Dateline: Nikumaroro, 19 July 2012
02:00Z 7-19 (16:00 7-18 KOK)
Launched ROV to continue mowing the lawn in the primary search area.
04:00Z 7-19 (18:30 7-18 KOK)
Recovered ROV after completing two lines – 1,200 to 600 feet. We only go up the hill because it’s hard to see the surface going downhill. We are not searching the vertical cliff that goes from 600 ft up to 250 feet.
06:00Z 7-19 (20:00 7-18 KOK)
Launched AUV for all-night mission to re-survey the primary search area and collect side-scan data south of Norwich City.
After discussion and analysis of the results so far, they have decided that there is very little point in extending the trip. The problem is the nature of the reef slope: a vertical cliff from 110 feet down to 250 feet, with a shelf that runs along that contour from Nessie to Norwich City. The airplane could have come to rest there briefly and lost pieces, but they have not found anything at all on that ledge.
From there the cliff goes almost vertically down to 1,000 – 1,200 feet, with another ledge. They will spend the rest of today searching that area. That is where the Norwich City wreckage came to rest, so maybe that's where the airplane stopped.
But the question of searching for an airplane in this environment is even more basic than “what ledge” or “how far down.” Given what we now know about this place, is it reasonable to think that an airplane which sank here 75 years ago is findable? The environment is incredibly difficult, with nooks and crannies and caves and projections; it would be easy to go over and over and over the same territory for weeks and still not really cover it all. The aircraft could have floated away, as well.
So for the time they have left, they will focus on the ledges. Nothing could stick to the cliff walls, they are far too steep for anything to stick; and besides, if you get something (like a tether) caught, you can cause an avalanche (they did) and lose your ROV (they almost did).
We have collected an enormous amount of data. We won’t know exactly how much, or what it all means, until it’s integrated and analyzed, but it is certainly of great value, not only to us but to anyone doing ocean and reef research in the area. We have no idea what might be discovered as we pull together all the pieces without the fog of war to distract us.
They head for Honolulu tomorrow.