Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Note: "The Hunt For Amelia Earhart"

Just finished reading The Hunt for Amelia Earhart, by Douglas Westfall (Orange, CA, 2007; Paragon;; thanks to Lonnie Schorer for sending along a newspaper article that alluded to it.  The Hunt is a fascinating account of the 1937 search efforts by the Itasca, Colorado, Lexington and other ships, and their seamen and flyers.  Many first-person accounts, some of which are well-known to TIGHAR researchers, others new to me at least.  Lots of good reference data and quite wonderful maps and photos, and at $10 for the downloadable E-book version, it’s a steal.
Reading about how hard the Colorado's crew in particular worked to find Earhart made me think that one thing we pursuers of the Nikumaroro Hypothesis ought to make clear is this: although if the hypothesis is correct, they missed finding Earhart and Noonan on Nikumaroro, this does not mean that they did anything but the best job they could.  Sometimes when I give talks on our work, somebody asks why the Colorado didn't steam in close to Niku and put people ashore to search, or why the Colorado's float-plane crews didn't land to look around.  There are excellent reasons for both circumstances.  The Colorado was a great big expensive battleship, and the waters of the Phoenix Islands were not well charted.  Captain Thompson was very well advised not to steam in too close to islands where uncharted offshore reefs could be lurking.  The situation was similar with the planes.  The only place they could have landed was in the lagoon, which was and is studded with coral heads.  Running into one of those in a flimsy little float plane would really ruin your day.
The pilots gave it their best shot; came in low, made lots of noise, circled and zoomed, tried to attract attention; when they didn't see anyone, they reasonably concluded that there was no one there.  We now know from first-hand experience that it's very hard to see people on the ground amid the hard light/dark contrasts of even the shoreline environment, and quite impossible to see people back in the bush.  We also know how hard it is, if you're back in the bush, to get out to the shore in a timely manner when you hear an aircraft overhead.  The Colorado pilots didn't know those things, and Earhart and Noonan, if they were there, didn't know that airplanes were out searching for them, so there's no reason they would have spelled out "SOS" in seaweed or something.  As for the Electra, if we're right in reconstructing its fate, by the time the Colorado pilots flew over it was off the edge of the Nutiran reef, almost if not completely submerged, in the surf zone where white water would have made it difficult if not impossible to see. 
So, no one ought to affix any blame to the captain and crew of the USS Colorado for missing Earhart and Noonan, if that's what they did, and The Hunt for Amelia Earhart vividly recounts -- often in their own words -- the thinking, planning, and plain hard, dangerous work that they put into the effort.   

1 comment:

  1. The Bi-planes were on "cruise" at 70 MPH over each of the Islands, reefs, pinnacles, shoals, had perfect weather, made multiple "low and slow" passes, and did a rather thorough search by 1937 standards.

    Unless severely injured, Earhart and Noonan did little to assist in their rescue. Not one precise message received by rescue personnel-not one. No names, coordinates etc.

    All else is supposition and hypothesis except for: sudden death or lingering death. Neither were prepared for this pitfall