LES KINNEY/NATIONAL ARCHIVESForget everything you learned in history books. This astonishing photo might change everything we thought we knew about world-renowned aviator Amelia Earhart. (Earhart fans, listen up! These incredible quotes will definitely propel you to greatness.)
We all remember the story of Earhart’s famous disappearance: She embarked for her ill-fated flight with her navigator, Fred Noonan, shortly after midnight on July 2, 1937. At the time, the pair had hoped to complete the final leg of their record-breaking trip, heading from Papua New Guinea towards Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. But after Earhart reported that they were running low on gas, the plane vanished—taking its passengers with it.
Although most have assumed Earhart and Noonan died that night, no trace of them or their plane has ever been found. Speculation as to what really happened that fateful night has circulated for over 80 years.
LES KINNEY/NATIONAL ARCHIVESNow, the discovery of a black-and-white photograph just might solve this decades-long mystery. Retired U.S. Treasury Agent Les Kinney found the photo in 2012 amongst a “formerly top secret” file in the National Archives, PEOPLE reports. The image suggests that Earhart and Noonan did not, in fact, die in a crash, but instead landed on a Japanese-controlled island and were taken prisoner there.
Although the photograph is undated, some of the resemblances are simply uncanny. Take, for example, the object resembling an airplane behind the ship on a barge. Facial recognition expert Kent Gibson calculated it to be 38 feet long, and records show that Earhart’s Lockheed Electra measured 38.7 feet long. Plus, the figure in the image has the same frame and bobbed haircut as Earhart, Gibson says, and the man standing on the left appears to be Noonan.
“This absolutely changes history,” Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director of the FBI, said in the documentary Amelia Earhart, The Lost Evidence. “I think we proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she survived her flight and was held prisoner by the Japanese on the island of Saipan, where she eventually died.”
Some believe the government covered up Earhart’s true fate, either to hide the fact that she was spying on the Japanese or because the government knew she was taken prisoner but did nothing about it.
Still, other historians are not convinced. Dorothy Cochrane, curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Aeronautics Department, calls the idea as a “ridiculous theory” and “insists that she’s never seen any ‘definitive evidence’ to suggest that the pair survived their final flight,” according to PEOPLE.
To make your own judgment, watch the video below and tune into the premiere of Amelia Earhart, The Lost Evidence on Sunday, July 9 at 9 p.m. ET. But before you do, did you know Amelia Earhart flew a plane with Eleanor Roosevelt? Check out even more little-known facts about America’s First Ladies.
WATCH: “This could rewrite history.” Investigators uncover new photo that they believe shows Amelia Earhart alive in Japanese custody pic.twitter.com/QmH1NX3uzJ
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 5, 2017