Tuesday, November 20, 2018

USALite Flashlight Manufactured Between 1921 and 1935 Found in Old Village

By Joe Cerniglia

On July 5, 2017, during the second "In Search of Amelia Earhart" trip to Nikumaroro organized by Betchart Expeditions, trip member Karla Borde was working alongside a group of seven (including the author) when she discovered, wedged between a dried coconut and a wood fragment, the crushed, abraded and punctured casing of a 2-cell bullet-style flashlight. This flashlight was found on the surface of the ground within a few dozen meters of other artifacts near the old village dispensary.[1]

Photo #1: The flashlight in situ

Photo #2: The flashlight in situ with scale (coconut having been demolished in process of placement).

Measuring 7 1/16" in length, the flashlight's lens and lens reflector are entirely missing. The diameter of the circular end atop of which the bulb was seated measures roughly 3 1/2", having been distorted by some sort of impact. The flashlight weighs 90.82 grams. This artifact rested somewhere close to the side of, if not actually on, Harry Luke Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of the old colonial village, which once wended half a mile or more south to the newer village location and the boat landing. The casing is punctured in at least two places, crushed, creased and warped, and covered nearly uniformly with short abrasions and shallow marks, consistent possibly with ocean deposition as could be caused by a storm surge.

An Art Deco design of triple-fluted bands runs nearly the length of and surrounds the casing, which has a high gloss as would be found with chrome or perhaps nickel. Unlike many flashlights in the bullet style, this flashlight does not have a segmented detachable rear cap on the bullet end; rather, the casing is made of one piece. The batteries, therefore, would need to be installed from the front.

Photo #3: While the flashlight has retained much of its reflective brilliance, it is pitted with small scratches and puncture marks.

Photo #4: The flashlight is crushed, forming a lateral crease along its cylindrical axis.

Photos #5, #6, and #7: A large puncture hole appears on the switch side of the flashlight casing on the bullet end.

The Inscription on the Switch
The flashlight's switch plate is still present, but it is missing a slide or thumb-piece mechanism where only two recessed grooves now remain. A button on the switch is present but it is stuck in place. The switch carries an inscription:

PAT. DEC. 20, 1921
Photo #8: The dated inscription on the flashlight switch

The Patent
The patent to which the flashlight's inscription refers is U.S. Patent No. 15,249, a utility patent that was reissued on the inscription date (December 20, 1921) and that was originally filed on April 4, 1918 and granted as U.S. Patent No. 1,287,262 on December 10, 1918. The patent applicant was John T. Drufva of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, who filed as assignor to the Henry Hyman & Co., Inc. of New York, New York.[2]

This patent's key refinement to flashlight design was a dual control system for closing the circuit of the light by using either the button on the switch or the switch's sliding thumb piece. Pushing the button on the switch allowed for "flashing" the light, "as in giving signals." The slider, by contrast, allowed for "a more or less permanent or steady light" to be emitted from the flashlight.

Photo #9: The first page of the patent corresponding to the date on the flashlight switch.

Photo #10: The artifact flashlight's switch alongside its depiction in the corresponding patent drawing.

Date Range of the Flashlight: The Effective Term of the Patent
The patent is a utility patent. From 1861 to 1994, utility patents had a term of 17 years from the grant date.[3] Even though the patent is a reissue patent, having been reissued on a date three years later than the original patent, by law its duration did not extend beyond that allowed with the original grant date of December 10. 1918.[4] Therefore, the patent expired 17 years after the original grant date, on December 10, 1935.

At the time of this patent's issue, U.S. patent law, as set forth in Wilson v. Singer Manufacturing Company (1879), did not forbid the marking of patent information on products beyond the date of the patent's expiration. The presumption was that the relevant members of the public would be "presumed to know the law as well as the patentee" regarding the expiration date.[5] (Patent law in the 21st century has become more restrictive on this point.[6])

Even though the law permitted it, there was no legitimate reason to mark flashlights with this patent information beyond the date of December 10, 1935. The invention's protection had by then passed into public domain. Therefore, it would seem reasonable to presume that the flashlight found in the village was manufactured between 1921 and 1935, and no later than that date.

Photographs collected from the website of the Flashlight Museum appear to support this idea that the term of the patent and the manufacture dates of flashlights inscribed with this patent date coincide. Photographs of flashlights on this website show that certain models sold between 1928 and 1936 have the same inscription as the one found on Nikumaroro. None were found labeled as having been made or sold after 1936, or before 1928. The dates provided by this website, however, are meant only as a guide and would need independent corroboration from advertisements and trade literature to be absolutely certain of their accuracy.

Who Made the Flashlight?
Based on the patent information inscribed on the flashlight, its manufacturer is believed to be the United States Electrical Mfg. Corp., maker of USALite brand flashlights. This belief is based on three distinct sources of information:

1) Henry Hyman, assignee of the patent, was president of the United States Electrical Mfg. Corp., maker of USALite flashlights.[7]

2) With one exception (Perko), the only flashlights observed to have had the same inscription and switch as the artifact were those branded as USALite.

Photo #11: Perkins Perko boat-mounted flashlights are the only flashlights thus far located other than USALite that carry the same inscription as the artifact.[8]

3) A flashlight advertisement from the 1930s confirms that USALite flashlights were using the switch described in U.S. Patent 15,249. The advertisement states the flashlight had a "3 point safety contact switch for continuous, signal lighting and complete shut-off."[9]

Photos #12, #13, and #14: USALite "Redhead" model with the same switch inscription as the artifact

Photo #15: 1930s advertisement for USALite "Redhead"

Admittedly, information regarding the manufacturing company of the flashlight adds little knowledge that the patent did not already provide. The patent already tells us the flashlight was a product of the United States and that it was manufactured in the 1920s or the 1930s. However, narrowing the flashlight's manufacturer to a single brand of a single company could perhaps aid additional future research in narrowing the exact production dates of this particular flashlight found on the island.

Photo #16: A letter on official company stationery from the United States Electrical Mfg. Corp.[10]

Who or What Brought this Flashlight to the Village?
Flashlights are enormously useful on Nikumaroro. Anyone who occupied or visited the island from 1921 to the present date in theory could have brought this flashlight to the village. There is no reason to exclude any particular person or group from consideration, although probabilities will, of course, vary.

Loran Unit 92: The Coast Guard (1944-1946)
An American Coastguardsman from 1944 to 1946 could have brought the flashlight. He would have been carrying a flashlight at least nine years old, but flashlights have been known to last this long. A flashlight might also have been a good gift for a Coast Guardsman to pass on to a colonist.

The Bushnell Survey Expedition (1939)
The U.S. Navy surveyors who visited the island in 1939 aboard the U.S.S. Bushnell to do map work would be prime candidates to have brought the flashlight. An American in 1939 carrying a 1921-1935 flashlight made in the U.S. is an entirely plausible proposition.

The Nikumaroro Colony (1939-1963)
A 1939 inventory of "Goods in hand" drafted by the British colony's first officer-in-charge, Gerald Gallagher, shows two entries for "Torches A and B."[11] Torch is, of course, the British term for flashlight. While one might expect flashlights on Nikumaroro brought by the colony to be British in origin, it is not beyond possibility that American flashlights might have been stocked in the Gardner Island Co-operative store, or that a colonist could have been given the flashlight by a Coast Guardsman or found it in the Coast Guard Loran station after its abandonment in 1946.

The Norwich City (1929)
The British freighter Norwich City ran aground on the island in 1929. Again, while we would expect flashlights aboard this ship to be British in origin, an American flashlight may have been welcome if it was available. The date on which the ship came to grief is positioned exactly midway between the flashlight patent's grant and expiration dates.

Amelia Earhart (1937)
The Luke Field inventory, documenting the equipment aboard the Electra on the first world flight attempt, lists several flashlights.[12] They include:
2 Two-Cell Eveready Flashlights
1 Small 2-cell Flashlight, made in Japan and
1 Pencil type flashlight

Four flashlights were thus carried aboard the first world flight attempt of the Electra. It may be presumed that some were carried aboard the second attempt.

While none of these flashlights corresponds to the one found on Nikumaroro, that does not preclude the possibility the flashlight found on Nikumaroro was from the Electra. Obviously, a working flashlight is practically a requirement for any airplane pilot, even today.[13]

The term of the U.S. patent on the flashlight places it well within range of Amelia Earhart's world flight, but nothing would have prevented the U.S.S. Bushnell survey crew or the Coast Guard or a raft of others as a depositional source. The artifact cannot by any means stand alone as a smoking gun to the Earhart mystery, but it is without a doubt intriguing, especially to those of us who collected it.

Question for Further Research
Can a sibling USALite flashlight be located that would enable us to pinpoint the date range of the artifact's manufacture more precisely?


[1] Here is a list of artifacts found near the old village dispensary in 2017, in addition to the flashlight:
3 or more folded circular foils (thick but pliable aluminum)
1 heliarc-welded aluminum tray with i-beam support slats
1 Westclox clock movement from the 1950s
Squarish bottle fragments, clear and green
1 small tea plate with dividers and fleur-de-lis design
1 aluminum belt buckle
1 boot with 16 brass eyelets (some missing)
1 cosmetic cap for a Bourjois (Paris) jar
Assorted corrugated iron debris and wooden posts
1 Tri-Sure fuel drum plug

Photo #17: Map of all artifacts found in the old village in 2017

Photo #18: Map of artifacts superimposed on the old village. Superimposition courtesy of Dr. Richard Pettigrew

[2] John T. Drufva, inventor; Henry Hyman & Co., assignee. Portable electric light. U.S. Patent 15,249. Filed November 8, 1920 and reissued December 20, 1921. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Vol. 293, p. 577.

[3] "A Brief History of the Patent Law of the United States." Ladas & Parry. 19 Nov 2018. https://ladas.com/a-brief-history-of-the-patent-law-of-the-united-states-2/

[4] Charles B. Mann. Handbook of Patent Law for Patent Owners. Baltimore: Mann & Company, 1884, p. 49.

[5] Josiah Hooker Bissell. Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States: For the Seventh Judicial Circuit. Vol. 9. Chicago: Callaghan and Company, 1882, pp. 173-177.

[6] "Using Expired Patent Numbers with Your Products Could Lead to Devastating Financial Losses." Davi and Kuelthau, Attorneys at Law. https://ono4p174nkhs68n5le94wblf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/ExpiredPatentNumbers.pdf 20 Nov 2018.

[7] Obituary: Henry Hyman, 84, Founder of Noma Light Concern. 23 Dec 1970. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1970/12/23/archives/henry-hyman-84-founder-of-noma-light-concern.html 3 Jul 2018.

[9] Provision of this advertisement was made possible by the work of Jim Roan, Librarian and Archivist at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, D.C. on 2 Oct 2018.

[10] Provision of this letter was also made possible by the work of Jim Roan, Librarian and Archivist at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, D.C. on 2 Oct 2018.

[11] Gerald Gallagher. Gardner Island Co-operative Store Statement for Year Ended Dec. 31, 1939. https://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Documents/Tarawa_Archives/1939_Co-op_Store/1939Co-opStore.html 20 Nov 2018.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Q & A on TIGHAR Forum Analysis of Microphone Connector

By Joe Cerniglia

Preface: TIGHAR's Amelia Earhart Research Forum recently weighed in regarding my artifact report on the microphone connector found in the colonial village on Nikumaroro in 2017. To read this evaluation, click here:
Artifact Evaluation - Microphone Connector

To read the original paper on this blog to which the Forum responded, click here:
Connections of a Wayward Microphone Connector

I appreciate the Forum's efforts to analyze this complex artifact. Here is a basic Q&A to respond to this latest research effort:

Q. Richard Gillespie asked on the Forum, "Is this artifact (the microphone connector) of any significance?" How would you respond?

A. The question lies at the root of why one investigates an artifact. I believe all artifacts are significant to the extent that they represent a human life or lives. To greater and lesser degrees, every object has a history and, therefore, a story. Is Amelia Earhart's story more worthwhile than that of an anonymous colonist or member of the Coast Guard? I think the answer to that question depends largely upon the skills of the storyteller.

To improve one's ability in recognizing an artifact as potentially belonging to Amelia Earhart, one must study many artifacts that are not part of Earhart's story, but rather are part of the known story of Nikumaroro. Each artifact represents a learning experience, whether related to Amelia Earhart or not.

Regardless of known or suspected provenance, all artifacts are difficult to analyze.

Q. Has the artifact been misidentified?

A. No. The artifact was identified as an Amphenol 80-Series microphone connector, based on the inscription on its surface, which reads:
The 80-Series was specifically marketed as a microphone connector in every Amphenol catalog, Amphenol advertisement and trade publication mention of Amphenol we have been able to obtain.

Photo #1: the Amphenol 80-Series microphone connector with inscription

Photo #2: the Amphenol 80-Series microphone connector listed in context with its counterpart series in the 1960 Allied Radio Catalog.[1]

Q. Did the blog article state the connector was from Amelia Earhart's Electra?

A. No. The article did not state any certainties beyond the basic identification of the artifact as a microphone connector. It did not state the artifact was Amelia Earhart's. In fact, it stated that there was a significant possibility it belonged to the Coast Guard Loran station two miles away, or to the radio hut in the colonial village .4 miles away.

Q. Because of the fact that it has a single prong, Richard Gillespie has stated the connector found on the island was a "contact connector," not a microphone connector. Do you have documentation that single-prong contact connectors were marketed as microphone connectors?

A. Yes. Based on the c.1948 Amphenol catalog, and on other Amphenol catalogs we have seen, the Amphenol single-prong contact connectors were marketed as microphone connectors.

Photo #3: Close view of the single prong of the Amphenol microphone connector

Photo #4: Amphenol c.1948 Catalog listing of "Single Contact Microphone Connectors"[2]

Q. Were these single contact microphone connectors ever marketed as having been used on radios?

A. Yes. A circa 1969 Amphenol catalog specifically states that single-contact microphone connectors were used on "transmitters."[3]  A circa 1956 catalog makes no distinction between the number of contacts used in a connector and the fact that these connectors were used in transmitters.[4]  Transmitters are the principal component required to use a microphone with a radio.

Photo #5: Amphenol c.1969 Catalog details single-contact microphone connectors used with transmitters

Q. Were these single-contact microphone connectors used on the type of transmitter and microphone that Amelia Earhart brought with her on the world flight?

A. Perhaps not. Based on equipment recorded in the Luke Field inventory (documenting Earhart's first world flight attempt), Earhart most likely had a push-to-talk microphone aboard. A Forum member states that a push-to-talk microphone requires three prongs on its connector.[5]  We have found supporting evidence that this may be true. A 1963 trade publication lists a Shure model 440SL "grip-to-talk" microphone and then lists one of its components as an "Amphenol MC3M plug."[6]  Amphenol catalogs list these MC3M plugs as part of the 91-Series.[7]  The "3" in the part number signifies that it has three prongs. The artifact has one prong.

Photo #6: Advertisement for Shure grip-to-talk microphone (highlighted in yellow).

Photo #7: Amphenol c.1948 Catalog listing for MC3M microphone connector.

Q. Richard Gillespie stated the microphone connector would have been used with a movie projector in the Coast Guard Loran station. What evidence exists for this statement?

A. This is an interesting anecdote. A source citation would be helpful.

Q. Beyond Earhart's push-to-talk microphone and her transmitter, are there any other possible uses aboard the Electra for an Amphenol single-contact microphone connector?

A. Yes. The paper stated: "Both headphones and microphones are items that use microphone connectors to bring the cord to the chassis of the transmitter or receiver."[8]  The Amphenol c.1969 Catalog stated that single contact microphone connectors were used with headphones.[9]

Photo #8: Amphenol c.1969 Catalog details single-contact microphone connectors used with headphones.

Earhart's receiver, which was a potential attachment point for microphone connectors used with headphones, was mounted beneath the right seat in the cockpit.[10]  It would seem that a simple headphone set, used for receiving voice with no push-to-talk mechanism, would not require a three-pronged connector. A single-prong connector would probably suffice, but documentation is needed to be certain.

A photo of the underside of the copilot seat in the cockpit would be useful to see what kind of connectors were used to bring Earhart's headphone cord to the chassis of her Western Electric 20B receiver. The artifact microphone connector could also function as part of a patch cord extender for the headphones. It need not have been necessary to use it directly on the receiver chassis.

Q. Were headphones in use on Nikumaroro?

A. Almost certainly. We have a photo (see original paper) that showed a Coast Guardsman using headphones in a Coast Guard Loran station. We know the colony had a radio hut. Headphones were practically a requirement in these situations.
Photo #9: Advertisement for radio equipment commonly in use on Pacific islands prior to                                                                             World War II[11]

Q. Were Amphenol microphone connectors used for applications that included microphones but not radios?

A. Yes. The connectors were used for amplifiers. An amplifier can be used for a radio but also may be used for a public address system, or for stereo equipment such as phonograph players. The 1969 catalog lists other non-radio uses of a microphone connector such as "home recorders."[12]

Q. Were Amphenol microphone connectors used for applications that included radios but not microphones?

A. Yes. See the section on headphones above.

Q. Were Amphenol microphone connectors used for applications that included neither radios nor microphones?

A. Yes. The 1969 Amphenol catalog lists "theft alarms" and "coin-operated devices" as potential uses.[13]  The circa 1956 catalog lists "model railroad equipment" and "pin ball games."[14]

Q. Why didn't you mention these other applications in your paper?

A. The paper detailed the uses of microphone connectors most likely to have been encountered on the island. There were radios used in both the colonial village radio hut and in the U.S. Coast Guard Loran station. These radios seem the likeliest application for the microphone connector that was found in the colonial village. Theft alarms, coin-operated devices, model railroad sets and pinball equipment all seem unlikely to have been found on Nikumaroro, but further research from the Amelia Earhart Search Forum, and other blogs and individuals may say otherwise.

Q. Someone on the Forum stated that the connector can be dated on the basis of what it is made of (nickel or chrome), that the nickel connectors are older than chrome connectors. Is that true?

A. The idea that materials analysis could prove helpful in dating the artifact would be true if our documentation about the kinds of materials used on these connectors were not as complete as it is, and if the inscription on the artifact were not so unambiguous. The Amphenol catalogs clearly show the opposite of what the Forum stated. Nickel-plated microphone connectors are not older than chrome-plated ones; rather, they are younger. Starting in 1960, only the 91-Series was offered in "satin nickel."[15]  The other series (75s and 80s) were consistently offered as chrome-plated from the 1930s to the 1970s. Since the artifact's inscription shows it to be a member of the 80-Series, and since the 80-Series was consistently offered in chrome, any materials analysis would have no power to discriminate as to date of manufacture.

Q. Richard Gillespie states the wire on the connector was "pulled off" by colonists as a means of procuring a tool. Are there any additional possibilities for how the connector got separated from its trailing wire?

A. While it is possible the colonists modified the artifact, there are other scenarios the paper mentioned that do not involve contact with colonists at all. The island has been uninhabited for 55 years, longer than the actual Nikumaroro colony existed (1939-1963). The small abrasions on the microphone connector surfaces are consistent with what would be produced by tumbling from ocean deposition. This tumbling action, and time spent in the water, is sufficient to degrade significantly, without human assistance, the external cord that was once attached to the connector.

Q. Has the Amelia Earhart Search Forum ruled out the possibility the connector may possibly have been from Amelia Earhart's Electra?

A. As of this writing, it would not seem so. I appreciate the Forum's efforts to preclude the possibility the microphone connector is an artifact from the Electra. This effort, if successful, would add greatly to our knowledge of this artifact. I recognize, however, that proving the provenance of any artifact beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult. Even the in-depth research provided on this blog was insufficient to do this. I have felt that the best approach in reporting on this artifact is to leave open all of the possibilities and to research each one as thoroughly as I can.



[1] Advertisement for Amphenol Microphone Connectors. Allied Radio Catalog, 1960, p. 189.

[2] Amphenol Catalog: Radio Parts and Accessories, Synthetics for Electronics, High Frequency Cables and Connectors, 'A-N' Connectors and 'A-N' Fittings, c.1948, p. M-6. http://www.tubebooks.org/vintage_data.htm. 23 Sept 2018.

[3] Amphenol General Line Catalog GL-2, c.1969, p. 5.

[4] General Catalog of Amphenol Components, Catalog B2, c.1956, p. 38.

[5] The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). "Artifact Evaluation - microphone connector." Online posting. 16 Oct 2018. Amelia Earhart Search Forum.

[6] Advertisement for Shure microphones. Allied Radio Catalog, 1963, p. 244. htpps://www.americanradiohistory.com. 1 Oct 2018.

[7] Amphenol Catalog: Radio Parts and Accessories, Synthetics for Electronics, High Frequency Cables and Connectors, 'A-N' Connectors and 'A-N' Fittings, c.1948, p. M-6. http://www.tubebooks.org/vintage_data.htm. 23 Sept 2018.

[8] Joseph Cerniglia. "Connections of a Wayward Microphone Connector." Amelia Earhart Archaeology, 12 Oct 2018. https://ameliaearhartarchaeology.blogspot.com/2018/10/connections-of-wayward-microphone.html.

[9] Amphenol General Line Catalog GL-2, c.1969, p. 5.

[10] Michael Everette. "A Technical Analysis of the Western Electric Radio Communications Equipment Installed on Board Lockheed Electra NR16020" https://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Research/ResearchPapers/ElectraRadios/ElectraRadios.htm#4.

[11] Advertisement for Amalgamated Wireless. Pacific Islands Monthly, September 1940, p. 68. 25 Sept 2018. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-315984770/view?partid=nla.obj-315992495

[12] Amphenol General Line Catalog GL-2, c.1969, p. 5.

[13] Ibid., p. 5.

[14] General Catalog of Amphenol Components, Catalog B2, c.1956, p. 39.

[15] Advertisement for Amphenol Microphone Connectors, Allied Radio Catalog, 1960, p. 189. https://www.americanradiohistory.com. 1 Oct 2018.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The 1940 Sextant Box Identified?

Earhart researcher John Kada seems to have identified the sextant box found on Nikumaroro in 1940, through persistent research testing the hypothesis that it was lost during the survey work performed on the island by crews from the USS Bushnell in 1939. John has given me permission to cite the article he's published on his blog, so here it is: https://gardnerghost.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-origin-of-nikumaroro-sextant-box.html.

John's exemplary research thoroughly undercuts my conclusion -- shared with others in and around TIGHAR -- that the box was likely the property of Fred Noonan (as portrayed in both my novels, Thirteen Bones and Amelia Earhart Unrescued). Oh well, they're fiction.

Good work, John!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tom Maxwell's Orona Atoll Hypothesis

Orona Atoll (Source: Wikipedia)

Tom Maxwell and the Orona Imagery

I was unaware of Tom Maxwell’s Orona Hypothesis until he was interviewed on Chris Williamson’s “Chasing Earhart” podcast, Episode 36 (https://audioboom.com/posts/6680856-is-orona-island-hiding-a-secret-a-conversation-with-tom-maxwell). Mr. Maxwell was on Kanton Island (aka Canton) in 1972-75, tracking missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base that were splashing down in the vicinity; he developed an interest in the Earhart/Noonan mystery and discovered a satellite image that he believes shows the Electra at the bottom of the Orona (aka Hull Island) lagoon. See http://www.janeresture.com/kiribati_phoenix_group/hull.htm for background data on Manra.

Mr. Maxwell has developed his interpretation of the imagery considerably in posts on the “Pacific Wrecks” forum (https://www.pacificwrecks.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=14021; see also http://www.aquariusradar.com/AmeliaEarhartsplane.html ). 

The Hypothesis
To account for his observation, Mr. Maxwell developed an hypothesis that’s similar to the Nikumaroro Hypothesis in that he has Earhart and Noonan flying southeast from the vicinity of Howland Island, but he posits that Noonan, knowing that Canton Island had quite recently been occupied by U.S. and British scientists observing the 1937 solar eclipse (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/08/explore-space-eclipse-world-war-II-canton-island/), had Earhart steer farther to the east, landing not at Nikumaroro but at Orona. He proposes that they splashed down in the lagoon, and that the plane remains there to this day.

Satellite Image, Marked by Mr. Maxwell

(Source: Tom Maxwell)

This perfectly plausible (I think) hypothesis is complicated by the fact that Orona was occupied at the time, as the site of a coconut planting/harvesting operation supervised by Capt. J.W. Jones, who had arrived there with his Tokelauan Burns-Philp employees in May 1937. Lt. John Lambrecht of USS Colorado landed in the Orona lagoon during the search for Earhart, and interviewed Jones, who reported no aircraft landings (See https://tighar.org/wiki/Hull_Island).

Mr. Maxwell posits that Jones and his employees didn’t see or hear the Electra splash down because they were operating on the opposite end of the atoll, some 5 miles away. This strikes me as reasonable, based on my experience on Nikumaroro – if, of course, the plane went straight into the lagoon without any circling around.  

But assuming Earhart and/or Noonan survived the landing, why didn’t they go walkabout and find Jones and his colleagues? Mr. Maxwell proposes that Japanese forces encamped on Nikumaroro came and abducted them. From here on his hypothesis merges with the well-known Japanese Capture Hypothesis (c.f. https://www.amazon.com/Amelia-Earhart-Truth-Last-Second/dp/1620066688), and specifically with the postulates offered by Joe Klaas in his 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives – though Mr. Maxwell does not necessarily subscribe to the details of the Klaas hypothesis.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Mr. Maxwell’s observations – mixed up with the thinking of Joe Klaas and his advisor Joe Gervais – on TIGHAR’s discussion forum; see https://tighar.org/smf/index.php?topic=427.0 and  https://tighar.org/smf/index.php?topic=427.15 for examples.

When I heard Mr. Maxwell’s “Chasing Amelia” podcast I was intrigued, and puzzled by the imagery, but pretty startled by his notion of a Japanese presence on Nikumaroro. We’ve found no historical, archaeological, or other evidence of such a presence, though presumably it wouldn’t have left much.  So I asked him about his research and learned that the Japanese capture parts of his hypothesis are thus far based on speculation.

My Impression
On balance, I don’t think Mr. Maxwell’s hypothesis holds up; it involves too much speculation and is encumbered by too many unlikely variables. But there’s that image – which I have to admit looks to me an awful lot like an Electra. But like a lot of satellite imagery, the one of the “plane in the Orona lagoon” is pretty pixelated, and subject to interpretation. In interpreting such things, the human mind is very prone to cognitive bias; we want to see patterns, and we may “see” them even when they’re not there.

We had an encounter with such bias in 2010, when someone looking at Google Earth imagery saw what looked like the letters “ELP” spelled out in coral in a pond at the southeast end of Nikumaroro. It sure did look like “ELP,” and we imagined Earhart and Noonan spelling out a distress signal whose "H" had been lost to the elements. We even wrote a song about it (To the tune of the Beatles’ “Help”). But when we went to the pond and gave it a close look, there was simply nothing there but natural shelving coral; we’d been bamboozled by bias. And in the 1938 airphotos of Nikumaroro taken by the New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey (https://tighar.org/wiki/New_Zealand_Survey_(1938)), many of us could quite confidently see the outline of an Electra in the scaevola on Nikumaroro’s Nutiran shore –albeit in one photo pointing northwest and in another southeast. Only when the imagery was accurately scaled did we discover that the “Electra” was way too big to be what we thought we saw. Which was comforting since the area had been surveyed by our own field teams, revealing nothing.

Mr. Maxwell points out that when you look at imagery of the bottom of the Orona lagoon away from the “plane’s” location – and innumerable other places on the seafloor – you do not see Electra-shaped patterns of pixels; it’s only at that one spot. In a 5 October 2018 email to me, he argues for the likelihood that –

the pixels in the image are created by the L10E aircraft and not light and shadow upon coral formations. In the thousands of miles of shallow oceans-maybe light and shadow could create the exact likeness of a complex object. But such a rare phenomenon of light and shadow, in the likely spot a skilled pilot and navigator could find not far from their final destination, is extremely unlikely.

I don’t have an answer to this assertion, but I’m dubious; we don’t see “ELPs” scattered all over Nikumaroro, either, but that doesn’t make our 2010 “ELP” meaningful. But the patterns in the Orona lagoon are odd, and their location is intriguing.

The Solution
There’s one obvious way to test the Orona Hypothesis. Mr. Maxwell has plotted his ostensible Electra pretty precisely, and it’s not in deep water. It looks to be a pretty simple piece of underwater archaeological reconnaissance to check it out.  Someone ought to do it, but note: the inspection should be a piece of controlled, planned, fully reported archaeological reconnaissance, not just some divers with metal detectors poking around. And it needs to be done with full respect for the Phoenix Islands environment and the regulations of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.

I’m grateful to Tom Maxwell, Joe Cerniglia, and Tukabu Teraroro for their reviews of this paper in draft.