A new documentary airing on the History Channel believes one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century, that of what happened to aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, has finally been solved. But, like everything else on TV today, it's probably smart to view this new evidence with a good deal of skepticism. The documentary claims to that a photograph has been uncovered that shows what some experts believe is Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan as prisoners of the Japanese army in the Marshall Islands. It goes on to make the claim that shortly after the photo was taken, Earhart and Noonan were taken to the island of Saipan where they were imprisoned briefly, before being killed. For years, most theories have maintained that the Earhart and Noonan's airplane crashed either into the ocean or onto one of the many remote islands in the South Pacific in July of 1937. Their remains, nor the remains of the plane, have never been found.
In the documentary, called Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, former FBI investigator Shawn Henry examines and researches the photo that was discovered recently in the National Archives. It is purported to have been taken 1937 on a dock somewhere in the Marshall Islands and sometime AFTER Earhart's plane lost contact and was lost in the South Pacific on July 3rd, 1937. Throughout the two-hour documentary, Henry speaks to various experts, like a facial recognition expert that claims to be "compelled" by the figure said to be Noonan. Of course, in the actual photo, it's far too blurry to really be able to tell what the man looks like, Heck, you can't even clearly make out if it's a plane being towed behind a ship at the dock, which the documentary argues is Earhart's plane. Basically, the photo is what you expect from any photo from that era, black & white, blurry and without any detail. You recognize there is a person there and it could be Noonan. Or it could be just a random person. Or Elvis for that matter. Maybe it's Tupac. The point is, you can't tell who it is. Granted, we are not all facial recognition experts, many people can't even remember the name of the guy that works down in accounting that tracks your PTO time and you see his face every day. Phil? Bill? Something like that probably.
Ric Gillespie is one of the foremost experts on Earhart's disappearance. He and his group, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery or TIGHAR, a name that really rolls off the tongue, have believed for years that Earhart and Noonan landed on Gardner Island, or Nikumaroro Island as it's known today. Gillespie and the TIGHAR went searching for their remains there on an expedition for National Geographic. They came up empty. But that doesn't mean Gillespie is buying the story that the History Channel is pedaling, telling the Washington Post: "This is something that's going to be put out to millions of people. I wish the History Channel would just air 'Ancient Aliens.' It would be more credible." TIGHAR has also set up a page on their website debunking the photo.
For its part, the US Government believes Earhart and Noonan crashed at sea and their plane sits somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific, likely never to be found. And that does seem like the most credible story, given that it's been 80 years since the plane disappeared and not one bit of evidence has been found on any of the dozens of islands where it could have plausibly been lost.
There is no doubt that different theories will still surface and expeditions will continue in the faint hope that the mystery can be solved once and for all.
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