Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Plan for Our 2015 Visit to Nikumaroro

The June-July trip to Nikumaroro with Betchart Expeditions aboard Fiji Princess is now fully booked up with a waiting list, so if you’ve been waiting to sign up, I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat, as it were.  You can join the waiting list, however, and there’s talk of another trip in 2016. 

What we plan to do:  We’ll have only four days on the island, and some of that time will be given over simply to visiting the key sites: the Nutiran reef where we think Earhart landed her Electra, the Seven Site where she may have died, the colonial village, and the Bivouac Site where a woman’s shoe was found in 1991.  But we also hope to get some original research done.  At present, the plan looks like this:

1.    TIGHAR Board member Art Carty has made a special study of what we call “Camp Zero” – the place where Earhart and Noonan may have made their first camp if they landed where we think they did – but the site has never been studied.  Art, his wife Janis, and their niece Elizabeth will be on the trip, and the plan is for them, archaeologist Dawn Johnson, and a small team of volunteers to travel up to the site and give it as systematic an inspection and metal-detector sweep as possible without serious brush clearing.

2.    Meanwhile, Niku veterans John Clauss, Tom Roberts and I plan to work with those interested to do a systematic survey of the lee (west) shore of the colonial village at Ritiati, which is eroding as sea level rises.  We know there are airplane parts in the village; they have eroded out along this shore in the past and just might be doing so now.  The well-known artifact 2-2-V-1 – a big piece of aluminum that may well have been the patch applied to the Electra’s aft starboard window opening before departure from Miami – came from this area.  Our plan is to cover a segment of the shoreline each day, sweeping it with metal detectors and exposing and recording hits.
2-2-V-1 as found, 1991
The patched Electra, 1937

3.    If there’s time, we’d also like to search for the elusive “wheel of fortune” reported by a New England Aquarium expedition in Tatiman Passage, and for a possible airplane door reported by colonial veterans down near the Bivouac Site. 

4.    Finally, we plan for snorklers, glass-bottomed boat passengers, and divers to take a good look at the upper Nutiran reef slope.  We’ve done it before, but things come and go on a coral reef, and possible aircraft parts have been reported there.

What we won’t do.  Niku is part of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA).  Its environment is fragile and must not be disturbed.  We won’t be collecting plants, animals, corals, or any other living thing, and we’ll try very hard not to disturb them.  We won’t be collecting any artifacts from underwater; if we see anything on the reef we’ll mark it discreetly, locate it with GPS, and come back for it when we’re equipped to do so.  On land, any artifacts we find and decide to take back will be managed in accordance with TIGHAR’s antiquities management agreement with the government of Kiribati, whose representative will be aboard Fiji Princess. Any artifact removed will be fully recorded as to its location and surroundings. 

In addition….  We’ll also be visiting Rotuma, Funafuti, Wallis, and Futuna Islands, and of course Fiji, our point of departure and return.  Some of us hope to do a little archival research on Funafuti – which has important Niku connections – and we’ll be coordinating with colleagues in Fiji about ongoing research there.  A cooperating research group has been set up at the Fiji National University by faculty member Gary Kieffner, and some intriguing leads have come up recently regarding the bones sent to Fiji from Niku in 1941.

For more information on this and other Betchart Expeditions trips, visit .  And of course, for up-to-date information on the Earhart search, visit .