A new documentary on the History Channel presented the theory that Amelia Earhart survived her crash landing, was taken prisoner in Japan, and the American government has worked for years to cover it up. This theory was largely supported by a single photograph, which a blogger seems to have unearthed in the Japanese national archives, immediately disproving the whole thing.
The Guardian reports that military history blogger Kota Yamano published the photo to his blog in the proper context, finding it after about 30 minutes of looking through Japan’s national library, on a page from a Japanese-language travel book on the South Seas. The book was published in 1935, two years before Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated plane took off, and she almost certainly met her death on an uninhabited island in the Pacific. Yamano seems surprised the documentary-makers didn’t try to corroborate the photo better:
“I have never believed the theory that Earhart was captured by the Japanese military, so I decided to find out for myself,” Yamano told the Guardian. “I was sure that the same photo must be on record in Japan.”
Yamano ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long timeframe starting in 1930.
“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said. “I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”
The documentary interviews retired US treasury agent Les Kinney, who found a version of the undated image in the U.S. archives and used it to support the idea that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan ended up on the Marshall Islands and were killed by the Japanese, though their journey predates the beginnings of WWII.
Other Earhart obsessives have long contested this conspiracy theory, which has been around for decades. Such as Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, who told The Guardian that even aside from the blurriness of the figures being described as Earhart and Noonan, the harbor visuals indicate that the photo was likely taken in the early ‘30s or late ‘20s.
“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.”
But who knows what new evidence will still arise! There must be more to this Earhart thing, right? Unless she’s been dead for 80 years on an island in the Pacific?