WATCH: “This could rewrite history.” Investigators uncover new photo that they believe shows Amelia Earhart alive in Japanese custody pic.twitter.com/QmH1NX3uzJ— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 5, 2017
Almost 80 years after the U.S. government declared Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean, and her navigator Fred Noonan legally dead, a never seen before photo emerged shedding some light on the mysterious circumstances around the legendary aviator’s disappearance.
Earhart’s plane vanished without a trace after she set off to fly around the globe in July 1937. The common theory was the plane crashed somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although their bodies were never discovered, they were officially pronounced dead two years later.
However, it turns out both Earhart and Noonan might have survived the crash.
Investigator Les Kinney found a formerly top secret photo in the National Archives, which will be featured in a new History Channel special called "Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence.” The picture was reportedly taken in 1937 on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which were then under Japanese control.
It means Earhart and Noonan could have very well died as Japanese hostages.
“For decades, locals have claimed they saw Earhart's plane crash before she and Noonan were taken away," NBC News wrote of the History Channel documentary. “Native school kids insisted they saw Earhart in captivity. The story was even documented in postage stamps issued in the 1980s.”
Analysts are confident the fuzzy photo, which appears to show two Caucasians (who look suspiciously like the American aviators) sitting on a dock surrounded by local islanders, has not been doctored. It is important to note the Japanese banned all westerners from the islands by 1937, which makes the photo seem even more genuine.
“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,” said former FBI executive assistant director and NBC News analyst Shawn Henry.
The experts also pointed out how the man’s hairline and nose seem to match Noonan’s description while the woman’s short hair and pants mirror Earhart’s iconic appearance.
“The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic,” explained facial recognition expert Ken Gibson. “It's a very sharp receding hairline. The nose is very prominent.”
To make things even interesting, there is a Japanese warship — identified a Koshu — towing what looks like Earhart's plane in the background.
“We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan [in the Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer of the History Channel special. “We don't know how she died. We don't know when.”
When it comes to Earhart’s disappearance, which continues to baffle historians, these are the five most popular theories:
1. Earhart ran out of gas and crashed into the sea
2. She survived the crash but died as a castaway on a remote island
3. Earhart and Noonan were spies on a secret mission, approved by President Franklin Roosevelt, to gather intelligence about the Japanese
4. The Japanese captured her, as the photo suggests
… and last but not the least
5. She failed her mission and returned to the U.S., quietly spending the rest of her life under the assumed name Irene Bolam
Whatever the truth might be, the shocking discovery of this photo certainly changes things.