New twist to Amelia Earhart mystery
Blurred photo purports to show air pioneer on Japanese-held island
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