Monday, September 12, 2016

AE on Norwich Island: Part 1


By Tom King
(Ver. 6.9: 9/12/2016)
© Thomas F. King

For Noah,
Who inspired me to carry on.

 Note to Readers (9/12/2016)

This novel is an effort to make imaginary sense of the historical, archaeological, and other data that The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and others have collected over the last 27 years about what we think to have been Amelia Earhart’s and Fred Noonan’s landing and demise on Nikumaroro Atoll in the Phoenix Islands. It’s a prequel to my 2009 novel, Thirteen Bones.

The current version has evolved from previous ones, and will continue to evolve as research continues and alternative possibilities emerge. Subsequent versions of Norwich Island may look somewhat different from this one.

Note: The source citations given throughout, except where attached to explicit quotations or describing TIGHAR observations and analyses, are for the most part only examples derived from the very extensive literature surrounding Amelia Earhart (AE), George Putnam (GP) and the World Flight. Although I have read much of this literature and used it to inform the novel, I have not attempted to cite every source.

I welcome comments and criticisms; please send them to

Thanks for reading!

Silver Spring, MD, USA, 12th September 2016

Come down Amelia come down, and steal me away on a magical ride.
Over the ocean and into the blue and through to the other side.
                                                            Brendan Smith: “Amelia.” 2015

Norwich Island

Summer, 1907, Atchison, Kansas

The game was called Bogie.

The cousins – Amelia (“Millie”), Muriel (“Pidge”), Lucy (“Toot”) and Kathryn (“Katch”) mounted the old carriage in the Otis family barn and launched it on another mission – as usual seeking the never-reached shining city of Cherryville – through dark forests and high mountains inhabited by ravening wolves, cannibal apes, and other horrors.

Since only boys were understood to have such adventures, they all assumed male identities – “Jim” and “Bill,” “Jack” and “Harry.” They fought off their attackers with whips, clubs, and fists, screaming with excitement, getting coated in dust and cobwebs.

“Oh heavens!” Harry shrieked. “It’s the red-eyed night-riders! They’re surrounding us.”

“Knocked that one down,” Jack said cooly, blowing on her fist.

Harry bounced in her seat, pointing behind the carriage.

“But look, Bill, that big one with the red teeth is gaining on us!”

“Ha!” Bill snorted, wiping a cobweb off her nose, “they don’t know that these horses can fly! Whip ‘em up, Jim!”


July 2nd, 1937, ca. 11 am local time, central Pacific

Behind the sunglasses her eyes were tight and sore-rimmed, darting between the horizon and the fuel gauges. It was Fred who spotted the cloud.  Pointed at it silently, raised binoculars to eyes, squinting. She banked, steered for it.  Clouds sometimes formed over islands.
But they’d chased clouds before, and she wasn’t about to let this one raise false hopes.  She scanned the horizon through the Electra’s windshield, forcing down the feeling that there wasn’t much hope left. 
Her head ached; her sinuses were acting up again, making her eyes water.  If she got out of this, it might be time for another operation.
When I get out of this! When!”  Peered over the ship’s silver nose at the approaching cloud.
Was it wishful thinking, or was there something in the cloud shadow…?
Fred lowered the binoculars and grinned tightly.
“Land,” he mouthed, unhearable over the engine noise.  She caught his eye and smiled back, almost choking up.
It was a small island, but a beautiful one, especially to eyes starved for land.  An atoll -- low, green, with a turquoise lagoon.  Shaped like an paramecium, its long axis across the set of the northeast trade wind.  Higher and wider toward the northwest, narrow – almost spindly – to the southeast.  A broad reef flat all around, surf breaking on its seaward edges. She couldn’t help muttering under her breath.
“Oh land, dear - god…land!”
Fred pointed; she nodded.  A good-sized steamship was anchored – no, darn it, not anchored, run aground on the reef.  Rusty, maybe burned topside.  Wrecked, probably long ago. 
How long ago?  What ship?  What island was this?  She started to curse their lack of charts covering more than the strip along their intended course. Never mind.  The only real questions were, was the island inhabited, and was there a place to land?
Enough fuel for a fly-around – had to be. She dropped to only about five hundred feet, Southwest along the lee side.  No ships at anchor, no boats, no houses lining the shore.  Clouds of birds burst from the trees, scattered. Pure white terns, black and white boobies, grey-brown frigate birds.
Southeast end coming up; she banked around it.  A couple of ponds – were they salt water or fresh?  Northwest now, up the long windward side.  The tide was low. An expanse of reef was exposed almost as wide as the dry land, and it looked fairly smooth.  But that could be deceptive. She’d walked on reefs, knew about potholes and cracks and tide pools.
Coming up on the northwest end now.   Big sandy area at the head of the lagoon, probably very soft.  Imagined the gear sinking in the sand, the ship stopping suddenly, nosing in. 
“Last thing we need is a nose-over.”
She banked over the wooded north tip of the island. Another small pond there. Nice to splash in, bathe, work out the kinks. She twisted her stiff neck.
Again over the wrecked steamship, she dropped down low over the sandy inlet and inspected the lagoon. She could come in low and slow, put the ship into a stall and set down in the water…..
“But there’d be no getting her out.” And there appeared to be plenty of coral heads ready to tear out the belly. Like the runway had in Hawaii.  And then the plane would go down fast. 
The ocean offshore? Deep water, and the ship would surely float long enough for them to get off and get ashore in the inflatable raft.
But that would be the certain end of the ship.  It would float for awhile, yes, but not long enough to allow Itasca to get there, not by any reasonable estimate. 
The reef, on the other hand, would be slippery, but solid.  Just weeks ago – it seemed like years – there was that British crew she’d read about. They’d put down on a reef; gotten away safely, though they’d lost their plane.  A ship not unlike hers.
“I won’t lose the ship!”
She banked around to take another hard look at the reef.  It looked broadest, and quite smooth and flat, just north of the shipwreck.  The water couldn’t be more than a few inches deep, if that.  Maybe not much wetter than a rain-soaked runway. 
On the seaward side, the reef edge had a sheer, coral-toothed edge, dropping to – to how deep?.  Thousands of feet, probably.  Surf crashing on it.  On the landward side the coral was dry, but looked rough.  Lots of ridges, holes, crevices, boulders.  But the strip in between – almost like a runway – looked smooth.
But slick with water, and what did the water hide?
No option; it was the reef or the ocean.
She pushed her sunglasses up on her forehead and reached for the radio microphone.  Nothing but static had been coming from the receiver, but maybe the Itasca could hear her.  Here’s hoping, she thought, for what seemed like the thousandth time. Keyed the mic.
“KHAQQ calling Itasca.  Come in please.”  She released the transmit button, heard nothing but static.  Tried again.
“KHAQQ to Itasca.  Unsure of position but think bearing 157 degrees from vicinity of Howland.  Over unknown island with lagoon and wrecked steamship on reef, northwest end.  Landing appears feasible on reef near shipwreck.  Critically low on gas, preparing to land.”
She released the button, listened intently.  Nothing.
“OK,” she mouthed to Fred.  “Going in.” 
He glanced at her with a thin smile, nodded tightly, raising his eyes to heaven.  Checked his seatbelt, tightened it.
She banked again and lined up her approach from the southeast.  Cross-wind landing, couldn’t be helped.  Started throttling back; lowered the landing gear lever, heard the gear clunk into place. Fred, watching the instrument panel, gave a thumb up for confirmation, took a firm grip on the panel. She continued to reduce throttle, eased the flaps down. 
On an uninhabited island, they would have to find their own food and water.  Coconuts maybe, and fish.  She hadn’t seen any coconut trees – or had she?  Couldn’t remember.    
“Anyway, it won’t be for long.” 
Itasca – or someone – would come get them. Thank heaven – whatever it was, if it was – for something to land on. 
“Hang on!”
Unneeded warning; Fred was hanging on with both hands, eyes fixed on the shipwreck sweeping toward them. Its burned superstructure flashed beneath their wheels. The reef rose fast.
The fat airwheels touched water, kicked up spray, sideslipped, gripped solid coral.

Notes: Part 1

Summer, 1907
  The game was called Bogie.” Muriel Earhart Morrissey gives the fullest description of this game in Courage is the Price, pp. 57-58. The specific adventure recounted is my own invention

July 2nd, 1937, 11 am

Sunglasses.” “To prevent eyestrain… she was planning to take a ‘battery’ of sunglasses made up especially for her” East to the Dawn p. 360.

But they’d chased clouds before.” “There is no doubt that the last hour of any flight is the hardest.  If there are any clouds about to make shadows one is likely to see much imaginary land.  I saw considerable territory in the Pacific which California should annex!” Last Flight p. 17

If she got out of this, it might be time for another operation.” Earhart suffered from sinus trouble for much of her life, possibly resulting from having contracted the Spanish Flu during the 1918 epidemic.  She undertook repeated surgical operations to relieve the condition.  See and

Like the runway had in Hawaii.” This refers to the accident at Luke Field in Hawaii during the first attempted World Flight.  See Finding Amelia: Chapter Three.

“…get ashore in the inflatable raft.” There is debate over whether the Electra carried a life raft. I have chosen to accept reports that it did (See Associated Press July 2, 1937,

Not long enough to allow Itasca to get there.” The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was lying off Howland Island, stationed there to guide Earhart in to a safe landing using radio direction finding. The cutter subsequently played a major role in the search for Earhart and Noonan. See Finding Amelia Chaps 9-21)

A ship not unlike hersThis was a Croydon ST-18, piloted by H.G. “Timber” Wood, which landed on Seringapatam Reef in the Timor Sea in October 1936; the crew was rescued but the plane lost.  F.F. Crocombe, the plane’s designer, published an article on the event in the December 10, 1936 issue of Flight, a journal that Earhart very likely read.  See,, and

It looked broadest, and quite smooth and flat, just north of the shipwreck.” This is what the reef looks like north of the Norwich City wreck on the Nutiran shore of Nikumaroro, where we suspect Earhart and Noonan landed. See the “Aerial Tour of Nikumaroro” at for a first-hand look.

Its burned superstructure flashed beneath their wheels. The reef rose fast,” The presumed landing approach is replicated toward the end of the “Aerial Tour of Nikumaroro.”

No comments:

Post a Comment