almost certainly apocryphal"

Were there really helicopters operating out there over such vast expanses of open water back then?
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2011, 07:05:40 AM »

Were there really helicopters operating out there over such vast expanses of open water back then?

Yes.

Niku was the furthest from Canton, if I remember correctly, and strained the helis to their limit.
That's why it is so highly improbable that anyone would sling an engine from Niku's reef to
Canton.  But picking one out of the surf and hauling it to base on Canton would be a piece
of cake.
LTM,

           Marty
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Bill Lloyd

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2011, 09:35:36 AM »

Were there really helicopters operating out there over such vast expanses of open water back then?
The Air Force contractors used the HH-3 Jolly Green Giant. It had a range of about 700 miles and could sling an R1340 engine that weighed 800 pounds the 200 miles from Gardner to Canton.
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Don Dollinger

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2011, 10:30:14 AM »

Quote
Could it be, let's say if the story were accurate, that the pilot would be hesitant to come forward due to being cast in the negative light of having used the ship in such a frivolous/non-approved/potentially dangerous way?

Don't know how much things changed from them days to the 20 years I served but I can tell you that whenever we were low on coffee when I was stationed in Panama someone always found a way to schedule a "training mission" with a stop in Bogota which included an upload of 10-20 cases of Columbian coffee.  This also included anyone who put boots on ground getting harzardous duty pay because of the gorilla operations of FARC and the likes ongoing in Columbia at the time.

The pilots I know would not hesitate to come forward with these exploits after the fact and as a matter of fact have heard much worse bragged about over a few beers at the club.   :o

LTM,

Don
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2011, 10:37:45 AM »


A minor question does come up: how did the C-87 engine get from a mile-out ditching to the Kanton reef? Does that give us any clues about Electra parts at Niku?

that's a great question actually. looking at the image of the runway on kanton, it skirts along one side of the island. had the plane been a mile out wouldn't he be inline with the runway?? if he was and the engine did manage to wash up on the reef it would wash up on the airport side of the island.

also, I found this on pacific wrecks' site, maybe that c87 isn't the only aircraft lost on canton:

Veteran Ken Barber adds:
"I suspect that B-25 we lost December 5, 1944 is in that lagoon somewhere. As I recall he would have been headed south as I was going in the opposite direction when I saw him buzzing the strip."
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2011, 11:13:16 AM »

I also found this:

Thomas F. Equels adds:
"While working for Contractor H&N on Canton Island in 1971, we saw the hull of the troop ship and nearby on the beach was the fuselage of a PBY with a radial engine close by."


so, even if this gentlemen was incorrect in his aircraft type, by his account we have a radial on the beach at canton. btw every account I read says at least two aircraft losses at canton during wwii
« Last Edit: April 01, 2011, 11:29:51 AM by Kevin Weeks »
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Bill Lloyd

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Re: Might Electra have floated some distance off-shore?
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2011, 04:59:04 PM »

Quote
Could it be, let's say if the story were accurate, that the pilot would be hesitant to come forward due to being cast in the negative light of having used the ship in such a frivolous/non-approved/potentially dangerous way?

Don't know how much things changed from them days to the 20 years I served but I can tell you that whenever we were low on coffee when I was stationed in Panama someone always found a way to schedule a "training mission" with a stop in Bogota which included an upload of 10-20 cases of Columbian coffee.  This also included anyone who put boots on ground getting harzardous duty pay because of the gorilla operations of FARC and the likes ongoing in Columbia at the time.

The pilots I know would not hesitate to come forward with these exploits after the fact and as a matter of fact have heard much worse bragged about over a few beers at the club.   :o

LTM,

Don
Helicopter sling load operations are not considered as a non approved potentially dangerous activity. Most all medium and heavy lift helicopters have a cargo hook and sling load operations are taught in flight school to both pilots and crew chiefs. Some of the most extensive use of sling load operations were by the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam beginning in 1965. Entire artillery batteries were lifted by sling to mountain top fire bases such as LZ Dotty and LZ West. All of their supplies such as food water and ammunition were by sling load. The entire airmobile concept was based on movement by helicopter and sling loads were a major part of that.

By 1970, those pilots on Canton probably did not think twice about hooking up and pulling pitch. It was just all in a days work.
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