The fate of aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan has remained an enigma for 80 years, but a recently discovered photograph may attempt to solve that mystery.
Earhart and Noonan departed to circumnavigate the globe on July 2, 1937, in what would be a 29,000-mile flight. On the final stretch of their attempt, they both disappeared. A widely accepted theory says Earhart died after running out of fuel and crashing into the Pacific Ocean, but former FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry is backing up a different idea.
The black-and-white image obtained by the History Channel suggests Earhart and Noonan survived the plane crash and were captured by the Japanese military. In it, two people who resemble Earhart and Noonan are seen on a dock with their Lockheed Electra airplane aboard a ship. The photo would back the theory that the two survived a crash-landing in the Marshall Islands and were held prisoner by the Japanese military on the island of Saipan until their deaths.
“This absolutely changes history,” Henry said. He also proposed that the Japanese government thought Earhart and Noonan were American spies.
Former U.S. Treasury Agent Les Kinney discovered the photo in National Archives records in 2012, which is revealed in investigative documentary “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” airing Sunday, July 9 at 9 p.m. on History.
The photo, which Kinney believes must have been taken before 1943, shows a ship towing a barge with an airplane on the back with several people on a nearby dock. Two independent analyses by Doug Carner and Kent Gibson said the photo appears to be legitimate, according to People. Carner determined it had not been altered, and Gibson, who specializes in facial recognition, said it’s likely the individuals are Earhart and Noonan. They both recognized the ship in the photo as Koshu Maru, a Japanese military vessel said to have captured the duo after their crash.
This Japanese military theory has been in discussion since the 1960s, and is backed by witnesses who apparently saw their aircraft land and saw the two in Japanese custody.
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