Amelia Earhart, perhaps as no other missing person, has captured and held the imagination of the public over a span of decades since her disappearance over the South Pacific in 1937. There are three main theories about her disappearance.

  1. She ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific.
  2. She landed on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) where she and Fred Noonan died of starvation/thirst.
  3. She landed somewhere in the Marshall Islands, then held under a League of Nations mandate by Japan and was arrested and subsequently died or was executed.

There are lots of other theories. One is that she lived out her life as a New Jersey housewife named Irene Craigmile Bolam.

In my view, 1 and 2 are the frontrunners. Contrary to popular belief, radio transmissions were triangulated all along her route and her location just before fuel had to run out has been known since 1937. While theory 1 has statistics in its favor (little plane, big ocean), theory 2 has some forensic and documentary evidence to support it. But the most favored theory is number 3 despite there being virtually no evidence beyond alleged first person sightings.

Yesterday, the History Channel, that would be the academic television network that put George Washington in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, sent out this tweet:

What’s the story?

Now, investigators believe they have discovered the “smoking gun” that would support a decades-old theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured by the Japanese: a newly unearthed photograph from the National Archives that purportedly shows Earhart and Noonan — and their plane — on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.

“I was originally skeptical until we could get the photograph authenticated,” Shawn Henry, a former FBI assistant executive director who is now helping privately investigate the Earhart disappearance, told The Washington Post. “The fact that it came out of the National Archives as opposed to somebody’s basement or garage somewhere — that to me gave it a lot more credibility.”

he 8-by-10-inch black-and-white photograph went ignored in a stack of 20 or 30 other pictures until Kinney took a closer look a few months later, Henry said.

In the photo, a figure with Earhart’s haircut and approximate body type sits on the dock, facing away from the camera, Henry points out. Toward the left of the dock is a man they believe is Noonan. On the far right of the photo is a barge with an airplane on it, supposedly Earhart’s.

This is the picture (credit Daily Mail)

earhart-image

Like so much of the Earhart post-disappearance legend, this one gets shaky once you examine it.

For instance, if Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese, as hypothesized, why are they lolling about on a pier without any Japanese soldiers or Japanese-looking people around? The image was taken on Jaluit atoll, but the location of Jaluit makes it very unlikely that Earhart would have made it there. The radio direction finding bearings of Earhart all converge in the Phoenix Islands but Jaluit, marked by the red arrow, is far outside the RDF bearings and her planned route.

earhart-radio

And then there is the provenance of the images themselves.

As the MailOnline’s investigator who uncovered the questionable photo notes: ‘In the archives I found that the envelopes containing the photographs were stamped on the lower rear corner – something that was difficult to notice as they’re in a three-ring binder/enclosure.

‘The (aerial) surveillance photos in the first few envelopes were dated earlier than the 1940s, but the photos taken from on the island (Jaluit), that were in the latter envelopes, were dated 1940+’.

On the whole, this new theory looks about as plausible as the New Jersey housewife theory. But History Channel is on the case and whatever could go wrong?