‘The Lost Evidence’

Fin­der of po­ten­tial game-chang­ing Earhart pix tells story


The re­tired fed­eral agent who dis­cov­ered what he be­lieves is the first pho­to­graphic evidence of Amelia Earhart alive and well af­ter crash-land­ing in the Pa­cific Ocean dur­ing her attempted round-the-world flight says he didn’t ini­tially cap­ture the sig­nif­i­cance of the im­age un­til years later.

The black-and-white photo is of a group of peo­ple stand­ing on a dock on Jaluit Atoll in the Mar­shall Is­lands, in­clud­ing one who seems to be a slim woman with her back to the cam­era. A new doc­u­men­tary air­ing Sun­day on the His­tory chan­nel claims the fig­ure is the famed avi­a­tor who dis­ap­peared 80 years ago this month.

Re­tired U.S. Trea­sury Agent Les Kin­ney said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day with The As­so­ci­ated Press that he was look­ing for clues sur­round­ing Earhart’s dis­ap­pear­ance in the Na­tional Ar­chives in College Park, Mary­land, when he found the pho­to­graph in 2012 in a box filled mostly with text doc­u­ments from the Office of Naval In­tel­li­gence but “didn’t re­ally look at it care­fully” be­cause he was look­ing over thou­sands of doc­u­ments and im­ages.

In 2015, he took an­other pass at the photo. “I looked at it and I went, ‘I can’t be­lieve this!”’ He asked his wife to come over and pointed to the seated per­son, ask­ing if it seemed to her to be a man or a woman. “She said, ‘It’s a woman!”’ His search led him to iden­tify the ship seen at the right ap­par­ently pulling Earhart’s plane wreck­age on a barge.

The im­age is at the heart of the two-hour “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which ar­gues that Earhart, along with her nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan, crash-landed in the Ja­pane­se­held Mar­shall Is­lands, where they were picked up by the Ja­panese mil­i­tary and held prisoner.

In the doc­u­men­tary, that photo is sub­jected to fa­cial­recog­ni­tion and other foren­sic test­ing, such as torso mea­sure­ments. Ex­perts on the show claim the subjects are likely that of Earhart and Noo­nan.

Oth­ers aren’t con­vinced, in­clud­ing Dorothy Cochrane, a cu­ra­tor at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum and an ex­pert on women in avi­a­tion. She said Thurs­day the blurry im­age isn’t con­clu­sive. “I can­not say defini­tively that this is Amelia Earhart. That doesn’t mean that it might not be, some­how. But you can’t say that just through the im­age the way it is.”

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Earhart and Noo­nan on July 2, 1937, in the West­ern Pa­cific Ocean has been the sub­ject of con­tin­u­ing searches, re­search and de­bate.

The long­stand­ing of­fi­cial the­ory is that the famed pi­lot ran out of gas and crashed into deep ocean wa­ters north­west of How­land Is­land, a tiny speck in the South Pa­cific that she and Noo­nan missed.

Other the­o­ries have claimed Earhart made an emer­gency land­ing on a flat stretch of co­ral reef off what was then known as Gard­ner Is­land, south­west of How­land, al­though bone fragments found on the is­land were in­con­clu­sive. An Aus­tralian re­searcher once pro­posed that wreck­age spot­ted by mem­bers of his coun­try’s mil­i­tary years ago on a Pa­pua New Guinea is­land could be hers.

Kin­ney, who started his ca­reer as a naval in­tel­li­gence agent, said the pho­to­graph he found was in a batch of doc­u­ments col­lected by U.S. sources in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the 1944 in­va­sion of the Mar­shall Is­lands.


This un­dated photo dis­cov­ered in the U.S. Na­tional Archives by Les Kin­ney shows peo­ple on a dock in Jaluit Atoll, Mar­shall Is­lands. A new doc­u­men­tary film pro­poses that this im­age shows avi­a­tor Amelia Earhart, seated third from right, gaz­ing at what...

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