Tag Archives: Nikumaroro

Responding to Nauticos, Part Two

Continuing the response to Nauticos

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.


  1. Chater Report, https://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Documents/Chater_Report.html.
  2. Telegram from American Consul Sydney Australia to Secretary of State, Washington, DC; July 3, 1937.

Responding to Nauticos, Part One

A TIGHAR member recently sent an email to Nauticos president David Jourdan, presently at sea as leader of the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition, asking why Mr. Jourdan’s conclusions about the fate of Amelia Earhart are so different from TIGHAR’s. In his reply, Mr. Jourdan explained why he thinks the Earhart Electra is on the ocean bottom near Howland Island. Unfortunately, he then launched into a surprisingly uninformed attempt to disparage TIGHAR’s work, including ad hominem attacks on me, TIGHAR’s executive director. We generally ignore such tirades, but Mr. Jourdan’s deserves a response.

Before replying to Mr. Jourdan point-by-point, some background information is in order. Although both TIGHAR and Nauticos have the same goal – discovering the true fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan – the two organizations are quite different.

TIGHAR is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity. Our work is carried out in the public interest for the public’s benefit. Archival research, data analyses, and expeditions are carried out mostly by volunteers although, when appropriate, we hire needed assets and expertise. Funding comes primarily from charitable donations by the general public as dues-paying members of the organization. The sale of exclusive media rights sometimes provides additional funding for expeditions. All of our research and results are published and freely available to anyone who wishes to look at our work.

Since launching The Earhart Project in 1988, TIGHAR has conducted 11 archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner Island), and 14 related research expeditions: three to Fiji, two to Tarawa, three to England, two to New Zealand and one each to McKean Island, Kanton Island, Funafuti, the Solomon Islands, and Tinian. There have been three expeditions to remote locations in Alaska, Idaho, and New Zealand to collect comparative data from known Electra wrecks.

Nauticos LLC is an ocean exploration corporation owned and operated by David Jourdan. Nauticos hires expertise and assets with which to carry out contracts for its customers. Nauticos’ client for the current search for the Earhart Electra is former Google executive Alan Eustace. Dubbed “The Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition,” the reported cost of the month-long operation is $3,000,000. The side-scan sonar search is being conducted using a REMUS 6000 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution deployed from R/V Mermaid Vigilance. This is Nauticos’ third search for the Earhart aircraft on the ocean bottom near Howland Island. Searches in 2002 and 2006 were unsuccessful.

Mr. Jourdan began with a recitation of the logic behind the Crashed & Sank theory of Earhart’s fate.

Jourdan: Amelia Earhart sent several messages received by the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, waiting for her at Howland Island. These messages indicated she was 200 miles out, then 100, then “We must be on you, but cannot see you.”

Gillespie: Maybe, maybe not. The Itasca radio log entry for 06:46 reads, “I WILL MAKE MOISE [sic] IN MIC – ABT 100 MILES OUT.”1

In the original typed log there is a platen mis-alignment. The words “-ABT 100 MILES OUT” are not quite lined up with the previous words. The only way that can happen is if the operator went back and entered the phrase after he hit the carriage return. Was it ten seconds, ten minutes, or ten hours later that the phase was added? No way to tell. Was “-ABT 100 MILES OUT” something the operator later remembered Earhart saying, or was it the operator’s own estimate? No way to tell. A forensic examination of the original radio log, faithfully preserved by Itasca Chief Radioman Bellarts, reveals a number of similar discrepancies that challenge traditional versions of what Earhart was heard to say.2

Jourdan: Amelia reported that fuel was low. (This was supported by an analysis of her fuel consumption by Fred Culick of Cal Tech.)

Gillespie: The 07:42 Itasca radio log entry records Earhart as saying:


“Gas is running low,” but how low is low? TIGHAR’s analysis of the Electra’s theoretical endurance agrees with Lockheed historian Roy Blay’s calculation that Earhart should have had 24 hours and 18 minutes of fuel when she left New Guinea.4

Mr. Culick’s 1999 analysis is based on multiple assumptions that contradict or creatively interpret the historical record. He offers nine different possibilities for Earhart’s total fuel endurance, ranging from 23 hours 38 minutes to 18 hours 55 minutes, based on various assumptions. He prefers a tenth alternative. “Amelia should have run out of fuel after 20 hours and 38 minutes, indicating that she ran out of fuel within a half hour after her last transmission.”5

In his conclusions he rather confusingly states, “If we are correct in our assumptions about Amelia’s true airspeed and the head winds she encountered in flight … then Amelia could not have remained aloft for more than 22 hours. In any event, her fuel endurance would have been limited to 21 hours or less.”6

The key assumptions his conclusions rely upon are that Earhart had “an average true airspeed of 160.5 mph and an average head wind of 26.5 mph” for the entire flight.

In other words, Mr. Culick is suggesting that Earhart, upon encountering stronger than expected headwinds, instead of aborting the flight and returning to her departure point (as she had done twice during the world flight), increased power to raise her airspeed beyond recommended levels, thus unnecessarily increasing fuel consumption and effectively erasing any margin for error in finding Howland Island.

Is there a more reasonable explanation for Earhart saying “BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW” at 07:42? This was the only time she was heard to mention her fuel situation. An hour later, in her last in-flight transmission heard by Itasca, she expressed no concern about fuel. At 07:42 she was 19 hours and 12 minutes into her flight. The flight to Howland was expected to take 18 to 19 hours. According to Army Air Corps Lt. Cooper aboard Itasca, the standard fuel reserve for long-distance flights was 20%.7 According to Lt. Cooper “Gasoline supply was estimated to last 24 hours ….”8 If that number is correct, at 19 hours 12 minutes Earhart had just begun burning into her five hour reserve. If you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and your destination has not appeared as expected, and you don’t know why, and you have not heard any reply to your radio calls, and you’re burning your emergency fuel reserve, “GAS IS RUNNING LOW” would seem to be an appropriate comment.

The point is, both interpretations of Earhart’s reported statement are theoretically possible unless there is conclusive evidence that one or both are incorrect.

Jourdan: Her last message reported she was “flying north and south” on a line of position (157-337) that was obtained by observing sunrise.

Gillespie: To be precise, in the last in-flight message heard by Itasca she said she was “ON THE LINE 157 – 337 … RUNNING ON LINE NORTH AND SOUTH.” That the line she referred to was a line of position obtained by observing sunrise was the U.S. Navy’s interpretation at the time, and one that pretty much everyone, including TIGHAR, agrees with. There may have been subsequent in-flight messages that were not heard by Itasca and there were certainly post-loss transmissions logged by Itasca. Just after sunset at 6:25 that evening, the Itasca radio log recorded “We hear her on 3105 Kcs now, very weak and unreadable/voice.”

Jourdan: It is clear that she then ran out of fuel and ditched in the ocean.

Gillespie: Saying so does not make it so. If Amelia made a Mayday call that she was going down, nobody heard it. If the plane ditched in the ocean and sank, it did so without leaving so much as an oil slick to be seen by the subsequent Coast Guard and Navy search. If it happened, there is zero historical evidence that it happened, and considerable evidence to suggest that it did not happen.

Jourdan: She was quite close, as confirmed by radio signal analysis conducted by Rockwell-Collins.

Gillespie: Confirmed? How close is quite close? What Mr. Jourdan calls the Rockwell-Collins analysis was done in 1998 by the Collins Amateur Radio Club. Like the Cal Tech fuel analysis, the radio signal analysis draws firm conclusions from assumptions and interpretations. Club members recorded simulated Earhart transmissions using equipment roughly similar to that believed to be aboard Earhart’s Electra, measured the impedance of an antenna on the Pima Air Museum’s Lockheed 10A, and did field tests on a 1/12 scale model Electra and a Beechcraft Model 18. Creative research to be sure, but not capable of confirming anything that happened in the Central Pacific in the electromagnetic environment of 1937.

TIGHAR’s own analysis of Earhart’s in-flight radio transmissions was done in 2000 using a computer model of the NR16020 antenna created with NEC4WIN95.9 Propagation of each signal was analyzed using ICEPAC10, a program which allows the researcher to put the subject signal in geographical and historical context with regard to such variables as atmospheric noise and sunspot activity.

How close is close? TIGHAR’s study found that for Itasca to have heard Earhart on 3105 kHz, the airplane could not have been closer than 80 nautical miles away. For her to stand the best chance of Itasca hearing her at maximum strength (Strength 5) as recorded in the ship’s radio log, she had to be between 160 and 260 nautical miles from the ship.11

Jourdan: The question is, exactly where? We are searching the ocean floor at 18,000 feet depth, and will complete our search of the calculated probability area this month.

Gillespie: It is entirely possible that the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition will discover the wreckage of one or more of the many wartime and modern trans-Pacific ferry flights that have gone down at sea in the 80 years since the Electra disappeared. In the next installment of TIGHAR’s reply to Mr. Jourdan, we’ll correct his many misconceptions about our work and explain why any aircraft the Eaustace Earhart Discovery Expedition finds will not be Earhart’s.


  1. Itasca Raw Radio Logs.
  2. “Things Not Said,”
  3. Itasca Raw Radio Logs.
  4. “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” Roy Blay, Lockheed Horizons.
  5. “Details Concerning Analysis of Amelia Earhart’s Final Flight – July 2, 1937,” G. Swenson and F.E.C Culick, Jet Propulsion Center, California Institute of Technology.
  6. Ibid.
  7. U.S. Army Report, “Expedition to the American Equatorial Island in connection with the Amelia Earhart flight,”  Daniel A. Cooper, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps, July 27, 1937.
  8. Ibid.
  9. A Windows 95/98 implementation of the Numerical Electromagnetic Code (NEC) developed by ORION Microsystems, of Quebec Canada, it is specifically designed for interactive design and analysis of antennas.
  10. Ionospheric Communications Enhanced Profile Analysis and Circuit prediction program, developed by the Department of Commerce Institute for Telecommunications Science (ITS) at Boulder, Colorado.
  11.  PLRST Technical Notes.