The Deep Sea Search for Amelia Earhart
David W. Jourdan
Ocellus Productions, 268pp, $26.99
For the few who are fuzzy about Amelia Earhart, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She accrued many other flying honors during her short career which ended in 1937 with her attempt to be the first woman circumnavigator. She disappeared in the mid-Pacific Ocean in her famous Lockheed Model 10 Electra. People have been searching for evidence of her crash ever since.
Foremost among Earhart searcher/scholars is Elgen Long who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II. During his civilian career he set fifteen flying records including his 1971 flight around the world over both poles. His book, Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved explains his "crash and sink" theory of Earhart's disappearance.
Most recently, author, David Jourdan caught the Earhart bug. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served as a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer during the Cold War and earned a Masters Degree in physics and engineering at Johns Hopkins. In 1986 he co-founded Nauticos, a deep ocean exploration company. Nauticos provides ocean technology services to government, science and industry.
The company's search record is impressive. In 1995 it participated in the discovery of a Japanese submarine at 17000 feet. In 1998 it handled the live feed for the broadcast from the wreck of the Titanic. In 1999, Nauticos discovered the Israeli sub, Dakar. In the course of that search, sonar equipment detected several mysterious objects at about 10,000 feet among them, the wreck of an ancient trading vessel over 2000 years old, which completely changed the theories of early sea trade in the Mediterranean. The search for Earhart seemed a natural.
Jourdan's first book recounted the discovery of the Dakar. The Deep Sea Search for Amelia Earhart is the second in the series Jourdan calls "Never Forgotten". Earhart is thought to have gone down in the mid-Pacific in the vicinity of Howland Island. In 2002 and 2006, Jourdan organized and participated in two separate searches for evidence of Earhart's crash. Elgen Long was the expedition leader for both voyages.
Howland Island is 1930 miles from Hawaii--seven day trip on a research vessel. Upon arriving in the theoretical vicinity of Earhart's crash, the task was to launch a complex scanner as low as it could go (18,000 + feet) and tow it back and forth along the bottom in a specific grid. Images were sent through a fiber optic cable to very fancy computers on board ship for analysis.
As program coordinator, Jourdan kept a journal of the two separate journeys of discovery and his book is informally organized as a semi-daily log. Sayings, lists, inspirational thoughts, "nautical terms of the day" and other serendipitous thoughts interrupt the description of the daily business at hand, the progress of the search. Excerpts from the first voyage's "classifieds" develop into a ship's newspaper during the second voyage. These quirky inclusions and interruptions to the very serious business are indicative of the spirit the whole endeavor. Camaraderie, high spirits and competence were the binding ingredients of Jourdan's expedition.
Knowledge was widely shared among the diverse collection of skilled people among the ships' crews and project personnel. Discipline and diversion played a well-balanced part in maintaining high moral. Both the 2002 boat, R/V Davidson (175') and the 2006 boat, R/V Mt. Mitchell (231') were happy ships right up until disaster struck (a different major problem occurred during each of the two voyages). Personnel pulled together both times, reflecting humane and reasoned leadership.
Jourdan is an engaging writer. His account is lively, personal and upbeat. The boat crew and the project personnel are hugely talented and it is obvious that Jourdan is duly appreciative of their services. That attitude alone makes the book a pleasure...then add exotic surroundings, a semi-mad quest, esoteric, cutting edge tools and instruments (including my favorite, the Klein System 2000 sidescan sonar) and a wry sense of humor peeking around all the big money seriousness and you have a book that is hard to put down. I hope Jourdan mounts another search and writes about it because if I can't be on the boat, I sure want to read about it.
Of course, any of the books featured in this column would make perfect gift for the right person. You know who they are. Among my favorites from this year's selections are The World Is Blue by Sylvia Earle, True North by Myron Arms and a must for anyone involved yacht clubs, sailing clubs, or teaching sailing in any venue, Saving Sailing by Nicholas D. Hayes