5.3 Possible site in the Kvaløy area

In 2002, reports in the
newspaper “Tromsø” kindled new
interest for the disappearance of
the “Latham.” Two witnesses told
the newspaper that they had
seen the “Latham” floating on
the sea at Hillesøy in 1928. This
information makes it once more
necessary to look into the
hypothesis of an accident on the
coast of Norway.

To a certain extent, we have considered the hypothesis that Amundsen turned round, returned to the coast and perished there. If the “Latham” had turned round, difficult weather conditions would have been the most likely cause. Given a situation with easterly and north-easterly winds along the stretch between Troms and Bjørnøya, as was the case on the days in question in 1928, sudden changes in weather conditions are rare. The extent of fog may vary and periodical variations in wind force may occur at different times and locations.  On June 19, a boat reported strong easterly winds and heavy seas between Torsvåg and Bjørnøya. This, combined with fog /low cloud/ poor visibility, may have made captain Guilbaud turn round.

In 1928 there were rumours that the “Latham” had been seen on the coast of Norway on the days following June 18. Parts of the coast were searched using an Italian Dornier Wal, the “Marina I,” but nothing was found. At the time, reporting observations or finds was not the natural thing to do for most people. Naval officer Hovdenak, who co-ordinated the search operation between French and Norwegian authorities, puts it this way in his book (1934):
    “ … However, I once asked the skipper of a hunting vessel why he didn’t just come up to the hotel after he had read our call for information in the newspaper. In that way he would have saved me a lot of trouble. “Oh no,” he said, “you know, you feel a bit humble when you see your kind of people, but you seem like an ordinary person, that you can talk to, so if I’d known that, I suppose I could have come up …”

A few months later, a fuel tank, a pontoon (and perhaps a white cylinder) from the “Latham” were found along the coast. We also know from reliable sources (2002) that an aircraft was seen on a June evening, and later at night in 1928, in the Hillesøy area. One of the observations took place at 8 or 9 in the evening, off Værholmen, and here, the aircraft was was said to have been on the sea. The other took place around midnight near Vasstrand, not far from Værholmen. In this case, the aircraft was seen taking off from the fjord. It flew over the sea at relatively low altitude and seemed to continue in that manner past the beacon at Vasstrandnes.

We do not know the exact date for either of these observations, apart from the fact that they occurred around the time Amundsen disappeared. Nor do we know whether it was the same aircraft in both cases. The “Latham” passed by Laukvik at 4.20 p.m. and continued northwards over the Tromsøflaket on its way out from Tromsø, northwards towards Bjørnøya. As mentioned, one hypothesis is that the aircraft had problems, turned round, and flew in towards the coast again in the evening, before taking off again later that night. However, some days later, on the evening of June 28, the Italian aircraft “Marina I” was involved in a search for the “Latham.” The aircraft observed may then have been the “Marina,” the “Latham,” or even both.

The “Latham” could fly at speeds of 130 to 140 km.p.h, i.e. a maximum speed of 75 knots. Based on the time the aircraft was observed at Hekkingen and until the last radio message was received at 6.55 p.m., when everything seemed to be normal, the aircraft would have covered a distance of 180 nautical miles. If we add 30 minutes (35 nautical miles) before the Latham possibly turned round, her position would have been approx. 73°N 18°E. On the return journey to Sommarøy, with the addition of a favourable wind component of 15 knots, the aircraft would have taken 150 minutes, arriving at about 9.45 p.m. at best.

In the light of the objects that have been found, it seems unlikely that the accident occurred on or near the coast. Given the predominant direction of the current and the lack of wind, the torn-off pontoon had, in that case, drifted a short distance in the sea during a period of just over two months. It is also difficult to explain the fuel tank find on the Haltenbanken if the accident occurred in the vicinity of Karlsøy. On the other hand, if we had managed to locate the cylinder found at Skittenelv, and this proved to originate from the “Latham,” then this would provide a strong indication that the accident took place on the coast between Hekkingen and Torsvåg.


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