The mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart (and her navigator Fred Noonan) after she disappeared along with her plane over the Pacific Ocean while trying to become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe, has remained unsolved for 80 years. But a new photo which featured on a History channel documentary has reignited the debate about how and where her plane crashed and more importantly, where and when she died.
After a distress call was sent from her plane noting she was running out of fuel it is commonly thought her plane went down with her on it after her fuel tamks were exhausted. This was in 1937. In 1939 Amelia Earhart was legally declared dead but her remains, and those of Noonan, have never been found.
Hence the huge mystery surrounding what happened to them. A recent History channel documentary, Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, points to a possible solution, which revolves around a photo found by investigator and retired US Treasury Agent Les Kinney in 2012 in the National Archives. The caption to the pic says it was taken in 1937 on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands, then under Japanese control.
Photos Of Amelia Earhart After Her Plane Crash
In the photo there are two people who it's claimed are Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Earhart is sat down with her back to the camera, while Noonan is to the left.
According to the experts in the documentary, the hairline and nose of the man seem to match Noonan's, and the woman's short hair along with the clothes she has on, seem to match Earhart. Also, at the back of the photo a Japanese warship seems to be dragging something that could be Earhart's plane.
Former FBI official Shawn Henry Speaks Out
Former FBI official Shawn Henry claims the picture shows that Amelia Earhart didn't crash at sea in 1937 after running out of fuel, but instead landed quite safely but was then captured by the Japanese.
It is possible that the pair were suspected as spies after which it's thought Earhart and Noonan were then imprisoned on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and may have eventually died there.
“This absolutely changes history,” Henry told People Magazine. “I think we proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she survived her flight and was held prisoner by the Japanese on the island of Saipan, where she eventually died.”
Japanese Blogger Completely Debunks The Photo
However, all is not quite what it seems when it comes to the photo. Because not only do NBC News report that the Japanese authorities told them they "have no record of Earhart being in their custody." But a Japanese blogger completely debunked the photo, and it didn't take them long to do either.
After hearing about the history channel documentary a Tokyo military history blogger called Kota Yamano found the exact same photograph in the archives of the National Diet Library, which is Japan’s national library. In their blog Yamano states, "A few days ago, there was news that photographic evidence was discovered showing female aviator Amelia Earhart was captured by the Japanese army. However, as a result of the verification, the problem with the picture was that it was taken before the accident and so the hypothesis must be considered to be incorrect."
According to the blogger the pic was actually taken for a Japanese-language travel book about the South Seas which was published nearly two years before Earhart went missing. The book says it was published in Palau, an island in the western Pacific Ocean then held by the Japanese, on 10 October 1935. Amelia Earhart disappeared on 2 June 1937 so unless she's a time traveller too, the claim made by the History channel doc that it's her and Noonan can't possibly be true.
“I have never believed the theory that Earhart was captured by the Japanese military, so I decided to find out for myself,” Yamano told the Guardian. “I was sure that the same photo must be on record in Japan." After searching online for "Jaluit atoll" Yamano says, "The photo was the 10th item that came up. I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”
Have TIGHAR Found Amelia Earhart's Grave?
So, while the photo may be a dud, there is another group of researchers who might be on to something more substantial when it comes to what happened to the pilot, in fact they think they might have discovered Amelia Earhart's grave.
The group are called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and they believe that Earhart and Noonan died as castaways on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean called Nikumaroro.
The group sent an expedition to the island in June 2017 which included four border collies who sniffed out and detected human remains, which they are specialized in spotting.
“Within moments of beginning to work the site, Berkeley, a curly red male, lay down at the base of a ren tree, eyes locked on his handler, Lynne Angeloro,” report National Geographic. “The dog was ‘alerting,’ indicating to Angeloro that he had detected the scent of human remains. Next up was Kayle, a fluffy, eager-to-please female. She also alerted on the same spot. The next day Marcy and Piper, two black-and-white collies, were brought to the site. Both dogs alerted. The signals were clear: Someone — perhaps Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan — had died beneath the ren tree."
But, although the dogs may have detected something, they found no bones at the site and now soil samples from the area have been sent to a lab which specializes in extracting human DNA. No results have yet been achieved and Fred Hiebert, National Geographic’s archaeologist-in-residence, says it's very, very hard to extract DNA in tropical environments like Nikumaroro. So it's highly probable no DNA results will ever be found.
Still, according to the Washington Post one of the TIGHAR group, Ric Gillespie, says they do have a lot of evidence that shows someone, a Westerner, was on Nikumaroro in the 1930s, including, "improvised tools, remains of a shoe, aircraft wreckage, bits of makeup." None of it can be proved to belong to Amelia Earhart or Noonan though.
So, while the TIGHAR group think the photo from the History channel is—rightfully it turns out— nothing to do with Earhart and not worthy of attention, it looks like their own theory might not prove conclusive just yet either.
Check out some photos of Amelia Earhart below.