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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 7

Central Pacific Edition

The Search

Where to Send the REMUS?

No matter what you are seeking, be it lost car keys or a Lockheed Electra, two conditions must be satisfied: you must be able to see what you are looking for, and you must look in the right place. WHOI’s REMUS 6000 has the sensors to detect the Electra, provided we send it to the right place. Today the analysis team gathered to review the body of analysis work we have conducted over the years to give a search area to the REMUS team to plan their survey.

Forty years of research by Elgen Long, pilot, aircraft investigator, and author of Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved form the basis of solid information about Amelia’s disappearance. Aeronautical analysis of Earhart’s fuel consumption was performed by Dr. Fred Culick of Cal Tech. His analysis confirms that Amelia ran out of fuel right around the time of her last radio transmission, which is consistent with her own assessment that “gas is running low.”

A series of radio messages were received by the Coast Guard cutter Itasca in the preceding two and a half hours that tell us a lot about what Amelia was doing. Though the messages make it clear that she was desperately trying to find Howland Island and went down in the ocean nearby when her fuel ran out, the details are open to some interpretation. Because of this, the point the Electra went down is uncertain.

But the radio messages tell us more than just words. Led by Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts, the radio operators on Itasca recorded the strength of the signals they received. Engineering analysis of these radio transmissions can determine her distance from Howland Island. This work has been led by Tom Vinson and Rod Blocksome of Rockwell Collins, with the support of a cadre of radio engineers from the Collins Amateur Radio Club. The CARC team has invested over 4,000 hours into this endeavor, including a number of experiments to compute sea-wave propagation, measure performance of vintage radio equipment, and determine antenna patterns, among others.

Another clue in the analysis is visibility of the island. Howland Island is very small with little elevation, and Amelia would have been looking into the rising sun. Scientific analysis of visibility distance under the conditions of Earhart’s flight was performed at MIT Lincoln Labs among others. Elgen flew the approach himself to judge visibility under similar circumstances.

Using this information, navigation reconstruction of her final flight and statistical “renavigation” analysis has been done by Nauticos using techniques proven to be successful in other searches. This approach used a “decision tree” to explore a range of assumptions in the flight scenario. In a second technique, called a Monte Carlo analysis, Jeff Palshook of Nauticos explored four million computer-generated paths to generate a search area. A third approach developed by the CARC team did not assume any path at all, but rather considered the basic statistics of the problem and created a probability map. All three of these analyses rely on the radio range analysis performed by CARC. All are in excellent agreement.

Taking into account all of the uncertainties of the problem, the Electra should lie on the seafloor near Howland Island, somewhere in a region of about 1,800 square miles. This is a large area – half again the size of the State of Rhode Island, and around 18,000 feet deep. Over prior expeditions, almost 85% of this area has been searched.

Our meeting concluded with firm direction for the REMUS search team to pick up where we left off and complete the search for the Electra.

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