Rockefeller & Earhart: Misadventure in New Guinea

Rockefeller and Earhart were never seen again.

Two Americans. One a man the other a woman. One a budding anthropologist the other an established aviator. The man was 23 and the woman was 40.  Both were lured to the island of New Guinea by adventure – and both were never seen again.

Amelia Earhart is a name that is synonymous with New Guinea (modern PNG) and particularly Lae, as that was the last place she was seen alive before she departed on her incomplete mission to fly around the world.

As I was reading Malum Nalu’s blog about Amelia Earhart, I abruptly remembered that there was another well known American who disappeared on the island of New Guinea, but on the western half of the island (modern Indonesia) – Michael Rockefeller.

Michael Rockefeller (1938-1961) was the youngest son of New York Governor and former Vice President of the United States, Nelson D. Rockefeller. He was also the heir and fourth-generation descendent of America’s richest man and first billionaire – John D. Rockefeller.

Michael Rockefeller with tribesman of Western New Guinea

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller went to New Guinea on an anthropological expedition to the Asmat region of southwestern New Guinea with a catamaran, a friend and two native assistants.

They capsized at the mouth of the Eilanden River where the two native assistants swam to shore for help while Michael Rockefeller and his friend remained clinging to the boat. After nearly a day of waiting, Michael decided to swim to shore, fashioning a floatation device out of two empty gasoline cans. His friend remained with the boat and was later rescued.

With no sign of Michael Rockefeller to be found, a search and rescue effort was launched. The massive search efforts included helicopters, ships, and more than 1,000 native canoes, and the personal presence of his father Nelson and Michael’s twin sister Mary. Both the Australian and Dutch navy were involved. After 10 days, his father called the search off.

There was nothing more they could do. Despite all of the effort, he was never seen again and no trace of his body was ever found.


To read more about Amelia Earhart click here.

To read about David Billings’ theory about Earhart and his campaign to find her plane click here.

~ by Tavurvur on November 7, 2008.

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