Tag Archives: East New Britain Theory

Fraser has new slant on East New Britain mystery

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.”

David Billings at his home in Nambour, Australia. (Courtesy David Billings.)

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 Projectsubtitled “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.

William J. Fraser, a research geologist from Queensland, Australia, offers a new slant on David Billings’ East New Britain theory.

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 restorationAt 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.

William J. Fraser
FAusIMM, BSc (Fellow, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Bachelor of Science)
February 2019

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.

The stunning evidence that suggests Amelia Earhart’s Electra was found in the Papua New Guinea jungle is in the area in yellow, above, which is the lower section of the tactical map maintained by “D” Company, 11th Australian Infantry Battalion in 1945. The Map was in possession of the unit’s administrative clerk from 1945 until 1993. (Courtesy David Billings.)

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.”

Quite so.

This map illustrates the Lae-to-Howland leg (green) that the Electra theoretically flew in almost 20 hours, and the dotted red is David Billings’ postulated return route to New Britain Island that would have consumed the last bit of fuel and (at least) 12 hours.  Most observers reject this idea on its face, for obvious reasonsIt is simply too extreme and unlikely to have any basis in reality.  

“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 as63A. 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 letterA 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 jungleI 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?

In early March, 1945, Australian troops of the 4th Field Company put a log bearer into place on a new bridge that the unit is building across the Mevelo River in East New Britain.  About five weeks later, members of a kindred Australian Army unit, “D” Company of the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion, operating near this area in April 1945, discovered a wrecked, twin-engine aircraft that Billings believes was the Earhart Electra, NR 16020.  How it got there remains one of the true mysteries of the Earhart saga.

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.

Chris Billings (David’s son), Claire Bowers (David’s step-daughter) and David Billings in the jungles of East New Britain, circa 2002.  (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

Please note theyet 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.

Early Communication

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 ofGAIHOZU 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. 

David Billings wades through the Yarras River in East New Britain in July 2002. “We did that wade every day for two weeks on our way to one of the search areas,” Billings wrote in a recent email.  “There are crocs in that river; it is one of their waterways especially at night.  You can hear the tails swish as they swim upriver.”

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 ahole, 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 indeedIn 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 seefirst 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.

David Billings
EarhartSearchPng.com

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.

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Billings’ latest search fails to locate Earhart Electra

David Billings recently returned from his seventeenth trip to East New Britain in search of the Earhart Electra, and again he was unable to find the hidden wreck that he believes is the lost Electra 10E that Amelia Earhart flew from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. 

Billings’ New Britain theory is the only hypothesis among all the various possible explanations that vary from the truth as we know it, that presents us information and poses questions that cannot be explained or answered. Unless and until the twin-engine wreck that an Australian army team found in the East New Britain jungle 1945 is rediscovered, this loose end will forever irritate and annoy researchers who take such findings seriously.

Readers can review the details of Billings’ work by reading my Dec. 5, 2016 post, New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities.  Billings’ website Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” offers a wealth of information on this unique and fascinating theory.

Billings has sent me a detailed report on the events of the last three weeks, and it’s presented below. I wish he had better news, however, as this aspect of the Earhart search is one that screams for resolution, unlike the others, which are all flat-out lies and disinformation, intended only to keep the public ignorant about Amelia’s sad fate.

SEARCHING FOR THE ELECTRA AND FOR AMELIA AND FRED

The Start
Our last expedition started on Friday, June 2, when the six members of the Australian team met at the Brisbane International Motel on the Friday evening prior to the flight out of Brisbane for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on the morning of Saturday, June 3.

We flew from Brisbane for three hours and went into transit at Port Moresby, then on to the flight which is “nominally” to Rabaul but actually Kokopo and arrived at Tokua Airport after an hour and 20 minutes, on time, and then by mini-bus to the Rapopo Plantation Resort just outside of Kokopo, which was the base for our “equipment and rations” gathering over the next two days.

The local singing group welcomes David Billings to Rapopo Plantation Resort. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

Shopping
The hired HiLux vehicles arrived and Sunday and Monday was spent on shopping for the major items from prepared lists and boxing all the goods up and storing them in the rooms. Money changing at the banks in Kokopo and final shopping was Tuesday for odds and ends.

The U.S. team members arrived at the Rapopo on Monday, June 5, and after their hectic flight schedule relaxed on the Tuesday ready for the road trip on Wednesday.

The Journey to Wide Bay
The road trip with all 10 members was carried out in three Toyota HiLux Dual Cab 4WD’s with diesel engines. We had walkie-talkies for contact during the drive. The road we had planned on was to be approximately 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) and we expected to be able to do this in about four and a half hours. The actual time was seven hours over very rough roads and with a planned one major river crossing and several minor river crossings. In the event, due to finding one road impassable, we were forced to ford a quite wide and substantial river which we know from previous trips can be in flood quite rapidly as it has a large watershed area stretching up into the Baining Mountains.

The supposed “sealed” roads out of Kokopo through small villages towards Kerevat town were a nightmare with potholes every few yards and the daily multitude of vehicles were weaving in and out of the potholes and wandering all over the road to avoid the holes.

A good 10 kilometers out of Kerevat town, a turnoff towards the village of Malasait brought us onto the very rough tracks that we were to use for the rest of the journey. This rough track constitutes the major part of what is euphemistically called the “East New Britain Highway.” For a detailed look at the Gazelle Peninsula in relation to the Billings search, please click here.

The Gazelle Peninsula forms the northeastern part of East New Britain Province. Billings said the route from Kokopo to Wide Bay (below southern part of map, not labeled) is “mainly over very rough logging tracks.”

On the Highway
All went well over the awful rough roads until about the halfway point whereupon we came across a gigantic mudslide over a stretch of the “highway” on a downslope about 100 meters long, with ruts in the mud about 500 millimeters (19.6 inches) deep. There was a truck there which they had shed the load off of it and copra bags littered the drains as they had strived to get the truck through and they were picking the bags up on a long pole when we got there. Rain water had gone completely over this section and washed the road out. After throwing rocks into the deepest rutted sections and pushing the loose mud down also, we managed to get through this area in four-wheel drive. We had to remember this section of “road” and prepare for it for the return journey.

Shortly after this, we crossed the Sambei River No. 2, in a wide sweeping arc with water just over the wheel hubs which allowed us to stay on the shallowest parts and then continued on the way.

At this river crossing we had met up with a local man who said he was going to the Lamerien area and we followed him along a newly cut forestry road which joined up with the old road near to the turn-off to Awungi then we entered the steep descending curves down into the Mevelo River Valley and expected to turn off to the right to follow the track through the Mumus and Yarras River Valleys. However, our guide drove straight ahead to a security guard post leading into the Palm Oil Plantation, sited on the northern side of the Mevelo River. On realizing that we were being led into the Palm Oil Plantation the expectation then was that the bridge over the Mevelo which we could see “not completed” in Satellite views must then be “completed,” which would mean we could cross the wide Mevelo River with ease.

The Mevelo River
After driving through the Palm Oil roads for about 40 minutes we came to the Mevelo River and our hopes were dashed! There was no bridge. We had seen a bridge with a very nearly completed driving span in the satellite pictures with but one span to be completed. What we were now looking at was a damaged bridge with no roadway across the pylons. The Mevelo River is a very fast flowing river in flood and an earlier flood had obviously caused the bridge supports to move and the bridge had collapsed.

The bridge was down, destroyed by the “mighty” Mevelo at some time in a flood. Several of the old shipping containers that had been used as ballast cans for rocks to hold and support the concrete bridgeworks had been moved out of position by the strength of the flow of water down the Mevelo River and now we were left with a choice — we must now ford the river or turn back.

Luckily, while we had a rest stop close to the access road to the river, I had seen two Toyota Land Cruiser troop carrier vehicles come out of the track entrance to the river and sure enough when we arrived at the river, there were the wet wheel tracks of these vehicles left behind on the steep entrance into the river, so we decided to go across, fording the river in the HiLux in H4, in four-wheel drive.  I went first and kept a straight line across and the water was deeper over on the far side of the river and estimated to be just at wheel height. The second vehicle came across and then Matt took a different wider line and we could see water up to the bonnet before the front end of the vehicle reared up out of the water onto dry land. A sigh of relief went up from all watching!

The Mevelo River ford point with the damaged bridgeworks and sunken dislodged containers (looking north). (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

The Old Track
What we now know is that the former old track (part of which I have previously walked) which leads out of the Mevelo Valley and up to the Mumus and Yarras River Valleys, our planned route, is totally overgrown and cannot be used. It is a seven-hour 166 kilometer (106 miles) drive from Kokopo to Lamerien over very rough roads with what we thought were two major river crossings. We had three large rivers to cross, only one of which was bridged.

Change to the Planning
The crossing of the Mevelo River by the ford, which was forced upon us by the closure of the now “overgrown road” out of the Mevelo Valley meant that we had to rethink our carefully laid plans on several aspects: The Americans had appointments to keep on their return so had to get back for their flights.  We got to the campsite on Thursday, June 7 and managed to get the tents up before dark. That left a maximum for them of six nights in the camp but in the light of the river fords (particularly the Mevelo River ford) we had to gauge intervals in the rain to get back over the Mevelo River, which was accessed as the biggest obstacle. 

1. The American participants had a maximum of seven nights/six days at Wide Bay and had to return to Kokopo, the seventh day had been planned as the “return to Kokopo day.”

2.  Originally it had been planned for two vehicles to return with the American participants and then one vehicle return to Wide Bay on the same day. It was now deemed too dangerous for one vehicle to make the trip back due possible breakdown on the rough roads or getting bogged on the mudslide. This planned return trip would take two days if carried out.

3. The drive cannot be done Kokopo to Wide Bay (Lamerien) and back in one day, it had been planned as a one-day trip because “if the river crossings were possible on that day in the morning” then they would still be able to be crossed later in the day. The two-day return trip negated that idea.

4. More importantly, we would have to ford the Mevelo River on a return journey and to that there was no alternative, the Mevelo River had to be crossed in order to get back to Kokopo with the vehicles, that meant the surety of a day when the river ford was at a low point.

5. We also had to make a contingency for the 100-meter-long mudslide in the road at roughly the halfway point, after the Sambei River, which doubtless would not have been repaired by the time of our return. This meant that lengths of logs had to be carried both for ballast in crossing the two main river fords and as fill to drop into the ruts on the mudslide section. The chainsaw also had to return with the vehicles in case of the need for more wood.

Secondary Jungle Visited Three Times
It rained the first night (Thursday) and Friday afternoon we made it up the hill.  Since 2012 it has become just a tangled mess up there, the old bulldozer tracks are barely visible and the tree roots across the ground hold pools of water making it treacherous. 

The climb up to the top of the hill can be quite steep in places and with the rain it was very slippery and some assistance was needed in paces and the willing hands of the young men of the village gave that assistance. The hill height is around 420 feet and the start level is 150 feet, so it is a tough climb over 270 feet of elevation.

David Billings in the East New Britain jungle checking search area location from previous GPS waypoints. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

It rained the second night for three hours with lightning and thunder rolls and lashing rain from 12 p.m. to 3 a.m., and then more rain during that new day.  June is supposed to be the “drier” month of the year. We went up the hill three times, it rained while we were in there.

Due to the available time for the Americans in the team, the rain, the rising rivers to cross and the vehicles to be got across the rivers, we had to consider getting out at an opportune time with the biggest obstacle, the Mevelo River, at a low point. We watched the Mevelo on a daily basis.  The Mevelo went down a bit and we took the opportunity to get out on Monday, June 12. Seven hours later we were back in Kokopo.  

“East New Britain Highway” is Atrocious
Back to the mudslide! Yes, the mudslide was still there and still about 100 meters long, but this time on the return, on an upslope. We had to remember that stretch for going back so we cut some logs the length of the HiLux tray and took two layers of 5-foot round logs back with us both as ballast for the river crossing and to patch up the road when we got to the mudslide.  When we got there a big truck was bogged in, but luckily off to the side, so we gave them a shovel, then we filled in the deeper parts of one rut with the logs we carried and I went first with one wheel side in the rut and the other on the center “heap of slime,” and in H4 we all got through but it was close-run thing.  All the villagers that were working on the road cheered!  Most of the road is laterite where a bulldozer has shaved off the top soil and exposed the rock underneath but this section was just mud. The roads must be terrible on the HiLux suspension and most of the journey is in first and second gear with occasional third being used.

Members of David Billings’ team sweep the East New Britain jungle in search of the Earhart Electra. Once again, nothing was found on this, the seventeenth time he’s visited this remote area of the world in search of the lost plane. (Photo courtesy David Billings.)

Where do we go from here
It is obvious that we cannot use vehicles again until the roads improve and bridges are built, that means use and reliance on a helicopter again, for “in” and “out,” with additional expense.

The idea was that by using vehicles we could cut down the expense and carry as much as we liked to make the camp comfortable. We had also intended to go down to the Ip River where a World War II wreck had been reported about 10 years ago and to which no one has been to identify, so we had thought that we would do that, but the villagers told us that the coast track was impassable.

All the film taken will now be used to make a documentary concerning the search for the aircraft wreck seen in 1945, which I am convinced on the basis of the documentary evidence on the World War II map and the visual description by the Army veterans, is the elusive Electra. We shall have to wait and see what interest is generated by the documentary.

Sincerely,

David Billings,
Nambour,
Queensland,  Australia (June 20, 2017)

Billings’ next trip to East New Britain will be his eighteenth, if he indeed makes it, and if persistence means anything at all, perhaps he will finally locate the wrecked airplane he believes was Amelia Earhart’s bird. I wish him the best of luck, as he will surely need it. If you’d like to contribute to his cause, you can visit his website, Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project for details.

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