What Really Happened To Amelia Earhart?

Amelia Earhart's 1937 disappearance is a mystery for the ages. Before you start yelling "Bermuda Triangle!," feast your eyes on a photo surfaced in July 2017 that may tell a new story. That's what plenty of internet users did, and it was pretty convincing until it was swiftly debunked. Maybe latch onto the coconut crab theory instead.

Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, Jaluit Island. ONI #14381 Jaluit Harbor.

Amelia, Is That You?

Earhart broke the record for highest altitude achieved by a woman, and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. But let's get to the real juicy stuff. In July of 1937, while attempting the longest-ever round-the-world flight, she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared. Did they crash? Were they marooned? Did they literally disappear off the face of the Earth into the enigmatic Bermuda Triangle? WE NEED ANSWERS.

Almost exactly 80 years after the disappearance, new evidence popped up providing speculators with another theory (not a new theory, mind you). In July 2017, History surfaced an old photo from the U.S. National Archives dug up by retired federal agent Les Kinney that appears to depict (a blurry) Earhart and Noonan. It supposedly shows Earhart sitting with her back to the camera and Noonan standing on a dock in Jaluit, an atoll in the Marshall Islands.

If this photo is the real deal, it would suggest Earhart and Noonan survived their crash and were detained at the then-Japanese Island. Shawn Henry, a former F.B.I. executive assistant director who had been working with History to investigate the photo for about a year, told the New York Times "it's beyond a reasonable doubt" that the photo is legit.

Ric Gillespie, author of Finding Amelia and executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), is on the flip side of that argument, telling the BBC, "This photograph has people convinced. I'm astounded by this. I mean, my God! Look at this photograph... Let's use our heads for a moment. It's undated. They think it's from 1937. Okay. If it's from July 1, 1937 then it can't be Amelia, because she hadn't taken off yet. If it's from 1935 or 1938 it can't be her... This photograph has to have been taken within a very narrow window — within a couple of days of when she disappeared." He also points out the fact that there are no uniformed officers in the photo. They're in Japanese custody? Nah.

Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in July 1937.

That Was Fun While It Lasted, Huh?

Though the internet immediately drummed up a viral firestorm over the photo, there's just one problem: the photo is bogus. Bummer. Military history blogger Kota Yamano dug up the origin of the photo in Japan's national archives, publishing the results on his blog. He discovered that the photograph was part of a Japanese-language travelogue about the South Seas that was published about two years before Earhart disappeared, reports The Guardian. Page 113 states the book was published in Japanese-held Palau on October 10, 1935. It only took Yamono 30 minutes to debunk all the hoopla by running an online search with a set timeframe and the keyword "Jaluit atoll."

"The photo was the 10th item that came up," he told The Guardian. "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." Welp, easy come, easy go.

Pick A Theory, Any Theory

Time to pick a new Earhart disappearance theory. Certainly one of the most colorful ideas suggests that Earhart crashed into the Marshall Islands and was eaten by comically large coconut crabs. You know these creatures as the crabs that literally eat kittens.

Or just play it straight and go with the official U.S. position on the matter: Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel on the way to Howland Island and crashed in the Pacific Ocean. If you're leaning more on the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery's (TIGHAR) side, you may think Earhart and Noonan landed on Nikumaroro Island when they couldn't find Howland. Hardcore conspiracy theorists may say Earhart was a spy, and her craft was shot or forced down during a mission to gather intelligence about the Japanese in the Marshall Islands. Take your pick.

For more information on Amelia Earhart, check out "Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last: Second Editon" by Mike Campbell. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Where's Amelia Earhart?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Amelia Earhart was last seen on July 2, 1937. 00:00

  2. After Amelia Earhart's disappearance, the Navy concluded that her plane ran out of gas and crashed into the ocean near Howland Island. 00:35

  3. Some believe that Amelia Earhart and her navigator died as castaways on a deserted attol. 01:42

Written by Curiosity Staff July 8, 2017

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