Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain

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COPYRIGHT 2004 – 2019
The contents of this website are Copyright to David Billings. No portion Of this website story may be used without permission. All Rights to the content of this story based on the Earhart Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft being on New Britain Island are Copyright to David Billings and the story is the Intellectual Property of David Billings.

Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain:

Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence

Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.

The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.

On 2 July 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “…we are running on line north and south…” manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.

This project theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel. The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crash into the jungle.

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David Billings, a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analysed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.

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The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”

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David Billings is planning his final foray into East New Britain in 2018, the 81st anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance.

New satellite maps, a LiDAR survey with GPS-aided systematic search patterns, and more time on site will help in the search.

The search costs thus far have been borne primarily by David with some help from America, from team members and private donations, all of which has been expended on previous expeditions. Some funding will go a long way to assist in providing the answer…

David says:

“After much thought and new analysis of what we do know, a change of tactics is called for and a new search area has been selected. The area now selected was seen to have an area of “loose bare earth” in 1996 but not considered to be of importance as at that time, we were looking for an aircraft wreck on the surface.

The search area is quite remote and every expedition to this area costs a great deal.

Now retired, I need some financial assistance to be able to continue this very interesting project. We have good evidence but need adequate funding. All donations will be thankfully received and acknowledged.”

David Billings, January 2016.


Part 1 – The Beginning | Part 2 – PNG History/Topography | Part 3 – Wreckage is Found
Part 4 – Tangible EvidencePart 5 – Analysis | Part 6 – Lae to Howland Island
Part 7 – Howland area to New Britain – To the Gilberts…
Part 8 – Howland area to New Britain – Flying Westwards for Rabaul
Part 9 – Not Seen, But Not Forgotten
Part 10 – 2017 Expedition Overview
References
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Acknowledgements

I would like to express my greatest thanks to the men of the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion – specifically Don Angwin, Ken Backhouse, Keith Nurse, Roy Walsh and Len Willoughby.

Google Earth:  The Google Earth application has been of enormous assistance with this project in East New Britain by the project being able to look down on the search area for one, and within the project the ability to ascertain distances and locations for points of the Earhart story has been exceedingly helpful.

The Australian War Memorial contains valuable information concerning the efforts of the particular patrol  that found wreckage but also the information contained in the records offers a surrounding view of the events in New Britain at that time of crisis during World War Two.  The AWM records provided invaluable assistance.

The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), the organisation based in the U.S. that has carried out research over the years into the disappearance of the Electra and her two crew members.  TIGHAR documentation, and the ascertaining of pertinent facts from within the research contained on the TIGHAR site, is acknowledged.

David


COPYRIGHT 2004 – 2019

The contents of this website are Copyright to David Billings. No portion of this website story may be used without permission. All Rights to the content of this story based on the Earhart Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft being on New Britain Island are Copyright to David Billings and the story is the Intellectual Property of David Billings.

232 thoughts on “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain

  1. @Ron Haggart26th and 28th January….
    Heavt Equipment and Acconodation:……
    The Palm Oil people over the Mevelo have Heavy Equipement and I am sure the Malaysians would be willing to let us hire their gear. All that will come together when we have found it. There are many hands to use the many spades we have taken down there…. Similarly it has always beem my intention that we will need temporary accomodation such as Mine Site “Dongers” set up for the reclamation team. Then there will be a need for a Lodge and to this end a mobile Lucas sawmill will be a priority for lumber.

    Beach Landings in the area>\:…..
    Not possible from my visual experiences. The beach which runs almost all the way down from the Mevelo lagoon nearly to Brown Island mentioned by Ron as his Lat/Long is too steeply shelving. A “daring crew” would end up taking a bath, besides which is is half sand and half gravel and there is a slight bank at the top in parts.

    Landing on River Sandbanks:….
    Again these are hazardous as they do contain logs and tree branches stuck in them from river floods. Hp Gunther’s suggestion for a STOL A/C with tundra tyres would work in places south of the river; on the roads for instance and of cours it would work at TOL It was crazy of the Palm Oilers tolet the runway decline in use just as ut is crazty to let the roads overgrow and return ti junge.
    Regards,
    David

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    1. The best dongas are insulated containers modified on site with A/C etc. robust, transportable, cheap and durable etc..
      I am associated with a Mens Shed that currently happens to have a near new Lucas Sawmill for sale.
      It appears that behind Brown Island to the Main land has now been reclaimed since WW2 photos.
      Any AUS modern ultralight (some are STOL with all terrain tyres tyres) could land on this area maybe with some local slashing.
      The opportunities now starting to appear are mind boggling .i.e. tourism, venture tours, 4×4 buffs, WW2 history visits etc. and this can only help the indigenous traditional owners of this wild place.
      This site appears to becoming a great place to develop all these ideas for Bill to come up with viable risk venture capital investment proposals..

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      1. It now appears that a landing barge with a drive off ramp suitable for beach landings is available on a weekly basis at a reasonable rate and passengers are not allowed except maybe the driver.
        If a runway could be cleaned up a PAC P-750 XSTOL / similar may be hired from POM direct – Take-Off Ground Roll: 721 ft / 220 m as an alternative access for others.

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  2. @ Ron Haggart jan 29 and 30th….

    I suspected that the reguar weeklty KOKOPO-POMIO run by the shipping company with ad-hoc deliveries to TOL, was “Freight only” due to nobody at Lamerien previously telling me of a service available alternative to our former use of helicopters, banana boats and Hilux vehicles… it now appears I was correct.

    Prior permission would be needed to use an ultralight aircraft in PNG and as far s I know, it would be “a first” as to my knowledge there are no ultralights in the country. Also CASAPNG would want to know the intricate details of the operation and there would be lots of red tape involved including Customs business..

    Indeed, the opportunities on a successful find are mind boggling, the list is quite long, once the aircraft is found.

    The PAC750 STOL aircraft has an estimated operating cost of around US$400 per hour with pilot according to Pacific Aerospace the company that builds it…. but the riders and disclaimers on that are extensive. For PNG, I would conservativeky double that to US$800 per hour. It cruisres at 160 mph and would take 3 hours plus to get to site. For a two week foray by us, it would need to return to Port Moresby and then come back to pick us up. Therefore, all in Flight Hours would be say, 12-13 at US$800 per hour. (Conservatively). Tthat would be marginally cheaper than a helicopter but flying 450 miles over water in a single engine aircraft is not my idea of fun..

    Err, yes, I did wonder who “Bill” was !

    Regards
    David

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    1. I was not suggesting a long direct flight over water.
      Another hypothetical call for the future, maybe a Quest Kodiak 100 with a decent load from Lae with a small sea crossing rather than a limited load helicopter from Rabaul.
      It is interesting to note why would the Tol strip be allowed to depreciate when the locals obviously have road grading equipment, maybe politics or vested interests. It may not be a great cost to run a local grader up and down and wonder who owns it.

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      1. Hello All….
        I have not posted a response to Ron’s hypothetical suggestion as I made an enquiry to the PNG CASA about whether TOL Airstripis “officially” oen to fixef wing traffic ….or not. Which would mean whether we could use it or not.

        I have not yet receved a reply….. maybe this coming week I will get one… maybe

        Regards,
        David

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  3. What is the position of the PNG government in relation to the project? Is there any contact there? Since presumably they own the land and the wreck, and potentially stand to gain from the discovery, they are going to be involved at some stage.

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  4. @ “H” regarding the BUKA Aircraft in 100 feet of water….

    No, there has been no response. I do not have a comntact for Mr. Snavely but I have been in contact with Chris WIlliamson who does say that they do know about the Ventura loss but the apparantl location in the file of “Bearing 200 degrees and 20 miles from the Buka Passage” does not agrees for the location they have fior their wreck. In which case the location data in the file could be the last location radioed by the crew of the Ventura or barring that, there “is” a different aircraft there.

    They say 1937 and at that time there was no aviation activity in that area. They are saying that there were three airfields on Buka but available infor says that the airfield at Buka was commenced un 1941 by the Australian Army. There are a lot of things said in a 2-Hour Podcast featuring Bill Snavely which I listened to “with interest.” He says they knew about an airfiled on Buka but never have I seen that in all the stuff I have read. IF they could use BUKA on the World Flight why did they not posiotion fuel there which would cut 600 miles off of the LAE-HOW sector flight over water and make it 1800 miles BUK-HOW ? A much safer plan.

    Local people in PNG count their age by “Christmasses” and very iften they get it wrong. If it is not a 1937 aircraft then it most probably is a WWII aircraft from either side. The Japanese had a copy of the Lockheed Hudson in volume Production, both by Kawasaki (Ki-56) and Tachikawa (Type LO). bothe were transport aircraft and were powered by Nakajoma and Mitsubishi engines of 900 and 875 H.P. respectively.

    David.

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  5. @ Tom Gwyn, FEb 9th:
    “What is the position of the PNG government in relation to the project? Is there any contact there? Since presumably they own the land and the wreck, and potentially stand to gain from the discovery, they are going to be involved at some stage.”

    The PNG Government have little interest in Historic events in PNG. I made contact with the Museum DIrector (The National Museum is of course run by the PNG Government) back in 1994 when I first went in. They havea “Modern History” Section which has aircarft salvaged from wwii. Unfortuneately they are all out in the open nd the site basically resembles a junkyard more tht it does a pristine Museum setting which is what most people expect when the wird “Museun=m’ crops up…. The RAAF restored a n A-20 Havic fir them but they have no civeredc area in which t put it so it remains in ustralia.

    The Project Story has appeared in both the local nesspapers and my name has appeared in PNG Diplomtic Mail in the UNited States.. I have never been contacted by anyine frokm the PNG Guvmint and the only contact I have had has been with the Museum. In 1994 I pais the expenses of the Representative of the Museum that we took in, he was a good bushman and was great to have with us. The next guy in 1996 swore to keep the confidential points of the Project close ti his chest and we paid for him to go also. After we came out he blabbed the whole project detail to Richard Gillespie. The third guy we paid for never turned up at the Airport for the flight and we left without him. On our return to Rabaul, ther he was, happy as Larry and he flew back on our flight. After that, I didn’t bither with a Museum Rep. anymore.

    If and when we find it, they will get involved, for sure….. the meeting will no doubt be short.

    David

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  6. Reference: TOL Airstrip….
    I have heard from PNG CASA this morning and they confirm that TOL AIrstrip is “not certificated”, which means that if you use it, you use it at your own discretion. As far as the PNG Government is concrerned therefore, it is not open which basically eliminates it for aircraft insurance puposes.

    David.

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  7. @”H” Feb 27th…

    I am in discussion with a prospective person who is to try to get funding, that is all I can say at the moment on possible funding. Although I have said before previous expeditions tht I will not spend anymore money, sometimes you cannot avoid spending a few hundred but this time I am definitely sying “No more”… I just cannit afford to dip int my resevrve mney in case I need some urgecy for ependiture within the close famiy. I have never been what youv could call ‘anywhere near to being rich” and on a pension nobody can be called as having ample money, never mind being called rich.

    On the research side, a kind gentleman undertook to look in the 13 Brigade files in the AWM In Canberra but nothing there either. What is not generally known is that at the end if WWII the original ARmy records were left in what ws then “New Guinea” and placed in the Returned Services League (RSL) building which was a wooden weatherboard building in downtown Port Moresby and that building burnt down together with the original records before I even arrived at AIr Niugini in 1992.. Old hands at Air Niugini related how you could sit and have a beer and pull the files off the shelves to read.

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