The mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937, has puzzled historians for 80 years. All that was known for certain was that the plane the world famous female aviator and Noonan were flying in vanished and all communication ceased while over the Pacific on a round the world flight,. A massive air and naval search failed to turn up either the plane or its occupants. Both Earhart and Noonan were declared dead. However, a newly found photograph from the National Archives may have at least solved the mystery.

Was Earhart captured by the Japanese?

The photograph in question shows a dock with several people gathered at the edge. On the far left is a Caucasian man, who facial recognition experts have identified as Noonan. In the center, a woman, dressed in trousers, is seated with her face away from the camera with a hair style that matches that of Earhart.

In the distance, a Japanese ship, the Koshu, is towing an object on a barge that is of the size and shape of the plane that Earhart and Noonan were flying in. The photo is marked “Jaluit Atoll” which was Japanese territory at the time. The photo is believed to have been taken by an American spy.

If those people were Earhart and Noonan then what happened to them?

Historians who think that Earhart and Noonan fell into the hands of the Japanese believe that they were taken to Saipan and imprisoned. At some point they died, either of mistreatment or by being outright executed. Modern Japanese authorities report that they have no records of having Earhart and Noonan in their custody.

However, all of the officials who would have been responsible for their imprisonment are now dead, and a great many records were lost during World War II.

The theories of what happened to the two aviators

The main theories of what happened to Earhart and Noonan are that they either crashed and drowned in the ocean, made it to a place called Gardner Island where they died of thirst and exposure, or landed in Japanese territory where they were captured and subsequently died.

The newly discovered photo buttresses the latter theory.

The question arises, if the federal government was in possession of the picture, did it recognize its significance and, if so why did it not reveal the information. The best guess is that the government did not want to compromise the spy by publishing the photo. Why the photograph was not published after the Second World War is a matter that can only be conjectured about. It is possible that it just fell through the bureaucratic cracks and was forgotten, at least until now.