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The San Francisco Bay Model shows the escapees could have survived


The Dutch scientists visit the physical model of the San Francisco Bay and delta system to test their theory before they test their raincoat raft in the bay itself. They built a little boat and put it in the bay model to see where it ends up. Were the escapees able to make it to the shore?

Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape, premieres nationally Tuesday, March 29 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).


TOM KENDALL Yes. So this is a large physical model of the San Francisco Bay and delta system.

ROLF HUT The tidal cycle over there is only there is only every 15 minutes so what if I go out one hour after low tide and then 15 minutes later you can test, what if I go out two hours after low tide. TOM KENDALL It's used in missing person cases in particular. When a body washes up on shore somewhere the question is often, well where did this person enter into the water? And so the ability to go through a 12hour tidal cycle in 15 minutes and watch where things go is one of the beauties of this tool. ROLF HUT Hey guys look what I built. A little boat and a little release mechanism, some tape, some superglue, some office supplies. ROLF HUT But I think the tide is going out right now which would be when we said that they went. T: OK R: So I'm just gonna put it in. This is my kind of science. TOM KENDALL 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ROLF HUT We just had our floaty going with the tides. ROLF HUT So this is would be without paddling.

TOM KENDALL So they just let the raft take them where it would take them. R: Yeah ROLF HUT It's now, so this is the tidal slack point. It should be slowing down. Slack tide is the brief window of slowing current that happens between the incoming and outgoing tide. TOM KENDALL You've gotta really time it around the slack water. If its not slack water - everybody goes out the gate. TOM KENDALL Yeah.

I think if they went out the Golden Gate then it was probably history for them. On the first attempt, without paddle power, the raft is swept out to sea.

ROLF HUT Then you see exactly the same thing as in the model, you go straight in the middle of the golden gate bridge out into the pacific and die. What we did in our computer model was we looked at the difference between what if you just go with the flow, versus what if you paddle.

But then of course, I cannot put paddling mice or I think even ants at that scale on it. So we did a final attempt and in that final attempt, Fedor was holding an office fan that mimicked the northwards affect that paddling could have. TOM KENDALL Yeah, so this is when I think they had a chance because the currents are not that strong. Rolf (They're not that strong) The second time, Fedor uses an office fan to simulate the forward motion of men paddling the raft. FEDOR BAART So I'm just going to give it a bit or northward movement.

And the last hundred meters I had to turn up the nob to full speed. When the raft approaches the strong band of current blocking it from Horseshoe Bay, Fedor cranks up the fan. ROLF HUT As if that last, rush of adrenaline, and 'oh my god we're gonna die,' rush of adrenaline, gave them enough energy to do a final paddle and make it. All: Nice. There we go! That's how we do it. FEDOR BAART It was interesting to see that the float ends up exactly where we predicted. ROLF HUT Ok I want to see you do that in two days, for real. TOM KENDALL But if it's got any kind of speed and the vessel doesn't sink - it looks very doable to me. ROLF HUT We should be able to make it! Given that the boat holds and that there's no freighter whatever going in between. But from just a flow and water movement perspective. Doable! We might live! (laughs) What they've seen here suggests that their computer model is right: If the escapees were able to get past the invisible current of water blocking Horseshoe Bay, they could have survived. It may have also solved another mystery.

After the escape, searchers found paddles and other debris near angel island - which gave rise to the theory the men made landfall there. But the Dutch model shows that when tides reverse, items dropped in the surf off Horseshoe Bay are pushed right back to Angel Island.


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