Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain

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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 2017, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance.

New satellite maps, GPS-aided systematic search patterns, more time on site, larger team, all will help in the search, and a recently completed road will allow vehicle access and eliminate the helicopter costs previously incurred.

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 to 2017 David Billings – All Rights Reserved

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

  1. This is a crazy story, but I think it is too crazy to ignore. I hope you can find the tools and support to find the wreck and solve one of the big mysteries of the twentieth century!

    bkm
    PDX, Oregon, USA

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  2. The hypothesis -read fantasy- that gets the most publicity is Gardner Island, when in fact, the huge amount of dollars, time and resource expended in ‘researching’ that farcical hypothesis, has done more to prove the hypothesis wrong, than prove it right.

    ENB would answer why there was no evidence for the Electra or its crew ever being found anywhere in the assumed search area, you can’t find any particular thing if you are looking in the wrong place.

    Keeping a known indicated airspeed seems the number one priority, to me, it is the one ‘known’ you can have, from that you can deduce rate of fuel endurance, and know that whatever navigational aid you use, you have a better chance of keeping on course, by working out the error at each correct fix. So, I think you have it spot on regarding the airspeed, there’s little point Noonan using an airspeed to dead-reckon, when it is varying from, say, 120Smph to 170Smph. It seems obvious that without stars, keeping the airspeed to a known value is imperative, no point throwing another variable into the mix.

    I also think that a contingency plan is why they continued to Howland with no stars, they knew it worth a crack to look for the island, knowing that if they fail they could backtrack to the Gilberts, they had just been over them, and as you say, they knew they were there. This has been one of the puzzling bits for me for years, why continue on if you knew you had little fuel and had no stars? It makes complete sense that they did not feel any sort of danger from proceeding because they knew they had fuel enough to go back, and at the very worst crash land offshore a Gilbert Island, and at best -once they’ve worked out the fuel, wind and location- decide whether it was feasible to make another crack at Howland from a known location.

    I think they had fuel enough to continue beyond the usually accepted endurance, and the ‘experts’ cite things like the alleged stress in Earhart’s voice to Itasca as being evidence she was about to splash. They forget this was a human being and a woman, if I had to go 20 or so hours non-stop to a refuge, and found the place closed, and knew I had another four to eight hours to get to a similar refuge, I’d be pretty freaked out too…and definitely depressed, very depressed. As you say, there seems enough information by Earhart herself -the one who actually flew the plane- and 487 to indicate the Electra was better at fuel endurance than the ‘experts’ say.

    I do think that there is merit in the backtracking idea, it’s not even beyond the realms of possibility that the plane went down in the big salty anywhere west of the Gilberts…if it is the plane in ENB, how tragic would it be to be so near and fail? The Diggers’ story is intriguing, so much of it seems to point to the plane being there, if only that darn tag could be found! The localized corrosion hinting to a salty flight, the lack of markings on an all metal airframe, the cabin collapse up to the main wing strut, the height of the fuselage to the Lieutenant’s waist, the amount of growth reported, so many tantalising little clues, then the map…

    I’ve read elsewhere a navigation expert say Noonan had the sun and moon to shoot at Howland, and the data bears this out, BUT, that depends where he was, and the amount of cloud they had in their vicinity. I think that your placing them so far from Howland is why Noonan at best only had the sun to shoot, and maybe not even that. Many Navigators seem to have a hard-on for Noonan, as if he couldn’t miss Howland -despite the most obvious fact, that he did- but with the winds, no stars and maybe even no moon during the day, maybe he really had no idea where he was, there was a reason why Earhart asked for a bearing. After maybe an hour of fruitless searching where they thought Howland was, if the fuel situation was as you say, why carry on looking, when you had a wide band of islands in daylight going back the way you came?

    I think that Earhart baulked at the thought of using radio direction finding, she’d taken little interest in instruction on how to use it, and failed in her preflight test at Lae to get a null; I think she accepted the belief (like some still do today) that Noonan was a superman, who could get her to Howland, which in fairness, if he had stars, he probably could have. But clouds were this superman’s Kryponite, he lost his powers, and in a last desperate bid Earhart tried to use RDF, I think the fact that she used RDF is an indication of how desperately lost they were; until then, she expected all navigation responsibilities lay with Noonan. I also think that this little detail is another reason why she was so stressed in the final calls, not only was she responsible for keeping in the air, but also to navigate. Double responsibility within a few seconds!

    It is an interesting story, and it is wonderful to see someone actually putting their own hard-earned cash on the line for their project, unlike some other projects where the main players put in none of their own cash, but get a great living from the constant funding drives, but continually fail to deliver on the projects themselves. You passionately care for this project, and I wish you well!

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  3. MStar,
    You have grasped the totality of the story I have worked quite hard to tell.
    In previous attempts to figure out the detail of the flight using the Lockheed Power Settings or the P & W Max. Continuous setting, the speed those settings gave always overran the target Position Reports of Choiseul, Nukumanu and the Ontario, unless the headwind figure was wound up high….. Only the constant IAS giving a 150 mph TAS has worked and “slotted in” with the times and distances.
    The two sides to the whole story have to be realised in that for No. 1., “there is a wreck in there” which from the description by the Vets and from the detail on the map edge says it is the Electra and No. 2., the Hypothesis of how it could possibly get back to East New Britain is shown in the extracts from the MS Excel plot worked from standard aerodynamic formulas and Horsepower formulas.
    Binding the whole story together is crucial in gaining acceptance for the project and eliminating the somewhat difficult task some Americans have in accepting that their own technology in the mid-30’s was so very, very, good.
    Thanks very much for very good comment.
    David Billings

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  4. MStar, My understanding is the radiomen trained AE to “pitch” her voice so that it could be heard above the pops and whistles of long distance radio transmission. Her speaking voice did not “carry” very well when the transmission grew faint.

    It was not an obscure source where I learned that fact (could I find that source today?), but no one seems to mention it. I suppose that makes it an obscure fact, but if true, it may help to put an end to the “fear in her voice” element of the legend.

    bkm
    Portland, Oregon, USA

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    1. There remains the possibility that even IF she did pitch her voice high, for improving radio efficiency, that she was still in panic and fear when the last messages were received. Only the people who heard those messages directly know how she sounded, the rest is speculation.

      That said, I don’t see a panicky Earhart negating this hypothesis, even if she had a contingency plan, it doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have been panicky and in fear when heard by Itasca. Think about it, you’ve been flying for 20 hours, relieved that you should be landing soon, then the dawning of realization that you have to fly back the way you came, it could make one excitable or even panicky. Even a car journey can cause similar stress, I’ve been on long drives and realized when I am four hours into the drive that I have left something back at home, that I intended to have with me at the destination, if I were on the radio darn right I’d be excitable to any receiver of the message, and that’s with just four hours to go, and the ability to pull up for more gas!

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  5. The “pitching the voice higher” is written in “The Chater Report” and attributed by Chater to the LAE Radio Operator, Harry Balfour advising Earhart to do this to help overcome the static noises on HF Transmissions.

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  6. David Billings has done his homework. It should be obvious to anyone that Amelia and Fred crashed on New Britain in 1937. All the BS about Gardner Island and all the other crazy speculation out there is totally without merit. The tag on the engine truss, the map, and the testimony from the A1 Australian patrol ought to be enough to convince anyone that the Electra made it back that far. Every commercial flight has an alternative in case of problems and all the evidence points to Amelia invoking her contingency plan. Mr. Billings should be congratulated for sticking to his guns. He certainly kept the faith with 16 trips in the wilderness without finding the Electra. I hope and pray that the planned trip in 2017 will solve the mystery

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  7. When in 2017? I am trying to get people in the U. S. interested, but I am not a good salesman. All I can say is that when, on the old website, Mr. Billings described the hair standing on his neck, MY hair stood on my neck.

    I hope you can provide a description of how you can make the best effort on this next trip. I hope to get some people excited about the idea!

    bkm
    PDX, Oregon, USA

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    1. Chris,
      Thanks for the offer…I have about ten people already which is the biggest Team I have taken in there. The logistics are bad enough with four in the Team !
      David

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  8. Good luck in your endeavours , I only wish I have the time and resources to assist in a more meaningful way, without doubt a worthy adventure.

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