New twist to Amelia Earhart mys­tery

Blurred photo pur­ports to show air pioneer on Ja­panese-held is­land

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Jamiles Lartey Na­tional Ar­chives/Getty

A newly un­earthed pic­ture from the US na­tional ar­chives has given fresh cre­dence to a pop­u­lar the­ory about the dis­ap­pear­ance of pi­o­neer­ing avi­a­tor Amelia Earhart.

Some ex­perts say the im­age shows the pilot, her nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan and her plane in the Mar­shall Is­lands in 1937, when the ar­chi­pel­ago was oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan – prov­ing she died in Ja­panese cus­tody, rather than dur­ing a crash land­ing in the Pa­cific.

“When you pull out, and when you see the anal­y­sis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the view­ers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noo­nan,” Shawn Henry told NBC News. Henry is the former ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for the FBI and an NBC News an­a­lyst.

Kent Gib­son, a foren­sic an­a­lyst who spe­cialises in fa­cial recog­ni­tion, told the TV’s His­tory Chan­nel that it was “very likely” the in­di­vid­u­als pic­tured are Earhart and Noo­nan.

Not every­one is con­vinced, how­ever. “There is such an ap­petite for any­thing re­lated to Amelia Earhart that even some­thing this ridicu­lous will get every­body talk­ing about it,” said Ric Gillespie, au­thor of Find­ing Amelia and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Group for His­toric Air­craft Re­cov­ery.

“This is just a pic­ture of a wharf at Jaluit [in the Mar­shall Is­lands], with a bunch of peo­ple,” Gillespie said. “It’s just silly. And this is com­ing from a guy who has spent the last 28 years do­ing gen­uine re­search into the Earhart dis­ap­pear­ance and led 11 ex­pe­di­tions into the South Pa­cific.”

The pic­ture was dis­cov­ered by re­tired fed­eral agent Les Kin­ney, who scoured the na­tional ar­chives for records that may have been over­looked in the now 80-year-old mys­tery of Earhart’s last flight.

It was 2 July 1937, to­ward the end of her his­tory-mak­ing flight around the world, when Earhart van­ished some­where over the Pa­cific Ocean. The crash has long been blamed on poor weather con­di­tions and a tech­ni­cal fail­ure with the plane’s ra­dio sys­tem. Most his­to­ri­ans be­lieve that Earhart ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pa­cific Ocean.

Since no trace of Earhart, Noo­nan or her Lock­heed Elec­tra air­plane have ever been con­firmed, al­ter­na­tive the­o­ries have abounded. In Novem­ber an­other foren­sic break­through sup­ported the the­ory that Earhart may have died a cast­away on an is­land in mod­ern-day Kiri­bati.

Gillespie be­lieves there is co­pi­ous ev­i­dence to sup­port it, in­clud­ing the tim­ing of ra­dio trans­mis­sions re­ceived after the plane was no longer air­borne, the lo­ca­tion of hu­man re­mains on the then un­in­hab­ited is­land, and items he and his team have re­cov­ered – in­clud­ing mois­turiser, a zip­per from a jacket and a makeup case.

The Mar­shall Is­land the­ory has been around since at least the 1960s, fu­elled by ac­counts from is­landers who claimed they saw Earhart and Noo­nan in Ja­panese cus­tody. The new pho­to­graph shows what ap­pears to be a woman with a short hair­cut, fac­ing away from the cam­era. Gillespie notes that the woman’s hair is far too long to be that of Earhart, of whom pic­tures ex­ist from just a few days ear­lier.

De­bat­able … the wharf­side scene at Jaluit shows a woman fac­ing away from the cam­era

Amelia Earhart and nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan dis­ap­peared on a flight over the Pa­cific in 1937

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