Long-Lost Photo Suggests Amelia Earhart Died A Prisoner In Japan, Per A New Theory


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Amelia Earhart in 1936. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

On the morning of June 2, 1937, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific as she attempted to become the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe. Earhart, her co-pilot Fred Noonan, and her plane were never officially seen again. Ever since, the story has been surrounded by mystery and intrigue.

Now, a new photograph is adding fuel to the fire and stirring the rumor mill once again.


The black-and-white photograph was found in the US National Archives as part of a US History Channel special that airs this Sunday. Experts working on the research believe the image (below) shows both Earhart and Noonan alive and well in Jaluit Atoll, part of the Japanese-Marshall Islands. They even believe it shows Earhart’s famous Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane.

If legit, this image suggests Earhart and Noonan survived the crash. Shawn Henry, lead investigator on the show and former executive assistant director for the FBI, believes that the pair were then captured by the Japanese and died as prisoners.

“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," Henry told NBC News.

The supposed plane is all the way to the right in the distance. US National Archives

Although the experts say there’s no evidence to suggest the photograph is fake or doctored, the image is blurry and open to interpretation. The possible Earhart even has her back to the camera and Noonan is merely a vague silhouette (image below).


That said, the photograph ties in well with one of the biggest alternative theories for their fate following the crash. Locals from the island recall stories of an American lady with short hair and a man. Shortly after, the story goes, Noonan was executed and Earhart died in prison. Japanese officials have previously stated that they have no records of Earhart or Noonan being in their custody. 

Needless to say, this is still a lot of conjecture and many other experts are skeptical

“This is just a picture of a wharf at Jaluit, with a bunch of people,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, told the Guardian. “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 current consensus among historians is that Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel or had a fault, causing it to plunge into the depths of the Pacific. Another theory is that she lived as a castaway on a remote Pacific Island. The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery even claims to have recovered her skeleton.


 Over 80 years since the fateful crash, it seems the hard truth is still yet to be found.

US National Archives


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