A recently discovered photo that suggested that legendary US pilot Amelia Earhart might have survived a plane crash but died as a prisoner in Japan, could be false after all, according to new evidence by a blogger.
A documentary by the History Channel on Earhart, which was aired in the US on 9 July, claimed to have found an answer to the 80-year-old mystery behind the pioneering aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan's disappearance. It claimed the duo ended up in a Japanese internment camp on the Marshall Islands in 1937.
The claim was based on a photograph that was found in the vaults of the US National Archives. The photograph appeared to show two figures, believed to be Earhart and Noonan, standing on the dock at Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands that Japan had occupied at that time.
However, a Japanese blogger who writes on military history is reported to have debunked the claim, possibly leaving one of the greatest historical aviation mysteries to remain unsolved – at least for now.
Kota Yamano claimed he unearthed the same photograph from the archives of Japan's national library. The image, he said, was published in a Japanese-language travelogue called "Naval life line; the view of our South Pacific: Photo album of Southern Pacific Islands," in 1935 – almost two years before Earhart and Noonan went missing.
The Tokyo-based blogger told the Guardian that he did not believe the theory claimed by the History Channel in its documentary, Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, and hence decided to look up for more information on his own.
"I was sure that the same photo must be on record in Japan," Yamano said.
He said it took him only 30 minutes to prove the documentary's claim as false.
The caption of the photograph that took the internet into a tizzy this month reportedly does not give a description of the people captured in it. Instead, it only depicted a regular old harbour and not mention that two people spotted in it were the missing US celebrities.
"I wonder why [the] History Channel did not have even one person who understands Japanese or the history between Japan and [the] US," Yamano told CNN.
The blogger reportedly ran an online search using the keyword "Jaluit atoll" to look for images from the harbour from 1930 to 1940. "The photo was the 10th item that came up," he said.
The digital version of the travelogue's image was stored in Japan's National Diet Library, which is the country's largest collection of books.
The History Channel said it is investigating the claims made by the blogger and that it would be "transparent" in its findings, CNN reported.
"Ultimately, historical accuracy is most important to us and our viewers," the channel said on Twitter.
Historians were anyway sceptical about the new image as Richard Gillespie of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery told CNN that he did not "believe there was legitimacy to this".
The fate of Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic alone in May 1932, and Noonan has baffled historians for eight decades now. Her plane vanished in 1937 during a flight en route from Lae, New Guinea, to tiny Howland Island. It was never found.