Click HERE to read Daily Reports of the Niku Vp Expedition.

Different boat, new dates, some new team members, more time at the island – this year’s expedition has evolved since this Bulletin was first put up. When the time came to make firm reservations, some of the non-TIGHAR passengers for the planned Phoenix Rising Expedition backed out and our friends at Nai’a Cruises in Fiji had to cancel the trip for this year. Fortunately we had a Plan B ready to go, courtesy of our coral reef geologist Howard Alldred in New Zealand. Rather than piggy-backing on the Nai’a diving tour of the Phoenix Islands, the Niku Vp Expedition will now be a stand-alone operation using the brand new 56 foot S/V (sailing vessel) Mollie.

Owned by veteran Pacific captain Ken Durey and crewed by Ken, his wife Louise and their young daughter Mollie, the boat sailed from its home port of Auckland, New Zealand on April 30th and is now in Apia, Western Samoa, to rendezvous with the team. On July 22nd the Niku Vp expedition will began the voyage to Nikumaroro, via Kanton Island to clear Customs, where the team will spend a week (rather than the 2 or 3 days previously planned) carrying out a number of tasks in preparation for next year’s major effort.

A small TIGHAR team will carry out vital reconnaissance and data collection work needed in our preparations for Niku V, the major archaeological expedition planned for 2004. The team will, of course, also investigate the artifact seen by a marine biologist during a brief visit to the island in 2002 which, from its description, may be an identifiable component of a Lockheed Electra. (See “Breaking News,” Earhart Project Bulletin January 30, 2003.)

The team will examine and, if appropriate, collect the suspicious object seen last year. To protect the artifact from looters we’ve had to restrict the release of detailed information about just where it is and what we suspect it might be, but once Mollie has arrived at Nikumaroro we’ll open the team’s “sealed orders” (in the finest Hollywood tradition) and let everyone in on as much as we know. In our briefings and reports about this and other aspects of this expedition’s work at Niku we’ll be making reference to the beautiful satellite photo grid map that we produced prior to Niku IIII.

The team will also reconnoiter the “overwash” area on the island’s western end. Studies of the natural forces acting upon the atoll, combined with information about where airplane parts have been found in the past, point to this area as a likely repository of more wreckage. We know very little about this part of the island except that its vegetation can vary from sparse to impenetrable depending upon how recently it has been inundated by a major storm. The recon team should be able to get the information we’ll need to plan a thorough search of the area.

This trip also gives us an opportunity to test and refine the tidal data we’ve computed for Nikumaroro since the 2001 trip. No tide tables for the island seem to exist, but such information is essential for accurately determining the water level on the reef at crucial times in 1937. Retired naval officer and computer modeling specialist Bob Brandenburg (TIGHAR #2286) has found existing tidal information for Orona (Hull Island) 140 miles to the East and is able to adjust those figures for Niku by using the giant triple-expansion steam engine of S.S. Norwich City as a gauge to measure water levels in photos taken at known dates and times. It’s a creative approach to a difficult problem and it is yielding impressive results, but to refine his calculations Bob needs good measurements of some specific visible features on the engine itself. The Niku Vp team will get those measurements, and deploy a temporary tide measuring device as well.

VanThe Niku Vp team will be led by Col. Van T. Hunn USAF (ret.), TIGHAR #1459CE. Van has extensive experience as a sport scuba diver with specialized training in underwater search operations and has been the Dive Team leader on three previous TIGHAR expeditions to Nikumaroro. He has also been active in Earhart Project archival research and, most recently, has been instrumental in finding technical documents pertaining to the Electra component which seems to match the description of an object seen by a marine biologist last year at Nikumaroro.

WaltRichard W. “Walt” Holm, TIGHAR #0980CE, is an electrical engineer currently engaged in defense-related research. Walt was a member of our Dive Team on the Niku IIII Expedition in 2001.


Howard Alldred, TIGHAR #2489, is a trained coral atoll geologist and diver who came forward to volunteer his services during the our daily internet coverage of the 2001 Niku IIII expedition. Since then Howard has traveled from his home in New Zealand to the U.S. to participate in last year’s Earhart Project Advisory Council (EPAC) conference and has become a valued member of the TIGHAR research team. His on-site observations at Nikumaroro should give us new insights into how the islands works and help us target specific areas for searching.

John Clauss, TIGHAR #0142CE, is a veteran of every trip to Nikumaroro and most of TIGHAR’s other field work.
Selling exclusive media rights to this trip is not an option, both because there is no more room on the boat and because, although he is not supporting this trip, Mr. Kammerer still owns the “commercial exploitation” rights to Earhart Project expedition work until the contract expires in December of this year.

The original total budget for this year’s field work – Fiji Bone Search II and Niku Vp – was $75,000 to be raised by June 30. TIGHAR raised $61,700 toward that goal, but unforeseeable delays have extended the fieldwork and the immediate post-expedition analysis by two full months. This has added $33,000 to the budget for a new total of $108,000. An additional $31,700 has been raised since July 1. It is vital that we raise the remaining $14,600 by the end of August.

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