Lew Toulmin, MN ’04, of the ECWG has been carrying Explorers Club Flag 101 in an expedition in the southwestern Pacific island nation of Vanuatu to document Ambae island, which is the real “Bali-ha’i” in James Michener’s 1946 book Tales of the South Pacific. The book was the basis of the Broadway musical and movie, South Pacific.
Toulmin has also identified a mystery airplane wreck on the north shore of Ambae. Through interviewing eyewitnesses to the crash, researching military records, and matching part numbers, he has established that the plane was an F4U-1 Corsair fighter flown by Lt. John Date, Jr., USMCR. Lt. Date crashed on 17 May 1944, after developing engine trouble. He survived the crash by parachuting out at the last minute, and lived until 1973.
The Corsair struck a village and almost hit a wedding party of 100, but luckily no-one was hurt. Toulmin has tracked down Lt. Date’s family in Arizona, and is arranging to donate a part of the Corsair to the family. Parts of the Ambae plane and six other planes are being used by an air museum in Adelaide, Australia in a six year project to re-create an accurate Corsair Toulmin’s expedition is donating its research, including a 220-page report plus extensive backup material, to the museum.
Toulmin is also studying other aspects of Ambae/”Bali-ha’i” — including central Mt. Manaro, one of the ten most dangerous volcanoes in the world; the island’s inadequate evacuation plans; the bizarre pig-killing ceremony that dominates the island; and a chief’s stone-moving ceremony that has previously been undocumented by science.