Dateline: Nikumaroro, 18 July 2012
Yesterday’s rescue of the AUV involved hard throttle usage keeping the ship in position, and that caused a propulsion system failure that took six hours to repair. The afternoon was lost for searching, so Ric and TIGHAR cameraman Mark Smith went with the ship’s bosun in the skiff to check landing channel conditions. They found it to be in mid-tide on a rising tide with a moderate swell – not great landing conditions but acceptable. Roughly 25 people availed themselves of the opportunity to go ashore.
By 04:30Z 18 Jul (18:30 17 Jul KOK) all the tourists were back aboard safely. Everyone was impressed with the island’s beauty. This was a good break from the tension of underwater operations.
The ship’s propulsion system problems were repaired and were tested during the night. ROV search operations were resumed at 08:00 (KOK) with a dive to locate and examine the promising target we couldn’t find yesterday. Analysis of the 17th’s AUV side-scan data showed yet another “strong Category 2” target in a different location.
The second target turned out to be a large coral boulder; everything with the AUV’s sonar turns on the exact angle as it flies past, and it’s tough to program in repeated passes when you don’t know what’s there or what might be there. In fact, the AUV did not see any of the Norwich City wreckage on the first several passes – it required a completely different angle and approach and suddenly the great mass of crumbling steel appeared.
The other target, after much work and discussion, was finally decided to be a piece of the Norwich City’s keel, much degraded and skeletonized. Now they are going back to the “mowing the lawn” approach, a visual search which is more discriminating and more accurate at acquiring targets than the side-scan in this environment. The hope is that they will pick up a debris field and be able to follow a trail, as it were – much like was done to find the Titanic. But it is, of course, possible that the aircraft floated for some time and drifted out to sea. If that is the case, it is not too likely that any small parts will be found. But they are far from done, and the possibility of extending the trip for one or two days to compensate for the lost time due to equipment problems is also being discussed.