Most readers of this blog are familiar with Australian David Billings and his New Britain theory, the only one among all other Earhart disappearance “solutions” besides the Marshalls-Saipan truth that presents us information and poses questions that cannot be explained or answered. Readers can review the details of Billings’ theory by reading my Dec. 5, 2016 post, “New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities.”
“The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling,” I wrote in a December 2016 post. “Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed ‘Earhart experts,’ whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.”
In June 2017, Billings returned from his seventeenth trip to East New Britain in search of the wreck of the Earhart plane. Once again, he was unable to find what he believes is the lost Electra 10E, which Amelia flew from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. Here’s my June 22, 2017 post: “Billings’ latest search fails to locate Earhart Electra.”
Billings’ website, Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project, subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” offers more information on this unique and fascinating theory.
Now comes another Australian, semi-retired field exploration and research geologist William J. Fraser, who lives near Cairns in tropical far north Queensland, to stir the pot. In a series of mid-February emails, Fraser presented his own novel explanation for the 1945 discovery of the alleged Earhart plane in East New Britain, which follows forthwith (bold emphasis mine throughout):
In compiling a solution to the vexing mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed aircraft I made two main assumptions:
1. That the theories and eyewitness accounts as detailed by Mike Campbell on this website and in his book Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, are substantially correct, excepting for the accounts of the American destruction of Earhart’s Lockheed 10E aircraft on Saipan in June 1944. I suggest that this was not the case and it was another Lockheed owned or captured by the Japanese which had been comprehensively booby-trapped.
2. That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real. This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map. However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the Australian War Memorial archives.
In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage of Earhart’s aircraft from an atoll in the eastern Marshall Islands in July 1937, it was quickly transported by ship to either Kwajalein or Saipan where it was washed down with available fresh water and assessed for restoration. At the commencement of wash down the engine cowls were put aside for some time while the engines were worked on. The 1945 observed apparent corrosion of one of the cowls by an AIF patrol member would have happened at this time.
The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, and it was put into passenger service, perhaps even pre-World War II and operated unobserved in the Marianas and Marshall Islands.
Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23, 1942 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.
Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.
I have attempted to understand why this is so and I presently propose several reasons to explain:
- Up to about the 1950s to 1960s the search area was probably primary forest (near virgin). However, forest mapping and classification done for the Government of Papua New Guinea indicates that post 1972 the search area was secondary forest (re-vegetating). Now why is this so? I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serous drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.
- The forest fire was very intense on favorable dry hill slopes and it could well have melted much of the aircraft components. Remnant layered charcoal is well known to cause problems for metal detectors as it is highly conductive which makes it very difficult to locate any metal objects.
- During the period 1980s to the mid 1990s selective, then total logging of the regenerating forest was carried out. It is possible that the aircraft remains may have been found and recovered at that time.
As the logging and access track preparation progressed under strict supervision (there were valuable equipment and fuel assets involved) there should have been maps (now archived) drawn up. This is standard industry practice. So, in the first instance there needs to be research of the logging and timber (lumber) company records and interviews with previous managers and workers. Following this research, a well-appointed search directive needs to be assembled and detailed expedition planning commenced with ancillary fundraising.
David Billings’ Response
Mike Campbell has asked me to comment on Mr. William Fraser’s astounding revelations about the Earhart Mystery contained in several assumptions and further text passages which contain imaginative thinking.
Being as Mr. Fraser has seen fit to make quite a lot of assumptions concerning my project, which is the search for the Electra 10E on New Britain Island, I see it as reasonable for me to comment, if only to correct, inform and educate as to what has actually happened in line with what has been written by Mr. Fraser as “assumptions” and further remarks.
The Project Team started to search for an aircraft in 1994, due to certain evidence obtained from veterans of the World War II New Britain campaign against the Japanese located at Wide Bay, New Britain. In short, these Australian Imperial Force (AIF) Infantrymen found some aircraft wreckage while on a patrol and the aircraft wreckage was not identified at the time, but detail from an engine found on site was later described to them in a reply from the U.S. Army as a [Pratt & Whitney] “Wasp” engine.
Many years later, written evidence was found on a topographical map, evidence (which also included detail of the patrol carried out) which clearly pointed to the owner of the Wasp engine as being Amelia Earhart. This big clue to the identity of this wreckage seen in 1945 by the patrol, was found quite by accident in 1993.
I gathered a team together and ventured into the Wide Bay jungle using the recollections of the veterans as to locations as a guide. Most of the path as told was incorrect and not until some archived messages in the Australian War Memorial were seen did we gather a fair idea if where they had been.
Now, on to the “Fraser Report” and my response to Mr. Fraser’s blog post:
The First Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
I make no comment except to say that Mr. Fraser is entitled to his opinion and to his assumption, such as it is.
The Second Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
“That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real.”
I applaud Mr. Fraser for seeing the light and agreeing that the wreckage, from the evidence and from the eyewitness statements, is indeed the missing Electra 10E.
“This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map.”
“However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the AWM archives.”
There is a handwritten report which is contained in the Australian War Museum (AWM) website. You have to be an African witch doctor to find it. Unfortunately it does not mention the wreckage find, as it is a topographical report with grid references designed to placate a certain Capt. Mott, who was an HQ staff captain and a mapmaker who was quite miffed that Patrol A1 leaders could not tell him to his acceptable degree of accuracy, “Where they had been.”
This upset to the staff captain caused Lt. Ken Backhouse, the Patrol A1 leader, to receive a slap on the wrist and be immediately sent out on another patrol along the Melkong River. However, that said concerning the topographical report, there is a missing situation report (SITREP) numbered as “63A.” Despite two visits to the AWM in Canberra, the nation’s capital, to peruse records and many, many website searches of the records, SITREP 63A still eludes us. The letter “A” signifies 63A as an “Annex Report,” something extraneous to the patrol orders that has been encountered, which is not strictly anything to do with the task at hand.
I strongly suspect that SITREP 63A described what they saw in the jungle. I also suspect that Capt. Mott (who wanted to know where the wreckage was sited) possibly had an idea of whose aircraft it may have been and kept a copy of 63A, being as the patrol members believed from the state of the wreckage that it had lain where it was for quite a few years. Mott was a very intelligent man and was famous for his mapping of Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia.
I did speak with Mott’s son in the mid-’90s after locating him in a nursing home, and he did tell me that his father had mentioned an aircraft wreck that he was interested in when speaking to his son in Melbourne after the end of World War II.
To continue with Mr. Fraser’s statements:
“In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage, etc., etc.”
It is a known fact that any aluminum alloy aircraft, especially one without any anti-corrosion finish in the form of paint (outside and inside) and which has been immersed in seawater is basically a write-off unless it can be washed out “immediately, pronto, quick-as-a-flash” with fresh water, and even then immersed in a water tank or treated with chemicals to halt the commencement of corrosion. There is also the thought that any magnesium alloy components would start to fizz away from the effects of salt water like a soluble aspirin tablet in a glass of water.
There are also the engines to consider, for they would be swamped with salt water which would get into the intake manifolds and through open poppet valves enter the cylinders. Who is going to strip, clean and reassemble the engines with some new parts?
I have neither the knowledge or the inclination to find out whether Kwajalein or Saipan had thousands of gallons of reticulated water from a mains pressure system to spare to even try to wash out the Electra after a sea voyage of a week or more to get from “an atoll in the eastern Marshalls” to either of those two places of Kwajalein or Saipan. I suspect that atoll locale habitations instead of having reticulated water, individually collected rainwater in tanks rather than having desalination plants or collection dams in that pre-war period.
Rather than the cowls being left without washing in the “Mr. Fraser circumstance,” I have previously proposed that the Electra picked up salt from the atmosphere whilst flying at low-level after take-off and while searching for Howland Island. The impinged salt being the cause of the “holed and filigreed” nose cowl rings described by the Patrol Warrant Officer.
“The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, etc., etc.”
No comment. Again, Mr, Fraser is entitled to his opinion/assumption.
“Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.”
Again, I applaud that Mr. Fraser comes out in support if the Electra 10E being where we say it is, but I have no comment on the circumstantial assumption as to the reason why.
We now get to some massive assumptions by Mr. Fraser in respect to an area of heavily timbered and quite difficult terrain, into which Mr. Fraser has never been.
“Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.”
1994 is the start; that is correct, but why then does Mr. Fraser go on to say the obvious: “without success,” and then go on to proclaim that our lack of success “is a mystery in itself”? That is, in itself, an immature schoolboyish remark from a person who has not been into this area of jungle, does not know the terrain, does not know the circumstances under which we undertook the earlier searches and who now compounds his lack of knowledge and his ignorance by saying, “I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serious drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.”
Please note the “yet to be determined,” which makes the forgoing statement a guess. I now say that the guess has no foundation in fact, for Mr. Fraser is mistaken. There has been no forest fire in the Wide Bay area which destroyed the whole forest 80 years ago or since. We have seen no evidence of that. The rainfall there has to be seen to be believed and definitely no droughts in our now 25 years. Rain, rain and more rain, even a cyclone.
I will not comment on the rest, I believe I have made my point abundantly clear. Fraser’s assumptions are just that, assumptions, made largely without substantial knowledge of the subject matter and in the belief that he and he alone is correct.
Mr. Fraser earlier communicated with me back in August 2018 with the suggestion that the wreck we were seeking from our information may be a Lockheed captured by the Japanese on Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines or the Netherlands East Indies, forgetting that (or not knowing), the R-1340 S3H1 engines were only fitted to the Model 10E Electras.
He again contacted me in November and this time he mentioned B-17F 41-24458 as a candidate. This B-17 was obviously powered by Wright Cyclones and nothing to do with S3H1s. This particular B-17F, famously known as “The San Antonio Rose,” must have crashed to the north of the Mevelo River, as it took Col. Bleasdale two weeks to walk off the mountain to his capture at Tol Plantation, which is north of this river. Our search area is south of the river. I doubt the colonel would be tempted to cross the Mevelo River by fording it. I certainly would not, for it has big crocodiles.
In November 2018 I assisted Mr. Fraser in his interest by providing him with a 1943 topographical map of the area and by giving Mr. Fraser several pointers from the Project because of his interest. I also pointed him in the direction of “GAIHOZU” the military maps that the Japanese used in the Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, of which the map of the area made by the Japanese does show some walking trails they used.
Fraser, with the aid of the area map I sent to him, then searched for holes in the jungle canopy using the modern-day “Zoom Earth” application and then proudly sent me a picture of the jungle with a “hole,” about which he stated: “It is in your search area.” There are many such holes in the jungle at floor level, not all of which can be seen from aerial views due to the tree canopy. I considered that Mr. Fraser was trying to suggest that here was a hole made in 1937 “which I did not know about” which existed to this day, and he asked me, “What can you see?”
Instead, I asked Mr. Fraser where it was in order to see if it was indeed “In our search area.” Fraser by return mail told me to tell him “what I could see” – first. Presumably then he would tell me where the hole was in latitude-longitude. By having to tell Mr. Fraser what I could see “first” meant that here we had a man playing the schoolboy game of ”Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” I grew tired of such pedantic messages long ago and told Mr. Fraser that I do not play games such as that and “Good Luck.” In the event, a hole on a modern-day application such as Zoom Earth or Google Earth would be “modern” and any hole made in 1937 would completely close over within ten years with new growth and so Mr. Fraser would be completely mistaken in what he was thinking. Why else would he send me a picture of a hole in the tree canopy?
Mr. Fraser has a basic lack of the appreciation of jungle growth activity if what he thinks may be a hole made by the entry of an aircraft in 1937 or during World War II, would still exist today, up to and over 80 years later.
I will admit we went on a hole search ourselves when one of my team found the exact aerial photograph made by a Photo-Reconnaissance Lockheed F-5 from 23,000 feet from which the 1943 Topographical Map was made. Then again, we were looking at holes on a photograph from only six years after the Earhart loss. We have a whole list of latitudes and longitudes for those holes, most of which are not in our designated search area.
Mr. Fraser’s stated “assumptions” and remarks on what he “thinks” may have happened are colorful, imaginative and somewhat amusing, and lettered men such as he may well think they know more than others. But in the end, practical knowledge will trump theoretical musings.
In addition to Billings’ list of problems with Fraser’s theory, a major discrepancy I find is that Thomas E. Devine, Earskin J. Nabers, Arthur Nash and other soldiers and Marines on Saipan saw or knew of the discovery of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, on that island in the summer of 1944. Devine even wrote down the plane’s registration number, and inspected it — climbing on its wing to look in — before it was torched at night, strafed by a P-38 after being doused with cans of gasoline, according to Nabers, who was also at the off-limits airfield for the event. Before Fraser’s introduction of this idea, nobody has ever suggested that the plane was destroyed because it was “booby-trapped.” Moreover, if our troops knew it was such, why would our tech-savvy GIs destroy an airplane for this reason? Couldn’t anything that was booby-trapped be un-booby trapped by skilled operatives?
As for the Earhart Electra and its discovery and pickup at Mili Atoll by the Japanese, by the time the plane would have reached Kwajalein, a distance of roughly 375 miles from Mili Atoll, it would probably have been too late to forestall the corrosion that its exposure to salt water would have caused. Sometime before that, probably in Jaluit or earlier at Mili, the Japanese had access to enough fresh water to wash the corroding salt away, else how could Thomas E. Devine and others have seen it operational at Saipan? We also don’t know the extent of the Electra’s engine’s exposure or immersion in the ocean or lagoon at Mili where it landed. Fraser’s other ideas about the disposition of the Earhart Electra are speculation.
Billings, for his part, has yet to propose a plausible reason to explain the Electra’s presence in the remote jungles of East New Britain. Turning around within a few hundred miles of Howland and heading back in a nearly 180 degree course that terminated in East New Britain simply doesn’t pass the common sense test.
Another explanation for C/N 1055 and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Electra being recorded on an Australian soldier’s map case in 1945 must exist, and has yet to be found. Thus the East New Britain mystery remains unsolved, and will stay that way unless and until the wreck found in 1945 is re-discovered. Even then, if the wreck were to be found and absolutely confirmed as NR 16020, the work of explaining how it got there will remain, as will the mystery.
Don’t hold your breath.
UDPATE: In an April 3, 2019 email, William Fraser writes:
I can understand a comment by a USA resident that the aircraft wreckage found by an AIF patrol in April 1945 in the Mevelo River area of New Britain is a different (Lockheed) aircraft. Nonetheless, for very significant historical reasons this wreckage needs to be re-discovered and identified.
Missing AIF Patrol Report
On the apparently missing patrol report for AIF 11th Infantry Battalion, D Company Patrol A1 for April 1945, I have made further enquiries with the records section of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. They have said “the curator of Official Records (says) that the Patrol Reports in question are comprised as messages in Appendix M found on images 130-152. Following your re-examination of the file and advice from Official Records, it appears that material in question was either not elaborated upon beyond what was included in the original file, was omitted from the original file, or was not submitted by those responsible for the reports.”
It is indeed unfortunate, but we have now come to a dead end here with the official Australian records.
A Conclusive New Search In New Britain
I have previously remarked upon the notable lack of success of previous searches over a period of some 25 years. In order to properly resolve this matter, I suggest that the Government of Papua New Guinea and its department responsible for historical sites and heritage would need to approve the formation of new independent NGO search directorate to enter the New Britain area and commence a ground search.