Speed Reads

rewriting history

Amelia Earhart might have died in Japanese captivity — not a plane crash at sea

One of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century might be a step closer to resolution thanks to a long-unnoticed photo tucked away in the National Archives. Former executive assistant director for the FBI, Shawn Henry, believes he has uncovered photographic evidence that depicts Amelia Earhart in Japanese custody after she vanished with her navigator, Fred Noonan, on July 2, 1937 en route between New Guinea and Howland Island.

The standing theory is that Earhart and Noonan died at sea after running out of fuel, or perhaps crash landed on the island of Nikumaroro. But expert analysis of the photo, which was possibly taken by a U.S. spy, has found that the image is apparently authentic and un-doctored, making it a promising lead. Ken Gibson, who specializes in facial recognition, believes both Noonan and Earhart are in the photo: "I usually go from 'not likely,' to 'likely,' to 'very likely,' to 'extremely likely,'" he told Today. "And I'd say this is very likely."

Japanese authorities responded to the news by claiming they have no information about Earhart ever being in their custody, but no officials from Earhart's time are alive today and many Japanese military documents were destroyed during the war. As for if the Americans knew Earhart might have been in the hands of the Japanese, NBC News' Tom Costello added that "another file, Office of Naval Investigations, a thick file on Amelia Earhart and the Marshall Islands, 170 pages, is missing. Was it purged? If so, by whom and when?"

The full documentary about the photograph airs on the History Channel on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Learn more about the possibility that Earhart and Noonan survived the crash below. Jeva Lange