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TIGHAR Trashes UK’s Earhart Search Efforts

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    TIGHAR Trashes UK’s Earhart Search Efforts

    TIGHAR – The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery – has long asserted that Amelia Earhart landed on a deserted Pacific island and survived for a time, instead of ditching at sea, after she and navigator Fred Noonan vanished in 1937. That assertion gained strength when documentation was found about a partial skeleton discovered on the island, Nikumaroro, in 1940.

    TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie has a history of vigorously defending the Nikumaroro hypothesis. His defense reached a new level of fervor, though, when he dissected the UK’s involvement with the Earhart search and aftermath in an “academic paper” called Bones and Bias released a few weeks ago.

    Among the first things Gillespie highlights is that a British graduate student and an Australian anthropologist (Cross and Wright) disagreed with TIGHAR’s hypothesis in their own 2015 paper. Why he chose to highlight their nationality is a mystery. Gillespie also stated that the original skeleton investigation in 1940 was “intentionally hobbled.” He goes on to question the competence of the British doctor who examined the skeleton, then goes after Sir Harry Luke, High Commissioner of the Western Pacific.

    The British doctor is David W. Hoodless, LMSSA, who was no less than the Principal of the Central Medical School in Suva, Fiji, at the time. Gillespie maintains that Hoodless, beloved by the Fijians for establishing the native practitioner healthcare program, appeared to be a good administrator who was out of his depth – “there is nothing in his known background to indicate he had any specific training or experience in assessing the sex, age, body type, and ancestry of a human skeleton.” Cross and Wright, on the other hand, stated that Hoodless was perfectly competent to evaluate the bits of skeleton he was presented with.

    In the part of his screed titled An Investigation Fated to Fail, Gillespie says Sir Harry Luke “deliberately thwarted” the skeleton inquiry and “clamped a lid of secrecy on the entire affair,” which caused the British to miss numerous opportunities (Gillespie maintains) to show the bones were Earhart’s. Posts on TIGHAR’s discussion forums hint at some kind of dark conspiracy.

    Gillespie has previously called the Cross/Wright paper a direct “attack” on TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro hypothesis, and ramped up the rhetoric by labeling the paper “the infamous Cross/Wright critique” in a Feb. 9, 2018, TIGHAR forum post. “Infamous” is defined as “having an extremely bad reputation; deserving of or causing an evil reputation; detestable” – not words a dispassionate historian would use.

    His 77-years-after-the-fact criticism sums up with, “The Cross/Wright paper is inaccurate and biased. Its defense of Hoodless mischaracterizes the findings of a talented administrator and teacher tasked with a job beyond his training and experience. Sir Harry Luke’s refusal to inform the Americans of Gallagher’s discovery or assign a qualified person to examine the bones deprived the investigation of critical information that could have resulted in a very different verdict.”

    Gillespie’s complete commentary is here:

    The International Group for The lack of Historic Aircraft Recovery probably says it all....

    have they actually recovered a single aircraft?

    I doubt TIGHAR could find Pooh, let alone Roo and Lumpy.
    Last edited by TonyT; 23rd February 2018, 13:35.


      Yawn. Conspiracy wonks sniping away, pretending to be academics. Everybody likes a good potboiler I suppose.

      My local gift/toy shop has a copy of 'Amelia Earhart (Little People, Big Dreams)' in the window. This is one of a series of books designed to inspire young girls to aim high... or fly an aircraft into the void and then have weirdos arguing about non-evidence 80 years after the fact. They also have a book on Marie Curie who... ya know... actually achieved her goals.


        Pot calling the kettle from( ATHC the American tropical holiday club.)
        Pathetic attempt to publicise there questionable activitys.
        Off now for a pint at the local, its Glenn Millers shout.


          Pretty ironic for Gillespie to be criticising the 1940 investigation into the skeletal remains...

          ...if they had proved to be Amelia Earhart's bones in 1940 then Gillespie wouldn't have a 'job' now!
          Last edited by Creaking Door; 23rd February 2018, 15:08.


            The skull and pelvis bones found would give you a good idea what sex the body is. Didn't they find a load of bits and to try and get DNA from these bits but all the DNA results they got was from the guy who bagged the samples. Not impressed.


              Typical TIGHAR "attack is the best for of defence" policy. I'd guess that Gillespie now realises that the number of trusting folks who are prepared to fund his lifestyle is dwindling. As others have said, the group has never recovered anything of worth and done little (if anything) in the way of unbiased, scientific research.

              It's a long game, aiming always to gather more cash.


                The skull and pelvis bones found would give you a good idea what sex the body is...
                If the bones are female it could be Earhart, if the bones are male it could be Noonan!

                I think we need to have a good think about the implications of what 'evidence', as opposed to 'proof', has actually been found. And also think about what evidence would prove, or disprove, the TIGHAR theory.

                DNA 'evidence' is a case in point; while finding human bones, especially female (or male!) bones, on Nikumaroro could be construed only to support the TIGHAR theory, in my view it does nothing of the sort.

                By the same measure if DNA analysis of these bones was possible that would do little to disprove the TIGHAR theory because proving that the DNA didn't match the DNA of surviving relatives of Earhart or Noonan doesn't actually prove that their bones don't still lie undiscovered on Nikumaroro!

                Only the 'billion-to-one' shot of finding bones, extracting uncontaminated DNA and matching that DNA to either Earhart or Noonan would prove anything whatsoever!
                Last edited by Creaking Door; 23rd February 2018, 16:11.


                  The group's lack of achievements speaks for itself.
                  Of course they'll try to discredit anyone, no matter how qualified, that is viewed as a threat to the leader milking his theory (and any donors still willing to listen) for a few more years.
                  There are two sides to every story. The truth is usually somewhere between the two.


                    I understood that to extract the DNA from skeletal remains they used the material from inside the bones, not the outside which, apparently, in this case, were contaminated with the DNA of the person who recovered them. The interior of any bone would be unaffected by everything which disturbed them externally except fire.

                    These bones must still exist - or have done so until recent years, because DNA testing wasn't available until about 20 years ago.

                    Regarding the above TIGHAR statement; they are merely making a vain attempt to protect their income stream by rubbishing the efforts of others, with contradictory or different findings involved in the same business. However, I think we all know that, it didn't really need spelling out.

                    I can't believe that this fellow has managed to string so many people along for so long. It only goes to prove that there are many gullible people out there and persuasive folk able to separate them from their (presumably) hard-earned - repeatedly.



                      They didn't find the bones or test them.

                      The bone (singular) was recovered on an earlier trip to Nikumaroro in the vicinity of where the remains (now lost) were found and which Dr Hoodless examined in 1940. This bone was so degraded that it was uncertain if it was even human (one suggestion was that it was from a turtle's flipper) and no DNA was able to be recovered.

                      End of story.

                      The new Jantz paper relies on mainly condemning Dr Hoodless supposed lack of qualifications, experience etc. and one small mistake related to the historical detail rather than the anatomical findings in the Cross and Wright paper. Naturally TIGHAR are playing this for what it is worth, which is nothing. I have read all three papers and understand the basics of what is being discussed. The matter has still to be resolved but as both the Burns and Jantz paper and the later Jantz reply to Cross and Wright state quite clearly that their findings are at best only possible, not certain, and, as I said, rely on attacking Hoodless' supposed ignorance of anatomy then I do not feel that TIGHAR have sufficient grounds to claim that the matter is resolved.

                      As for attacking Sir Harry Luke - TIGHAR have attacked every colonial official they can find except those they know that they cannot touch like Gallagher, Maude and Bevington. They can't touch Gallagher because what he wrote at the time raises the possibility that the partial skeleton might be Earhart. TIGHAR skates over the fact that Gallagher dispatched the bones for examination and Hoodless said they weren't. Maude and Bevington are immune because TIGHAR need the so-called Bevington Object (the claimed Electra landing gear in a photo taken by Bevington) to bolster their very thin hypothesis. All of TIGHAR's attacks on the WPHC simply smacks of historical sour grapes, no more no less.
                      Last edited by Malcolm McKay; 25th February 2018, 02:23.


                        So, where did the report of the pelvis and skull originate, then? Was it all made up, and by whom and to what end?



                          That's the main thing I fail to understand in all of this - TIGHAR's ... well, Gillespie's - outright hostility to any theory other than his own. Characterizing academic papers that disagree with his theory as "attacks." Denigrating professionals of longstanding who at least have the education, training and experience to back up their opinions (he has a bachelor's degree in history).

                          And then he trashes the English colonial officials, including the revered doctor who established the native medical practitioner program? Last I checked, TIGHAR has a lot it still wanted to do in Fiji, and I'm pretty sure that's where they usually stage out of when they go to Nikumaroro. Seems to me Gillespie has thoroughly burned THAT bridge. And to what end?


                            Well Monty as I have always said TIGHAR displays a certain consistency of performance which is -

                            The thinner the ice the faster they skate.

                            Dr Hoodless while not exactly at the centre of late 30s medical research was not some backwoods barber surgeon whose only skill was swift amputation without an anesthetic, and Sir Harry Luke was a capable and well-liked administrator who was given the task of managing the very last expansion of British imperial behaviour before all that was stopped by WW2. But their one fault as far as I understand TIGHAR's reasoning was that they were British colonial officials and therefore corrupt and stupid oppressors of the locals.

                            It is of interest that in order to attack Hoodless' examination of the partial skeleton found on Nikumaroro they first must attack his skills or lack thereof. Yet Burns and Jantz only used his measurements to claim that it was possible that they were those of a thin woman of northern European heritage rather than the short mixed race male that Hoodless claimed - there was no other data available. Then Cross and Wright used the same Hoodless data plus findings from more recent anthropological research, than what Burns and Jantz had, to argue that Hoodless was most likely to be correct. A minor slip on some purely historical data unrelated to the anatomical study was what allowed TIGHAR in the person of Mr Gillespie to claim that the paper was "infamous". The fact that Jantz in the reply paper still refuses to claim that the skeletal material was definitely that of Earhart seems lost on Gillespie.

                            The problem with all Earhart research is that the various proponents of different hypotheses seem too ready to translate probable into certain and that is not what the dictionary tells us. And this rush to fictional certainty seems directly related to how much money they have invested in the search. It isn't scientific it is simply pecuniary.
                            Last edited by Malcolm McKay; 24th February 2018, 01:14.


                              Sabrejet said, "It's a long game, aiming always to gather more cash."

                              I won't disagree with that, especially if you begin to appreciate the fact that Gillespie seems to regard certain items/artifacts/reports more from their fund-generating potential than from any value they have towards actually solving the mystery. I was exposed to that attitude more than once when I was a TIGHAR member.


                                MFowler posted if you begin to appreciate the fact that Gillespie seems to regard certain items/artifacts/reports more from their fund-generating potential than from any value they have towards actually solving the mystery.

                                A behaviour that worried me. Normally in this sort of research where physical artifacts form the data base it is normal to first clearly establish the identity of the artifact before conflating it into your already existing hypothesis. TIGHAR appears to have worked on the maxim "this is something that Amelia Earhart might have owned therefore this confirms our hypothesis that she landed on Nikumaroro". Rather than first establishing what the artifact is, then establishing how it was in her possession on the flight, then having got that data confirmed, taken it as evidence substantiating the claim that she landed on Nikumaroro.

                                The other fault in TIGHAR's handling of data is that they open up the discussion to input from amateurs whose qualifications are unknown and accept that input as just as reliable as that from people with proper expertise. The rather farcical 187 page discussion on the TIGHAR Forum about what people claimed to see in a short underwater video clip along the reef face is an example which mushroomed into a cottage industry based purely on pareidolia, but importantly for TIGHAR the sheer attraction of it no doubt attracted more donors so it was allowed to run despite its manifest absurdity.

                                Before it was closed people were not only claiming to see the Electra in bits and pieces, but the sum total of those identified bits probably would have enabled a whole fleet of Electras to be recovered if someone had the time and salvage equipment.


                                  Although I'm not privy to the group's motives, one could come to the conclusion that the fundraising efforts are driving the search or club efforts.

                                  They've apparently said "case closed" or called artifacts the "smoking gun" a few times with great fanfare trying hard to make the objects fit their theory. A shoe heel? must be AE's never mind the various groups that were on the island between 1937 and the discovery.
                                  As I've said before, their approach seems to be that of a person using a jigsaw to complete a jigsaw puzzle. If the part doesn't fit, wait a moment, they'll do their best to make it fit.

                                  The former group member and large scale contributor who unsuccessfully sued the group thought they were dragging out the search. The only motive I know for dragging out the search would be to collect more contributions.

                                  For a group who name suggests their focus is aircraft recovery, they've spent most of their time and money on a project where the aircraft simply isn't going to be recovered. Even RG has never suggested that they'll find anything more than scraps.
                                  If one were a cynic, one could come to the conclusion that looking for AE is likely to be more successful in fund raising than the more mundane efforts at actually recovering an aircraft.
                                  Airplane enthusiasts might contribute to recovering a TBD or other extinct/rare type, but that isn't likely to bring in big money.
                                  Their obsession with finding "celebrity" aircraft...AE, Glenn Miller or Nungesser and Coli certainly indicates that they are more interested in headline making rather than doing unheralded (by the general public, if not the historic aviation community), unglamorous work of saving aircraft.

                                  I'm not aware of the group using its impressive resources to recover or preserve an aircraft. On this forum, hardly a week goes by where some aircraft in immanent danger of scrapping isn't mentioned. Certainly, they could have done something by now.
                                  Solving the AE mystery is a laudable goal.
                                  I'm just not sure if the group, after all theses years and millions of tax free dollars raised, is going about it the correct or efficient way.
                                  Last edited by J Boyle; 25th February 2018, 01:03.
                                  There are two sides to every story. The truth is usually somewhere between the two.




                                      J Boyle said, "Their obsession with finding "celebrity" aircraft...AE, Glenn Miller or Nungesser and Coli certainly indicates that they are more interested in headline making rather than doing unheralded (by the general public, if not the historic aviation community), unglamorous work of saving aircraft."

                                      That is something that gradually became apparent to me as well. Along with Gillespie's tendency to be roundly dismissive of anyone who disagrees with him in the slightest, about pretty much anything. With the closing of the TIGHAR forums, he has a virtual bully pulpit for espousing his views, and his alone. Dissent, or even questions - as I found when I started asking them - are not tolerated. Same for their Facebook page and his blog.

                                      All of which might make one wonder, after raising - and spending - millions of dollars over the past three decades, what has TIGHAR actually done?


                                        This forum's inability to quote is deeply annoying but anyway...

                                        MFowler said, "All of which might make one wonder, after raising - and spending - millions of dollars over the past three decades, what has TIGHAR actually done?"

                                        Answer: it's funded a nice lifestyle for key members and that's all. And certainly nothing that adds in the way of aviation research.