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Author Topic: The 281 message  (Read 23283 times)

Darren Cubitt

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The 281 message
« on: February 07, 2016, 02:01:44 AM »

Hello all,

I recently read about the "alternate" interpretation of the 281 message. I put "alternate" in scare-quotes since I think the interpretation is quite fanciful; once you allow yourself the freedom of adding and removing dots from a morse message, you can create basically anything you want.

However, the approach did intrigue me.

I took the original 281 message and translated it to morse via the International Morse standard (can I presume this is what AE & FN would have used?). I removed all word separators and wrote a quick program to scan the message against a dictionary of over 100,000 English words (translated to morse, of course!). I took the length of each word, in morse, as being a measure of coincidence; the more morse symbols per word (n), the less chance of it occurring by chance in proportion to 2^n.

There were four words which, at 22 morse symbols each, produced the most coincidental match:

calcined
fangless
longitude
shutoff

I didn't know "calcined" and "fangless" were words, but there you go! The word "shutoff" appears in the original 281 message as two words ("shut off") - so no surprise there. The word" longitude" caught my attention, however, as it may yours!

Following this line of enquiry, I decided to determine where the word "latitude" would be most likely to appear. It doesn't appear verbatim in the original message, but it turns out you can find "latit" in two places without modification. The most likely occurrence requires three codes to swap between dots and dashes to reveal a full "latitude". Here is the original message (let's hope my formatting kung-fu holds):

Code: [Select]
  2     8     1      N  O   R   T H     H    O   W   L    A  N  D    C    A  L    L     K  H    A  Q    Q
/..---/---../.----//-./---/.-./-/....//..../---/.--/.-../.-/-./-..//-.-./.-/.-../.-..//-./..../.-/--.-/--.-/

 B    E Y    O   N  D    N  O   R   T H     D   O   N  T  H    O   L    D    W   I  T H     U   S
/-..././-.--/---/-./-..//-./---/.-./-/....//-../---/-./-//..../---/.-../-..//.--/../-/....//..-/.../

 M  U   C    H     L    O   N  G   E R    A  B    O   V    E  W   A  T E R    S   H    U   T  O   F    F
/--/..-/-.-./....//.-../---/-./--././.-.//.-/-.../---/...-/.//.--/.-/-/./.-.//.../..../..-/-//---/..-./..-./

Here are the final two "lines" (arbitrarily broken) of the message with "latitude" and "longitude", showing the changes to the underlying code:

Code: [Select]
                                                                        L    A T I  T
/-..././-.--/---/-./-..//-./---/.-./-/....//-../---/-./-//..../---/.-./.-../.-/-/../-/....//..-/.../
                                                                                     /..-/-.././
                                                                                      U   D   E

                   L    O   N  G   I  T U   D   E
/--/..-/-.-./....//.-../---/-./--./../-/..-/-.././---/...-/.//.--/.-/-/./.-.//.../..../..-/-//---/..-./..-./

I haven't had any luck trying to discern any meaningful numbers yet, but am drunk so to that end thought I would post so someone more sober might take an interest. Note that I have no dog in this fight... I don't care where AE & FN are found... as long as they are (someday) found! Perhaps that's why I haven't bothered trying to decoded numbers yet ;)

All this, of course, is entirely possible to be a coincidence. I can find the words "manless" and "penis" in the message, but I don't think AE was making any untoward commentary about FN (insincere apologies in advance to those who will undoubtedly take offence at my joke). So take all this with a grain of salt. It is interesting, to say the least, but may also be another red herring.

Darren.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2016, 02:09:40 AM by Darren Cubitt »
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Christophe Blondel

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2016, 07:58:44 AM »

Dear Darren,

this is an interesting experiment with Morse code, but I do not find the suggestion that LONGER AB was actually LONGITUDE very convincing. What would you then do with what follows: OVE WATER ? We have good reasons to think that AE and FN actually had a major concern with water level, so cancelling the LONGER ABOVE WATER phrase does not appear very tentative...

On the other hand, what do you think of the suggestions I made (though without any statistical background) on January 09, 2011 (following a question by Tom King) in A poorly keyed 281 N ... and on December 16, 2013 in The most perplexing issues? In short words, even "281 N" may be questioned. Even "HOWLAND" may have been heard, from approximate Morse code, because the operators had just heard that word too often during these hours... Please also consider that the probabibility of a transformation of the Morse encoded message must be evaluated in the right sense. To take your example again, the question is not whether LONGER AB can be transformed into LONGITUDE, but whether LONGITUDE can be heard as LONGER AB, which is not necessarily the same.

Just by curiosity, since you have the program at hand, would you please try to find if the name of a cargo ship could have been hidden in the message ?

Regards

Christophe
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2016, 09:10:03 AM »

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Darren Cubitt

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2016, 12:55:17 AM »

Dear Darren,

this is an interesting experiment with Morse code, but I do not find the suggestion that LONGER AB was actually LONGITUDE very convincing. What would you then do with what follows: OVE WATER ? We have good reasons to think that AE and FN actually had a major concern with water level, so cancelling the LONGER ABOVE WATER phrase does not appear very tentative...

On the other hand, what do you think of the suggestions I made (though without any statistical background) on January 09, 2011 (following a question by Tom King) in A poorly keyed 281 N ... and on December 16, 2013 in The most perplexing issues? In short words, even "281 N" may be questioned. Even "HOWLAND" may have been heard, from approximate Morse code, because the operators had just heard that word too often during these hours...

I have thought much the same thing. If the signal is very faint/ambiguous, then operator expectations will play a large role. Even later words could be misheard simply by the operator trying to make sense of it (ie: I think the last word was an adjective, so the next one must be a noun). Unfortunately, morse is not a "self-synchronising" code. If you don't have the benefit of distinct pauses between letters, then once you get "lost" in will pretty much turn the rest of the message into nonsense. If the original operators got "lost", then what we have may bear little resemblance to the original message... but it's all we have to work with :P

Quote
To take your example again, the question is not whether LONGER AB can be transformed into LONGITUDE, but whether LONGITUDE can be heard as LONGER AB, which is not necessarily the same.

True, and an aspect I had not considered. How I would love to hear the original audio!

Quote
Just by curiosity, since you have the program at hand, would you please try to find if the name of a cargo ship could have been hidden in the message ?

If you are referring to Norwich City, it was one of the first things I looked for. Alas, no "Norwich" or "City" in the message.

If anyone is interested for themselves, I have uploaded this list of ~2000 words which can be found in the message. The list is divided into four columns:

1: The number of morse symbols required for this word
2: The word
3: The morse pattern for the word.
4: A list of offsets (number of morse dots/dashes to skip) in the original message to the place(s) where the word occurs.

Hope someone finds it useful/interesting.

Darren.
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Travis Nutsch

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2023, 01:19:20 AM »

.... is what you send when you make mistake.  I see a

/-..././-.--/---/-./-..//-./---/.-./-/....//-../---/-./-//..../---/.-../-..//.--/../-/....//..-/.../

/.-../.-/-/../-/  ....(mistake) /..-/(-).././

L A T I T U D E

.-.. / .- / - / .. / - / ..- / -.. / .

I'm no morse code expert but maybe more of the interpreted H's are actually AE corrections.  Are there more numbers or other inferences that can be made with this understanding?
"American Knowmad"
KF7FEV
Part107
Private Pilot
33
 
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2023, 08:32:58 AM »

....Are there more numbers or other inferences that can be made with this understanding?

It's not an "understanding." It's an assumption without evidence. If you're going to change the message you can make it say anything you want.

In 2018, Bob Brandenburg and I agreed the message was "credible". Today, I would put it in the "uncertain" category.

Let's take a hard look at the 281 message and see if there is reason to think it was a legitimate communication from Earhart.

•  Could U.S.Navy Radio Wailupe have heard a code transmission sent from the Electra at Gardner Island?
We don't know because we don't know what frequency they heard it on or whether the signal was voice modulated (which it would have to be if it was from the Electra).

• In fact, we don't know anything directly from Wailupe.  All we know is that at 1312Z on 7/5/37, Itasca received a message from COMHAWSEC (Commander Coast Guard Hawaiian Section, Honolulu):
FOLLOWING COPIED NAVY RADIO WAILUPE 1130 TO 1230 GCT QUOTE 281 NORTH HOWLAND CALL KHAQQ BEYOND NORTH DONT HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER ABOVE WATER SHUT OFF UNQUOTE KEYED TRANSMISSION EXTREMELY POOR KEYING BEHIND CARRIER FRAGMENTARY PHRASES BUT COPIED BY THREE OPERATORS

• Wailupe notified COMHAWSEC but not Itasca.  Why not?  On other occasions Wailupe communicated directly with Itasca.

• The reported "fragmentary phrases" are all run together so we don't know which words go together. For example, is it "281 North. Howland call KHAQQ" or "281 North Howland. Call KHAQQ"?  To make sense, there must be missing words. If we speculatively fill in the blanks we could say she said, 'Howland is 281 north of us. We heard Howland call KHAQQ.

• Wailupe heard this over a period of one hour from 1130 to 1230 GCT.  If the phrases were repeated over and over for an hour it seems odd that three operators would repeatedly miss the same words, so it's more likely the phrases came in separately at some time during the hour.

•  To make the message make sense you have to change the message. If you assume words are missing, "..beyond north" still doesn't make sense and you can't construct an English sentence that includes the phrase "...don't hold with us much longer." If it was really "...won't hold with us much longer", what is it that won't hold with us much longer?  The airplane?  The radio?  In either case, saying it "won't hold with us" seems like a strange way of putting it.

•  If this was a genuine message it was a voice modulated signal sent by keying the mic, an extremely awkward technique.  Each time she keyed the mic, the dynamotor spooled up to boost the current from the battery to the transmitter.  Releasing the key shut everything off, so sending code by keying the mic meant that the whole system had to spool and shut down to send each dot or dash. In other words, there would be gap of several seconds between dots or dashes.  Nobody else heard anything like that during that one-hour period.  At 1223 GCT, Pan Am took a bearing on a very strong voice modulated carrier wave on 3105.

Bottom line:  We don't know enough about the 281 message to make an informed judgement about it's credibility, but it seems more likely to me that it was a crude hoax..
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Travis Nutsch

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2023, 10:16:49 AM »

So someone faked shitty Morse code with a poor carrier? That seems way more difficult than sending good code. 

You won't acknowledge that finding longitude is one hell of a coinciden being an unlikely pattern of - & .  ???

Maybe the Japanese faked it or much more likely the CIA!
"American Knowmad"
KF7FEV
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Colin Taylor

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2023, 08:38:46 AM »

Concerning the ‘281 North’ message

The 281 North Howland position is very close to my calculated end position 290 miles North of Howland. (See Drift in the Dark)https://docs.google.com/document/d/1arquMxBkJa-IBxmJYP1vgvWuETapBS1s5eM-HPKyilk/edit?usp=sharing If this originated as a voice message from Earhart, she would have sent it at about 11:00L (Itasca local time) on Friday the 2nd July just before their 3 hours of reserve fuel ran out, having done the search pattern: one hour South/ two hours North on the 157/337 sunline.

If it was picked up by an amateur radio-operator who did not understand its significance, it would not have been rebroadcast (in shaky morse) until the operator realised that Earhart was missing, possibly the next day, to be picked up by the Navy radio station at Wailupe, Hawaii on Saturday the 3rd.  Since the message was not a distress message, it would have had no priority and probably sat in several in-trays over the Independence Day weekend before finally being rebroadcast to Itasca. Itasca received the relayed message at 01:42L in the early hours of Monday the 5th.

There was another message, originating from San Francisco, where four, apparently amateur, radio operators reported hearing Earhart’s voice. This information was described as ‘received this morning’ (of the 3rd) but was not broadcast to Itasca until 23:50 Pacific Standard Time on the 3rd. Which means it took between 12 and 24 hours for the Navy bureaucracy to process this one message. Is it possible that the message was actually heard on the morning of the 2nd, and someone got confused as to the timing? That would mean it may have taken up to 48hours to process the message. We will never know. Not surprising then, that the ‘281 North’ message would take 62hours to reach Itasca. 

How did Earhart know they were 281 miles North of Howland? They had observed the sunrise and calculated the 157/337 sun-line, but no further observations would yield any useful information until the sun rose higher in the sky. At sea, a sun shot is taken at midday local time to get a latitude reading. At 11:00am local time the sun is close to the zenith, and it is possible to get a bubble-sextant reading. Noonan would then have his latitude, and knew he was 281miles North of Howland. They were on their last few minutes of fuel. They would surely have turned South again while calling for help.

They could have ditched some distance South of that position. Itasca arrived there three days later in the evening of the 5th but did not initiate a ladder search of the area as they had been doing West of Howland. Instead, they turned East. Why did they do that? They knew that the Equatorial current sets to the West and the wind was an Easterly. Any debris or survivors would be drifting West at 12miles per day!

 They were probably short of fuel, as they had a rendezvous with the USS Colorado to refuel on Wednesday the 7th.

All the pieces are falling into place.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2023, 09:10:12 AM »

All the pieces are falling into place.
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James Champion

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Re: The 281 message
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2023, 08:05:38 AM »

As to Morse code with the mic button:
Transmitters of this era frequently were activated not by a relay on the high-voltage, but by a relay on the tube filaments. This is because a relay on the high voltage would arc and filaments are low voltage. The filaments took a moment to heat. When voice was used there was a fraction of a second until the tubes were ready. Not a problem as usually the operator pressed-the-pickle and spoke a moment later.

If the mic button was used for Morse, the dots/dashes would be messy in timing. This is why there was a CW setting for the transmitter. Filaments were on continuously and carrier was activated by another means.

I looked at the WE 13C transmitter schematics several years ago and seem to recall noticing this. In my youth as a Ham I played around with old WWII equipment. I am asking someone to look at the schematics and see if my statements above are correct. I'm a little too busy now to dig into this again.
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