A Marshall Islands-based military expert has cast further doubt on claims that a blurry photograph shows famed US aviatrix Amelia Earhart alive in the territory in 1937.
The fate of the legendary American and her navigator Fred Noonan during their round-the-world flight is one of aviation’s greatest mysteries, and has fascinated historians for decades.
Earhart and Noonan vanished on July 2, 1937 after taking off from Lae, Papua New Guinea, and the prevailing belief is that they ran out of fuel and ditched their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in the Pacific Ocean near remote Howland Island.
But a documentary being aired on the History Channel — “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence” — claims to have unearthed a beguiling new clue about what happened to the pair.
The program suggests that Earhart, who was seeking to become the first woman flier to circumnavigate the globe, and Noonan may have survived and been taken prisoner by Japanese forces.
It cites a blurry black-and-white photograph discovered in the National Archives in Washington, purportedly showing the pair in the Marshall Islands after their capture.
But military expert Matthew B. Holly told AFP the photo appeared to have been taken about a decade earlier.
“From the Marshallese visual background, lack of Japanese flags flying on any vessels but one, and the age configuration of the steam-driven steel vessels, the photo is closer to the late 1920s or early 1930s, not anywhere near 1937,” he told AFP.
Holly, an American living in Majuro, has spent decades identifying the locations of lost US aircraft and the identities of American servicemen killed in action in the western Pacific nation.
He added that by January 1937 the Japanese had closed most of Micronesia to foreign vessels, “including Marshallese commerce, which is obviously flourishing in this photo.
“Additionally, there are no Japanese sailors to be seen.”
There is no dispute that the photo shows the dock at Jabor Island in Jaluit Atoll, which was the headquarters for Japan’s administration of the Marshall Islands between World War I and World War II.
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Japanese businesses flourished on Jaluit, purchasing copra — dried coconut flesh used to make coconut oil — from Marshall Islanders.
But The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has spent decades trying to figure out what happened to Earhart and Noonan, also disputes that they are the pair in the photo.
Executive director Richard Gillespie previously told AFP the photo was “laughable” as a piece of evidence.
“This is just a picture of some people on Jaluit wharf,” he said. “Where are the Japanese? Where are the soldiers?”
Marshall Islanders have also claimed over the years that Earhart and Noonan survived an emergency landing and were captured by the Japanese.
Two years ago, American investigators additionally said they had located parts of Earhart’s plane on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
But Holly maintained it was unlikely the photo was taken in 1937.
“Generally, there would be a series of photos in the same folder which could have also time-dated the photo,” Holly said.
“There is no date of 1937 associated with this photo.”
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