New Evidence Supports Theory That Amelia Earhart Died in Japanese Captivity

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Since Amelia Earhart’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe came to an abrupt end in 1937, numerous theories have been attached to her fate. Some arguments, like the idea that she ran out of gas and crashed into the Pacific, are supported by experts. Others, like the theory that she changed her identity and lived in New Jersey into her old age, have more fringe appeal. Now, NBC News reports that a newly uncovered photograph may shed light on the real story behind her disappearance.

The photo shows a woman with cropped hair and pants sitting on a dock while a man with a receding hairline stands behind her. A facial recognition expert who studied the image believes that the figures are likely Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, the navigator onboard the plane with her during her final journey. The photograph is thought to date back to the time of their disappearance in 1937.

Behind them is a Japanese ship tugging a barge with an object on it estimated to be around 38 feet in length. The Lockheed Electra plane Earhart was last seen in measured 38.7 feet. If the photo is authentic—and one forensic expert is confident it is—it makes a convincing case for speculation that Earhart was captured by Japanese forces following her crash landing.

The story goes that the pilot and her navigator were taken into Japanese custody either in the Northern Mariana or Marshall Islands. This is supported by accounts from local school kids, who said they saw Earhart being taken away. Her fourth cousin, Wally Earhart, has also claimed this to be true, though he refuses to name his sources. Until this point most experts suspected that Earhart and Noonan died at sea or as castaways. If they were found by the Japanese, they would have likely died in captivity.

The newly discovered photo, labeled “Jaluit Atoll,” sat untouched in a National Archives file for decades. Retired U.S. treasury agent Les Kinney stumbled upon it in 2012, and former FBI executive assistant director Shawn Henry was called in to examine it. Henry will share his in-depth observations when the documentary Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence premieres on the History Channel on Sunday, July 9.

[h/t NBC News]