Doubt over Earhart pho­to­graph claims

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

MAJURO, Mar­shall Is­lands — A Mar­shall Is­lands-based mil­i­tary ex­pert has cast fur­ther doubt on claims that a blurry pho­to­graph shows famed US avi­a­tor Amelia Earhart alive in the ter­ri­tory in 1937.

The fate of the leg­endary pi­lot and her nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan dur­ing their roundthe-world flight is one of avi­a­tion’s great­est mys­ter­ies, and has fas­ci­nated his­to­ri­ans for decades.

Earhart and Noo­nan van­ished on July 2, 1937, af­ter tak­ing off from Lae, Pa­pua New Guinea, and the pre­vail­ing be­lief is that they ran out of fuel and ditched their twin-en­gine Lockheed Elec­tra in the Pa­cific Ocean near re­mote How­land Is­land.

But a doc­u­men­tary be­ing aired on the His­tory Chan­nel — Amelia Earhart: The Lost Ev­i­dence — claims to have un­earthed a be­guil­ing new clue about what hap­pened to the pair.

The pro­gram sug­gests that Earhart, who was seek­ing to be­come the first woman flier to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe, and Noo­nan may have sur­vived and been taken pris­oner by Ja­panese forces.

It cites a blurry black-and­white pho­to­graph dis­cov­ered in the Na­tional Ar­chives in Wash­ing­ton, pur­port­edly show­ing the pair in the Mar­shall Is­lands af­ter their cap­ture.

But mil­i­tary ex­pert Matthew B. Holly said the photo ap­peared to have been taken about a decade ear­lier.

“From the Mar­shallese vis­ual back­ground, lack of Ja­panese flags fly­ing on any ves­sels but one, and the age con­fig­u­ra­tion of the steam-driven steel ves­sels, the photo is closer to the late 1920s or early 1930s, not any­where near 1937,” he said.

Holly, a US cit­i­zen liv­ing in Majuro, has spent decades iden­ti­fy­ing the lo­ca­tions of lost air­craft and the iden­ti­ties of US ser­vice­men killed in ac­tion in the western Pa­cific na­tion.

He added that by Jan­uary 1937 the Ja­panese had closed most of Mi­crone­sia to for­eign ves­sels, “in­clud­ing Mar­shallese com­merce, which is ob­vi­ously flour­ish­ing in this photo.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, there are no Ja­panese sailors to be seen.”

There is no dis­pute that the photo shows the dock at Ja­bor Is­land in Jaluit Atoll, which was the head­quar­ters for Ja­pan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Mar­shall Is­lands be­tween World War I and World War II.

Dur­ing the 1920s and early 1930s, Ja­panese busi­nesses flour­ished on Jaluit, pur­chas­ing co­pra — dried co­conut flesh used to make co­conut oil — from Mar­shall Is­lan­ders.

But the In­ter­na­tional Group for His­toric Air­craft Re­cov­ery, which has spent decades try­ing to fig­ure out what hap­pened to Earhart and Noo­nan, also dis­putes that they are the pair in the photo.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Richard Gille­spie pre­vi­ously said the photo was “laugh­able” as a piece of ev­i­dence.

“This is just a pic­ture of some peo­ple on Jaluit wharf,” he said. “Where are the Ja­panese? Where are the sol­diers?”

Mar­shall Is­lan­ders have claimed over the years that Earhart and Noo­nan sur­vived an emer­gency land­ing and were cap­tured by the Ja­panese.

Two years ago, US in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they had lo­cated parts of Earhart’s plane on Mili Atoll in the Mar­shall Is­lands.

It’s things they can do to lessen their im­pact on the co­ral reef ... We just wanted to get their at­ten­tion.” Bill Becker, co-founder of the un­der­wa­ter mu­sic fes­ti­val

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