I met Elgen Long over twenty years ago and we worked together through that time on the deep sea quest to find Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. But one of my most memorable experiences with Elgen was a visit to the Pacific island of Saipan in 2007. I was working on a renewable energy project, and he asked to tag along, having visited there 63 years earlier on the occasion of the WW II Battle of Saipan. Elgen served as a radioman on a PBY flying boat and was only 16 years old at the time, having enlisted on his 15th birthday. Among other remarkable events during our week-long visit we toured the Japanese Jail where Earhart was rumored to have been held and visited the Saipan Rotary Club, where Elgen said a very eloquent few words about his experiences on the island in 1944. At the nearby American Memorial he was presented with a commemorative medal as a hero of the battle. The lucky fellow had won $31 in the Rotary 50-50 raffle which he deposited in the memorial donation box. On our last day Elgen and I took a short flight to the nearby island of Tinian where we saw the runways that served the B-29’s that bombed Japan and replicas of the atomic bombs. We shared the experience solemnly, feeling in the grip of history. Elgen and I spent many unforgettable trips together on expeditions and other adventures, but our trip to Saipan stands out. He was a true American hero and it was a privilege to call him a friend.
At the end of September a team from Nauticos, Dynamic Aviation, and the historic vessel Nellie Crocket gathered in Cape Charles Virginia to take another step towards solving the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Months of planning and two weeks of preparation lead to a very successful series of flights. The weather cooperated with blue skies and calm seas as the specially-configured Beech-18 aircraft (a Lockheed Electra lookalike) flew 200 miles out to sea and transmitted while a team on the vessel Nellie Crockett listened. Thanks to the dedicated team, cooperation from local authorities, and support from 2017 Expedition sponsor Alan Eustace the day was an unqualified success!
Lots of valuable data was collected and awaits analysis. Stay tuned for results!
One hundred years after Amelia Earhart took her first flight in December 1920 the search to discover her final resting place continues. Research teams from Nauticos, Rockwell Collins, Dynamic Aviation, and the national landmark vessel, Nellie Crockett, will come together in Virginia for an important experiment that may define the most optimal search area leading to the discovery of Earhart’s legendary Electra 10E aircraft, along with the answer to an 83-year old question: What happened to Amelia and navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937?
Amelia ran out of fuel only minutes from locating the airfield on Howland Island where the US Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was on station receiving her last radio transmissions. It is this critical communication link that draws Nauticos and their specialized team of Collins Radio Engineers (CARC) together with Dynamic Aviation and the historic vessel Nellie Crockett. By recreating the total HF communications system as accurately as possible, the distance to Amelia’s plane at each transmission can be estimated with greater accuracy than before. This information will be crucial in laying out future search areas on the ocean floor. Until recently, obtaining and restoring all of the scarce 1937 equipment prevented such tests.
The team will come together in Charles, Virginia in late August to conduct the operation. A Beech 18 aircraft, outfitted with vintage equipment and antennae, will fly to a point 200 miles out to sea and begin transmissions, attempting to recreate the voice of Amelia as she called desperately to Itasca on that day in in 1937. CARC radio engineers aboard Crockett positioned just offshore, using vintage equipment, will listen for these transmissions and take readings.
The Nauticos team gratefully acknowledges the continued financial support of Alan Eustace, retired executive from Google, engineer, aviator, and stratospheric explorer. We believe this test will take us a critical step closer to solving the mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
The Sinking of Japan’s Secret Submarine I-52
Among the central narratives of World War II were the pursuits of intelligence and commerce. The Allied codebreakers’ contributions were vital to the outcomes of the great turning points of the war. Likewise, the ultimate defeat of the Axis was aided immensely by the denial of key resources as Germany and Japan were increasingly starved of the means to continue to fight. The story of the sinking of the Japanese cargo carrying submarine I-52 typifies both of these narratives, and provides a unique chronicle of a combined air, sea, and undersea battle. Its mission, cargo, and movements were known to the Allies by codebreaking efforts, and its loss denied Germany of sorely needed raw materials and weapons technology. Research led to the discovery of one-of-a-kind recordings of American Avenger torpedo bomber attacks on the enemy submarine and the accounts of the veterans who flew the aircraft, both in contemporary reports and interviews over fifty years later The companion modern day story of the search for the wreck of I-52 and its discovery on the seafloor, nearly intact, over three miles deep, is itself a unique tale. One of the first joint American-Russian research expeditions, it is a story of technology, teamwork, detective work, cultural engagement, and mariners’ struggles with the sea.
Late December 1942 saw the evacuation of Manila, and Allied forces led by General Douglas MacArthur were in full retreat down the Bataan Peninsula. By January, just weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack that started the Pacific war, the situation in the Philippines was dire, with remaining forces preparing to make a last stand on the island fortress of Corregidor. The 13,000 American and Filipino troops and thousands of fleeing civilians were desperate for food, medical supplies, and ammunition. A particular need was anti-aircraft shells to stem the deluge of bombs falling on Allied positions. A naval and air blockade prevented supply ships from approaching, so the Navy called on the submarine force to help. USS Trout (SS-202), commanded by Mike Fenno, was loaded at Pearl Harbor with 3,500 rounds of vital munitions, and slipped into Manila Bay on 3 February under cover of darkness. Weaving a winding passage through a minefield, the boat reached the docks and quickly unloaded her cargo. Having removed most of her ballast and even torpedoes to make room for the cargo, Fenno had a problem: he needed to add weight to be able to submerge. He drew ten torpedoes from the stocks salvaged from the base at Manila, and 27,000 gallons of fuel oil, but was still over twenty tons too light. He requested twenty-five tons of sandbags but was denied, as sandbags were a precious commodity on Corregidor, used to construct defensive positions. The defenders offered an alternative, something very heavy that was quite valueless to them: twenty tons of gold and silver that had been removed from Manila banks to the island fortress for safekeeping.
Hurrying to finish before dawn, solders and sailors loaded several hundred burnished yellow bars of gold, weighing about forty pounds and valued (in 1942) at $23,000 each. Of course, to the defenders at Corregidor, they were worthless. To the six tons of gold was added heavy sacks of silver pesos, each containing a thousand coins and together weighting eighteen tons. The $10 million ballast was carefully inventoried and a receipt was presented to the captain. Fenno hastily signed it, adding a note that he had not been able to personally verify the tallies.
Hastening to sea before daybreak, Trout submerged and spent the day quietly resting on the bottom. The next evening, she rendezvoused with a patrol boat that delivered a final load of mail, securities, and other items. On the return voyage, regardless of the unique cargo on board, the submarine reverted to its war patrol mission, attacking several ships and sinking a freighter. Upon arrival back at Pearl, Fenno was hailed a hero and awarded the Army Distinguish Service Cross. But he had a problem. According to the inventory, one gold bar was missing! An inch-by-inch search of the ship uncovered the misplaced bar in the galley, where one of the cooks claimed he was using it as a paper weight.
Portland Maine author and historian Lincoln Paine’s award winning opus The Sea & Civilization: A Maritime History of the World (Knopf, 2013) starts at the beginning of man’s quest to use the world’s oceans and rivers for exploration, commerce, and warfare. From the first venturing of humans into Oceania, through the Roman Empire, world wars, the nuclear age, and everything between, Paine strives to “change the way you see the world” by focusing on the patterns of history shaped by the seas. Among the book’s 600 well-footnoted pages are many interesting vignettes of people, places, ships, and events, including a mention of Kyrenia II, the replica trading vessel fashioned after a 4th-century BC Greek merchant ship. Nauticos helped build a second replica, Kyrenia Liberty, that sailed in the 2004 Olympic Games opening ceremonies in Athens. Nauticos also discovered another ancient shipwreck along theorized trading routes discussed in Lincoln’s book.
It is often intriguing and profitable to relate historical accounts to current events, and Imperial Rome is fertile ground for such comparisons. Paine mentions that a few Romans of that era were extraordinarily wealthy. The philosopher Seneca was said to be worth 300 million sesterces (bronze coins), and Pliny the Elder upwards of 400 million; by comparison, one could buy two loaves of bread or a jug of wine for one sesterce, or a donkey for 500. It seem that the “top 1%” is hardly a new phenomenon. Nor are trade deficits. Pliny complained of the 50 million sesterces a year flowing to Asian markets via maritime trade from wealthy Romans who enjoyed luxury items such as jewels, ivory, silks, and spices. The emperor Tiberius considered curbing this hemorrhaging of cash by imposing a tariff of sorts in the form of “sumptuary” laws that sought to limit private expenditures on certain items. In the end, nothing was done and trade continued unabated.
These and other fascinating tales of history await a reading of Lincoln Paine’s remarkable book.
Details behind the discovery of the world’s richest treasure galleon were just announced, revealing that a search team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) worked with the Columbian navy and Maritime Archaeology Consultants to locate the famous shipwreck off the coast of Cartagena in 2015. Using the Remus AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle), the team led by Mike Purcell located the wreck site with sidescan sonar at a depth of over 600 meters, and documented the site with high-resolution photography, revealing scattered artifacts in exquisite detail. The AUV, capable of searching as deep as 6,000 meters, is the same system that found the wreckage of Air France 447 in 2011 and was used during searches for Amelia Earhart’s Electra last spring with Nauticos. Vice President of Operations for WHOI, Rob Munier, explained that the government of Colombia has claimed the galleon as part of its submerged cultural heritage, and aims to protect and preserve the ship and all its sunken contents. The location of the wreck remains a secret. See WHOI News for more details.
San José was a 1,200 ton, 64-gun galleon, launched in 1698. In June of 1708, the vessel was sailing as flagship of a treasure fleet of more than a dozen vessels when it encountered a British squadron of warships not far from its destination of Cartagena. In the action that followed, the powder magazines of San José detonated, destroying the ship, killing all but eleven of the 600-man crew, and sending 11-million gold coins along with silver, emeralds, and other treasure to the bottom. The cargo has been valued as high as $17 billion. Many organizations have sought rights to search for the famous wreck, and a group called the Sea Search Armada conducted offshore operations in 1981, but failed to come to terms with the Columbia government regarding the outcome of any salvage.
Congratulations to The team at WHOI and the other members of the search group. We will look forward to further details as the Colombian Government plans to build a museum and world-class conservation laboratory to preserve and publicly display the wreck’s contents, including cannons, ceramics, and other artifacts.
“Don’t bet on it. A recent media frenzy that linked the missing aviator to bones recovered long ago on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro missed a crucial point. She probably wasn’t anywhere near the place.”
Carl Hoffman, journalist and adventure traveler, summarized the status of the search for Amelia Earhart in this article in Outside Magazine. Carl should know something about the topic: he was sent by National Geographic as an independent journalist to cover the Nauticos 2002 search expedition, and has been following the story ever since.
Hoffman suggests that no claim offered to date challenges the evidence that Amelia was somewhere near Howland Island when she ran out of fuel and was lost in the deep ocean. In particular, there’s nothing about the bones in and of themselves that establish them as being Earhart’s, even making the dubious assumption that she was there in the first place.
We at Nauticos agree, and will strive to continue the search for Amelia’s Lockheed Electra on the sea floor near Howland Island.
Learn more about Carl Hoffman and check out his latest book: The Last Wild Men of Borneo.
Nauticos explorers during the 2017 Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition enjoyed a rare opportunity to have a few minutes’ radio contact with members of the International Space Station via amateur (Ham) radio. (Incidentally, the astronauts on ISS were the closest humans to the explorers on the research vessel Mermaid Vigilance when it passed overhead about 250 miles up … compared to island inhabitants over 800 miles away and Honolulu about 1,600 miles distant!) Read more about this in Meridian Passages. It is customary among Hams to follow up contacts with “QSL” cards, basically a post card that confirms one amateur radio station’s contact with another amateur radio station. Tom Vinson (call sign NY0V) recently received a QSL card from astronaut Astronaut Shane Kimbrough (KE5HOD), shown here.
The ISS crew kindly took time out of their VERY busy schedule on two occasions to talk to us, conversations lasting less than 10 minutes as the ISS in low-Earth orbit dropped below the horizon as quickly as it appeared. A custom-built antenna was hand-pointed at the Station as it flew by. During those times various members of our team spoke with Kimbrough, Peggy Whitson, and Russian Cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov (with our Ukrainian crew members, in Russian!) It was a special and unique priviledge to connect explorers beyond the top of the biosphere with those working at its bottom.
73 (Best regards, in Ham-speak)
Amelia Earhart disappeared without a trace over the Central Pacific in 1937 while attempting an around the world flight. More than eighty years have passed, but the famous flyer, businesswoman, feminist, writer, and adventurer remains a popular figure. Her disappearance is the greatest aviation mystery of the 20th Century.
The National Geographic Society has long been fan of Amelia, and awarded her the Society’s Special Medal in 1932. The Society has followed expeditions and supported investigations into her disappearance over the years. Last week, National Geographic invited Dave Jourdan to speak at the Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, D.C. about the quest to find Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane in the Pacific near Howland Island. Dave has led three Nauticos expeditions to the area over the last fifteen years seeking the aircraft, thought to be resting at depths of 18,000 feet. A crowd of nearly 400 assembled for the talk, which also included speakers who discussed alternative theories about her demise. President of the Society, Gary Knell, led off the proceedings, and Senior Program Officer Dr. Aurora Elmore moderated the event. A panel discussion and audience Q&A rounded out the evening. Several members of past Earhart search expeditions were in attendance.