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Amelia Earhart Lost Evidence: HISTORY Documentary Claims Aviator Survived Crash & Captured by Japanese, US Covered Up

In Amelia Earhart, Archive on July 10, 2017 at 2:33 PM


On July 2, 1937, near the end of her pioneering flight around the world, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Most experts, including the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, believe Earhart likely ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. But no trace of the aviator, navigator Fred Noonan or her twin-engine Lockheed Electra airplane were ever found, confounding historians and fueling conspiracy theories ever since. Now, new evidence has surfaced in U.S. government archives suggesting Earhart might not have crashed into the Pacific at all, but crash-landed in the Marshall Islands, was captured by the Japanese military and died while being held prisoner on the island of Saipan.

According to HISTORY’s upcoming investigative special “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” retired federal agent Les Kinney scoured the National Archives for records that may have been overlooked in the search for the lost aviator.

Eighty years after the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, new evidence may prove a shocking theory—that Earhart and Noonan were captured alive by the Japanese, and that the U.S. government knew she was in the custody of a foreign power, and may have covered it up.

Among thousands of documents Kinney uncovered was a photograph stamped with official Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) markings reading “Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, Jaluit Island, Jaluit Harbor.” In the photo, a ship can be seen towing a barge with an airplane on the back; on a nearby dock are several people.

Kinney argues the photo must have been taken before 1943, as U.S. air forces conducted more than 30 bombing runs on Jaluit in 1943-44. He believes the plane on the barge is the Electra, and that two of the people on the dock are Earhart and Noonan. As part of the program’s investigation, Doug Carner, a digital forensic analyst, examined the photo and determined it was authentic and had not been manipulated, while Kent Gibson, another forensic analyst who specializes in facial recognition, said it was “very likely” the individuals in it are Earhart and Noonan. Both analysts identified the ship in the photo as the Japanese military vessel Koshu Maru, which is thought to be the ship that took Earhart and Noonan away after their crash landing.

These two Japanese communiques were also found in the National Archives by Les Kinney. They’re dated July 5, 1937, just three days after Earhart and Noonan disappeared. One of the documents—written in secret Japanese diplomatic code which was later decrypted by the U.S. Navy—states “since it is believed that she went down in the Marshall Islands…”

At the time these messages were sent, U.S. search efforts were focused on Earhart’s intended target, Howland Island, almost 800 miles away from the Marshall Islands. This implies that the Japanese were most likely tracking Earhart’s flight and had a much better idea as to where she had actually crashed. The fact that they were housed at the National Archives also implies the United States may have had knowledge of Earhart’s capture by the Japanese, but have kept information about her true fate classified for 80 years.

The metal piece held on the left in this photo was found below the surface of Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in 2015. This photo shows that it’s a visual match to the rolled aluminum trim edge around the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra L-10. This was the same model of plane that Earhart flew on her ill-fated mission.

The location of this crucial piece of evidence was revealed to Dick Spink by the son of an eyewitness who saw a twin engine plane crashing onto the reef next to Mili in July 1937. The witness also told his son that the plane was dragged along the beach and then brought to Jaluit—the location of the dock in the newly-discovered photo.

These commemorative stamps were issued in 1987 by the government of the Marshall Islands to observe what people of the region believe was the 50th Anniversary of the crash landing of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, just off of Mili Atoll. The stamps were designed with the input from many Marshallese eyewitnesses to the events of July 1937.

The ship in the lower right corner stamp, which witnesses claimed took away Earhart, Noonan and their damaged plane, is the same Japanese ship that appears in the recently discovered dock photo of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan—a photo that no one knew even existed until its recent discovery by researcher Les Kinney. The ship was positively identified as the Koshu from documents created by the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, which were also recovered by Les Kinney in the U.S. National Archives.

In 1964 two former U.S. Marines, Everett Henson, Jr. of Sacramento, California, and Bill G. Burks of Dallas, would come forward to say they were part of a group of Marines who recovered the remains of Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan on Saipan in July of 1944. The remains had been found in an unmarked grave outside a small graveyard and placed in metal canisters for transport to the United States. To this writing, the U.S. Marine Corps will neither confirm or deny that such an event occurred.

Donald Kothera and his “Cleveland Group” visited Saipan in 1968 searching for evidence supporting Earhart and Noonan’s presence and death there. Kothera’s interview of native Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have seen the beheading of a tall white man as a 7-year-old on Saipan in 1937, is among the most compelling of the Saipan witnesses’ accounts. Kothera excavated the suspected gravesite and discovered 189 bone fragments, which analysis concluded were that of a 40-year-old Caucasian female. Earhart was 39 when she vanished. The bone fragments have since disappeared.

Using a map of the gravesite made by the Kothera group, HISTORY investigators went to Saipan to conduct the first large-scale excavation of what they believe is the location Earhart and Noonan were buried. Though they were able to find the site where Kothera originally excavated, they were unable to unearth more bone fragments for DNA testing, or any additional clues.

The idea that Earhart may have crash-landed on the Marshall Islands first gained traction in the 1960s, after CBS correspondent Fred Goerner published an investigative work titled The Search for Amelia Earhart. The book claimed that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese, who had been extending their influence into the Pacific, and died as prisoners on the island of Saipan. Some have posited that Earhart was in fact a spy, sent by the U.S. government to conduct surveillance on Japanese activity in the Pacific.

Other theories have proliferated in the 80 years since Earhart’s disappearance, which continues to be a point of fascination for both expert and amateur sleuths. Some have argued she crashed and sank in Papua New Guinea. Just last month, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) brought a team of forensic dogs to the uninhabited Nikumaroro Island, hoping to find evidence that Earhart and Noonan landed there.

Despite such fervent efforts to unlock the mystery of Earhart’s fate, no confirmed trace of the pilot, Noonan, or their Lockheed Electra plane have ever been found.

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