A maximum-effort search expedition occurred in June 2017. We had the backing, equipment and personnel to conduct a two-week duration ground search of the East New Britain jungle where the Earhart Electra is likely resting, based on re-analysis of witness accounts, new data/analysis, area limitation studies, and previous searches. Environmental conditions precluded an successful outcome.
The 2017 New Britain Expedition was completed. We will posts our limited results. See related article.
(1) Locate the area where a bare patch of earth was seen in late 1996. It is known which ridgeline this bare patch was on and preliminary search of aerial photographs has located a geographic coordinate position for this site. Of course, the (former) bare patch will have 20 year old trees on it now, that is realized. This location will be the starting focus for a systematic search pattern covering most likely area(s) for wreckage. The tail and one engine may be separated from the main fuselage and wings (it is known one engine is attached and the tail section was recalled as “not seen”).
(2) When the site is located, conduct a square-by-square search using metal detectors and visual survey to find/locate aircraft wreckage as described by Australian soldiers and patrol report documentation from 1945.
(3) Confirm/deny identification of aircraft wreckage as Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E. Whatever wreckage is found, notify PNG authorities and for them to secure the location.
(4) Ascertain if human remains are present within wreckage but not to disturb same. Notify PNG authorities and, if source of the wreck is American, the US Embassy in Port Moresby for them to arrange a possible recovery action by POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
David Billings leads an international team who bring a world of experience in aircraft engineering, missing personnel/aircraft searches, journalism and film, and humanitarian and emergency response.
At least two search teams can be generated from the available personnel. Two medical doctors are part of the contingent.
Local villagers will also be given the opportunity to assist as they have done in the past.
The expedition is planned for a two week span beginning in June 2017. Exact dates will not be disclosed until the week before the start of the expedition.
Equipment and Technology:
At least three 4×4 vehicles, power generators, cameras (video and still), high-tech metal detectors, custom satellite maps, and latest GPS.
In addition to environmental and climatic conditions such as earthquakes, volcanoes, flash floods, and extremely heavy rains, the team must be cognizant of the presence of crocodiles, wild (and quite large) boars and numerous biting/stinging/poisonous insects. The area could be the territory of large flightless cassowaries – birds which can be aggressive. Malaria is also very real as one previous expedition member has suffered from the affliction.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How sure are you that Earhart’s Electra is in the jungle of East New Britain?
Answer: There is a 100 percent surety that AN aircraft was found by the Australian soldiers in 1945. Their testimony and archive records confirm it. The belief that it is Earhart’s Electra is very compelling due to the map notation described in this story as well as the soldier’s accounts. Our ability to find it will be hindered by past natural events suchs as land disturbance, “gurias” (local term for small ground shakes of the earthquake variety), mudslides and jungle overgrowth, as well as the indication from the local people that it was bulldozed over in the 1990’s, most probably in 1996.
In what condition do you expect to find the aircraft?
Answer: Depends on the manmade and nature forces affecting it in the last 80 years. The aircraft was in (at least) three pieces based on the Australian’s story, that is a tail section (not seen at the time), a separated engine, and the remaining fuselage/engine/wing structure. If the main wreckage was bulldozed, the main aircraft section could be quite flat and buried at depth. The other components may be at or near the surface. From previous visual sightings of unrelated wreckage in PNG, the jungle is not particularly bad on aluminium, so in my opinion, the sheetmetal will still be there and salient features of the wreck, able to be recognised.
Does the Papua New Guinea government own the wreckage?
Answer: Yes, the PNG Government owns the wreckage.
Does the Earhart family have any claims to the wreckage or its contents?
Answer: From recall, the only person who “might” have a claim, is an American citizen named Dana Timmer, living in Switzerland, who purportedly bought the wreckage of the Electra from Earhart’s sister for $100,000. What chance that he has of obtaining the wreckage when found is another question.
Are you planning a documentary of the discovery if successful?
Answer: That would be a natural flow on from the find.
Could it be someone else’s aircraft?
Answer: Yes, indeed it could be someone else’s aircraft but the question of whose aircraft it could be is fairly limited. The very fact that the map edge describes “Pratt & Whitney R-1340 S3H1” engines of “600 H.P.” limits whose aircraft it could be. The military offensive aircraft of the period in WWII did not have engines of less than 1000 H.P. and the aircraft to which they were fitted were light bomber aircraft of American, Australian, or Japanese source.
It is not likely that “even if” there were military aircraft with two 600 H.P. engines, that those aircraft, considered to be “low powered” aircraft, would ever be sent anywhere near to Fortress Rabaul at all, where the Japanese at one time had scores of fighter aircraft ready to defend Rabaul.
Contributors and Sponsors:
David wishes to most gratefully thank the sponsors, PayPal donators and other contributors over the last many years to see this search to its’ finality. The PayPal facility (see side panel) is still open if individuals wish to be a part of this interesting effort. There are always hidden costs on trips like these and a few dollars always helps.
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