Thursday, January 08, 2009

Amelia Earhart's plane is still there

Australian searcher denies claims that wreckage is that of Earhart

Amelia Earhart plane searcher David Billings yesterday denied claims in yesterday’s front page story of The National that the aircraft wreckage found in the jungles of East New Britain last week was that of the plane of the great American woman aviatrix.

And the former Air Niugini aircraft engineer urged Papua New Guineans to “calm down”, as the wreckage was not that of Earhart’s plane, and that her plane was still in the jungles of East New Britain waiting to be discovered.

Yesterday’s story said that what made last week’s discovery significant was the fact that Billings, who has been involved in a project since 1994 to locate Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, had pinpointed the location where the wreckage was as the place where he believed her plane went down in July 1937.

After a dozen trips to the jungles of East New Britain over several years since 1994 – the latest being last August - it appears he has yet to locate what he believes to be Amelia Earhart's downed Lockheed Electra L-10 aircraft.

When told of the discovery, and that the wreckage had the serial number 06751, Mr Billings replied: “It will be another WWII aircraft.

“It seems everyone in PNG is now an Electra expert.

“If the number you gave is the Bureau Number of the aircraft 06751, then the full Bureau No. is 40-6751 indicating that the aircraft came into U.S. Service in 1940.

“As you know, Earhart was lost in 1937.

“It could, however, be anybody’s aircraft, Japanese included, (as) they also used Roman numerals in places.”

Mr Billings stressed that Lockheed made 147 Electras, of which only four every visited Papua New Guinea.

“Two 10A's were in Lae pre-war belonging to Guinea Airways: one was there at Lae when Earhart visted in 1937,” he said.

“The second Guinea Airways aircraft had not been delivered in 1937 when Earhart passed through.

“In 1942, one of the Guinea Airways Electra 10A's returned to PNG to ferry troops and supplies to the battle front at Buna.

“Both these aircraft are accounted for.

“One was written off at Darwin in 1939 and the second ended its days in New Zealand.

“In 1937, Earhart passed through Lae in her 10E.

“In 1997 Finch's 10A/E flew through Moresby and Lae.

“That's four Electras total into Papua New Guinea.

“Only one of the above aircraft is seriously considered to have returned and crashed in East New Britain from the evidence we have, i.e., that my project has.

“That aircraft is Earhart's.”

Mr Billings added: “In the last year or so, five reports emanating in various districts of PNG have proclaimed that the Electra has been found and I keep repeating to you that the area is in East New Britain not that many miles from Rabaul: not in Morobe (two reports) not in the Mt Ulawun area (one report), another one report has been, I recall, in Enga but I may have misread that and now, one in the Kalip area....all could be Electras....all found in PNG !

“The Kalip area is the closest to our search area but our Australian Army Veterans were never in the Kalip area or the Milim area.

“I did hear of a large American aircraft in the Milim area back in 1994 and I guess this one just found may be that one.

“You have to look and consider ‘where’ that area is in relation to the Flight Path from Moresby to Rabaul for the B17 Flying Fortresses, the B-24 Liberators and also all the other aircraft operating from Moresby, Kiriwina, etc.

“This includes B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders operating from Ward's Strip and other satellite dromes plus all the Australian and New Zealand aircraft: Beauforts, Beaufighters, Catalinas, Hudsons etc etc, etc that also attacked Rabaul.

“On top of that you have the fighters, especially the Lockheed Lightning.

“After reading up on the actions in WWII, I am convinced that Wide Bay was a prominent landmark such that the aircraft bomber fleets re-formated in the Wide Bay area on the outbound flights after bombing Rabaul and for the return to Moresby.

“ Just imagine that crippled aircraft leaving Rabaul faced all that open water to get back to Moresby, and in their bad shape, it would be inevitable that lots went down in that area of East New Britain.

“Many, many, did not make it back.

“Many are in the Bainings, many elsewhere.

“To whit, I did hear of a large U.S. aircraft down Milim way on the East Coast south of Wide Bay.

“There is also a Japanese aircraft in the same area.

“Want to take a bet? Calm down people…”

In April 1945, the 20-member patrol of the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion ‘D-Company’ is evading the Japanese while in the dense jungles of East New Britain.

Suddenly they come upon a wrecked aircraft — a two engine, twin tailed plane much like Earhart’s.

An old repair tag is pulled off one of the engines and the men moved on — fearful of falling into the hands of the Japanese.

The information on the tag is scribbled down on the edge of their map and then forgotten.

Forty-five years later at a veterans reunion, Don Angwin of that same Australian Patrol, talks about the aircraft that he and his patrol members found in the jungle.

He starts a search for the plane in 1993, and is joined the following year by David Billings of Air Nugini in Port Moresby.

Angwin died in 2001 but Billings continues the search, now living in Queensland, Australia.

Billings, now 68, has been to that valley nearly a dozen times.

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