Jourdan: TIGHAR has attached to one of the many legends that say she actually was doing something different and flew to an island.
Gillespie: TIGHAR thinks Earhart was doing exactly what Nauticos thinks she was doing – trying to find Howland Island. We think she was doing what she said she was doing, flying on the line north and south. Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) is south of Howland on the line. We do not think she flew there intentionally.
Jourdan: They cloak their work with a veneer of science, but actually they do a disservice to science as they start with a conclusion (that Amelia was castaway on an island) that does not agree with the primary data.
Gillespie: We did not start with a conclusion. We started, as all scientific inquiries do, with a hypothesis to be tested. It is essentially the same hypothesis the U.S. Navy formulated in 1937: that Earhart flew down the 157/337 line of position and landed on one of the islands in the Phoenix Group. The Navy only abandoned that line of investigation when brief aerial searches of the islands failed to find the airplane. The Navy’s second hypothesis – that the plane went down at sea – also failed to find any trace of the airplane. TIGHAR’s testing of the Navy’s original hypothesis has been more successful and has constantly evolved as new information has become available. We did not accept the “legend” that the bones of a castaway believed to be Earhart were found on Gardner Island until, after ten years of determined research, we tracked down the official British file that proves it happened.
TIGHAR’s “veneer” of science has enjoyed, among many others, the volunteer services of:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratories
- The National Transportation Safety board (NTSB) Laboratories
- The National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) – since 2004 part of The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)
- The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL)
- The University of Oklahoma Molecular Anthropology Laboratories
- The U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)
Jourdan: They cherry pick facts, make speculation look like fact, and lend credence to extraordinary claims to support their premise. They are very much like climate change deniers in this regard.
Gillespie: As detailed in Part One, this sounds more like Nauticos than TIGHAR.
Jourdan: They can be credited for doing a lot of research and collecting facts, though their interpretation of those facts is a problem.
Gillespie: It’s the facts TIGHAR has collected, not our interpretation of them, that present a problem for the Crashed & Sank theory.
Jourdan: They are VERY good at debunking other people’s theories, using a much higher standard of evidence than they apply to themselves.
Gillespie: There is only one standard of evidence: historical documents, datable photographs, and identifiable artifacts. We apply that standard to everyone. It is not difficult to debunk theories that are devoid of supporting evidence.
Jourdan: As best I can tell they take archaeological standards seriously, though I have heard the archaeologists apologize for the conclusions that Gillespie draws from their work.
Gillespie: TIGHAR is blessed with a diverse membership that includes experts in many disciplines including, among others, archival research, forensic imaging, hydrographic analysis, radio wave propagation, and archaeology. My job, as executive director, is to pull together and present the results of all aspects of the investigation. We usually reach a consensus, but not always. Members of the team who disagree with me are free to dissent but no one needs to apologize.
Jourdan: In case you want to read further, here is a summary I sent to someone privately who asked my opinion about TIGHAR’s position.
First of all, it has been my practice to stay out of Gillespie’s world. I am certainly NOT concerned that he will succeed, because the plane isn’t there! Getting drawn into a debate will only be a distraction, and time consuming. If asked publicly, I always say that he should prove his assertions, but should present real evidence.
Gillespie: I feel much the same way about Mr. Jourdan’s world, but I do not, in private or in public, attack his organization or his character.
Jourdan: Privately, if someone is interested in supporting him and asks, I have the following advice: There is no evidence that Amelia flew to Gardiner (Nikumaroro) Island.
Gillespie: I welcome the opportunity to correct Mr. Jourdan’s errors and misconceptions.
Jourdan: Tighar’s premise rests primarily on the following ad-hoc assumption, quoted from their website:
“Roughly twenty hours into the flight, and with somewhere between three and four hours of fuel remaining, Earhart and Noonan have been unable to make visual or two-way radio contact with Howland Island. They implement the only procedure available to them which will minimize the chance of having to land the aircraft in the sea: they proceed southeastward on a course of 157 degrees.”
Gillespie: What Mr. Jourdan calls an “ad hoc assumption” is known in science as a hypothesis. TIGHAR is testing the hypothesis that the Earhart/Noonan flight ended on Nikumaroro. Mr. Jourdan is testing the hypothesis that the flight crashed and sank at sea.
Jourdan: Amelia didn’t think she had much fuel left, and credible analysis (Fred Culick, Cal Tech) indicates she ran out about the time of the last radio transmission heard by Itasca. The details are highly technical.
Gillespie: The CalTech study is replete with tables, graphs, and equations, but its conclusions are only as credible as the assumptions and interpretations upon which they are based. No matter how technical the analysis, the old axiom applies, “Garbage In/Garbage Out.”
Jourdan: But let’s say she DID have 3-4 hours of fuel left (and, more to the point, THOUGHT she did). Was “flying southeastward” truly the “only procedure available”? Consider:
A. No one knew she had this “contingency plan.” Nuku was uninhabited, had no place to land, no provisions, and no one was expecting her to go there.
Gillespie: Including Earhart. There is no evidence that Earhart and Noonan had any information about the island and there is reason to believe she didn’t even know its name.
No one knows, and no one will ever know, exactly how the airplane got to Nikumaroro, but the scenario that seems to require the fewest assumptions and the least interpretation is that Earhart did exactly what she said she was doing – running on the line north and south.
B. If you had 3-4 hours of flying time left, why spend it flying 350 miles to look for another island? By far, your best bet is to do a methodical search for the island you’re supposed to be flying to. That is, “flying north and south” as Amelia said she was doing.
Gillespie: Agreed. The available evidence suggests the following scenario:
They reached the line of position shortly before 07:42 but the island did not appear (WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE U) so they knew they must be off to the north or off to the south. At 08:00 Amelia tried to take a bearing on a signal from Itasca to find out which way she should turn on the line, left or right? No luck. No bearing. The 157/337 line of position is their only lifeline. Howland is somewhere on that line.
She turns left (north) hoping they are south of Howland, but after they’ve gone as far as they dare there is still no island in sight. They conclude they must have been off to the north. Howland must be behind them, so they turn around and head back down the line to the south, back-tracking over ocean they’ve already searched. When they get to their starting point they keep going, searching southward on the line. At 08:43 she explains what they’re doing (WE ARE ON THE LINE 157 337 … RUNNING ON LINE NORTH AND SOUTH). It is worth noting that if they had not already turned around and begun searching in the other direction she would not have said “North AND South.” They continued on. Still no island. What’s wrong? Maybe they should have explored further to the north, but now there’s not enough fuel to back-track again. They have to keep going south. There is no other option. The island that appears is not Howland, but it’s an island and any island is better than no island.
C. Amelia was lost. But one thing she knew for sure is that she was NOT on the line of position that ran through Howland and Nikumaroro. If she WAS on that line, she would NOT have been lost!
Gillespie: A baffling statement. Her last in-flight transmission heard by Itasca is clear evidence that she was not “lost” in the sense of having no idea where she was. She clearly believed that she was on a 157/337 line and that running on the line was the best way to find Howland.
Jourdan: If she was able to fly precisely down 157 degrees, she would be GUARANTEED to miss Niku as well.
Gillespie: Anyone with a good nautical chart, such as Defense Mapping Agency Chart INT 52, can check it for themselves. A 157° line through Howland passes 12 nautical miles to the northeast of Gardner. The atoll would be on her starboard side – down-sun – so she wouldn’t be contending with sun glare. Gardner would be easily visible from a plane flying at 1,000 feet.
Jourdan: So, when she got to the vicinity of Nuku, she would have to search for it (see “methodical search,” above). And after flying another 350 miles, her position would be only more uncertain, and fuel certainly exhausted.
Gillespie: To fly 350 miles to get to Niku she would have to start from directly over Howland Island, which seems rather unlikely. Based on the strength of the in-flight transmissions heard by Itasca and TIGHAR’s computer-modeling of the Electra’s antenna system, the plane probably reached the line of position at a point roughly 200 nautical miles south of Howland. Gardner would be only 150 miles away, but of course she wouldn’t know that.
D. There is an argument that Niku was larger, and somehow easier to find. Maybe, but not much. It’s about twice the size (Howland is about as big as the DC Mall), only ~4 miles long and a mile wide. You would still have to be about as close to see it as you would Howland.
Gillespie: The turquoise color of a lagoon makes atolls much easier than islands like Howland to spot from the air, but it’s a moot point. If she did what she said she was doing she should have come within easy distance of seeing Niku.
E. If she did decide to fly south (and who knows what state of mind she was in?), why didn’t she tell anyone? Tighar says she sent all kinds of messages AFTER she crash-landed on the reef of Nuku, but was strangely silent for the 3-4 hours it took her to fly there, in spite of the fact that she was doing something no one would have expected.
Gillespie: Itasca should have expected her to do what she said she was doing, flying on the line north and south. She may very well have sent further messages. Her last in-flight transmission heard by Itasca was sent on her “nighttime” frequency, 3105 kHz. Since the wee hours of that morning she had made at least eight transmissions to Itasca on that frequency but had heard no reply. Now the sun was well up and she decided to try her “daytime” frequency. “WL REPT MSG WE WL REPT THIS ON 6210 KCS WAIT” Itasca listened on 6210 but heard nothing. Why? Because the plane went down? Or is there an explanation supported by actual evidence?
The last time she tried to contact someone on 6210 was the previous morning after she left New Guinea. Before leaving, she had made arrangements with the Lae radio station to call at eighteen minutes past each hour “but local interference prevented signals from the plane being intelligible until 2.18 p.m.” By that time the plane had to be at least 400 nautical miles from Lae. Did the more than four hour gap between her 10:00 a.m. takeoff and 2:18 p.m. mean the plane had crashed? Or was 6210 simply not a viable short range frequency for the Electra’s problem-plagued communications system?
There is further evidence that Earhart could only be heard on that frequency at distances greater than at least 400 nautical miles. On three occasions shortly after sunset (6:31, 6:43, and 6:54 p,m.) on July 2, the radio operator on the island of Nauru, listening on 6210 kHz, heard “fairly strong signals, speech not intelligible, no hum of plane in background, but voice similar that emitted from plane in flight last night between 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.” It is not uncommon in HF radio reception to recognize a person’s voice but not be able to make out what they are saying.
Nauru is 1,100 nautical miles from Gardner Island. Itasca, 350 miles away, heard nothing on 6210.
Jourdan: So in summary, she had no reason to go to Nuku, no plan to do so, didn’t say she was, and didn’t have enough fuel to get there anyway. All of Tighar’s subsequent “analysis” is resting on this false premise. Tighar has collected NO evidence that Amelia was on Gardiner (Nikumaroro) Island.
Gillespie: Given the abundance of errors in Mr. Jourdan’s grasp of the facts and the depth of his misconceptions about TIGHAR, it’s not hard to see why he might make such a statement.
In Part Three we’ll address Mr. Jourdan’s comments about some specific aspects of TIGHAR’s investigation and I’ll reply to his personal attack on me.
- Chater Report, https://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Documents/Chater_Report.html.
- Telegram from American Consul Sydney Australia to Secretary of State, Washington, DC; July 3, 1937.