The story of Amelia Earhart is among the most enduring of American mysteries.  The groundbreaking female aviator who vanished some 80 years ago over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe by plane has been the subject of numerous investigations and a great deal more speculation, but little is known conclusively about Earhart’s final hours of flight – or what, if anything, came for her thereafter.

Many people have speculated over the years that Earhart’s 1937 flight simply got lost and ran out of fuel before crashing into the ocean, never to be seen again.  Others have postulated that she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, may have survived the ordeal and made it onto an island, where they could have survived for days, or even weeks, before ultimately succumbing to starvation or dehydration.  There has been little evidence to point one way or the other, aside from small bits of wreckage and skeletal remains found over the years that some theorists use to support their arguments.

“Gas is running low,” Earhart said to a Coast Guard cutter that was assisting the two with their navigation. “Have been unable to reach you by radio. We’re flying at 1,000 feet.”

That was the last thing anyone ever saw or heard of the most famous woman on the planet at the time… or was it?

A new show set to debut on the History Channel on Sunday, July 9th begs to differ.  Shawn Henry, a former executive assistant director of the FBI, has come forward with new, never before seen evidence that may indicate that Earhart and Noonan not only survived their crash, but may have been captured by the Japanese military, years before the onset of World War II.  The Japanese may have believed Earhart was spying for the United States, and if some of the lore surrounding her disappearance can be believed, she may well have been.

This new evidence comes in the form of a photograph long stashed away in the National Archive that may depict Earhart and Noonan on a dock in the Marshal Islands after their disappearance.  Independent analysts have studied the photograph and determined that it appears to be genuine, and the physical features of two people in the picture seem to match those of Earhart and her navigator.

Earhart appears to be sitting down in the photograph, her short hair appears to match pictures of Earhart from the time, and perhaps more telling, is that the woman is wearing pants – something Earhart was known to do despite being unusual for the era.  A man standing next to her has a hairline that would also seem to match Noonan’s.

“The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic,” said Ken Gibson, a facial recognition expert who studied the image. “It’s a very sharp receding hairline. The nose is very prominent.”

The photo also shows a Japanese ship, Koshu, towing a barge with something that experts claim appears to be about 38-feet long, which just so happens to be the same length as Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra airplane.

Locals have long claimed to have seen Earhart’s plane go down, though it would have to have been quite a bit off course to have reached the Marshal Islands.  School kids from the time have told stories for decades about seeing Earhart in captivity after she and Noonan were taken away – they even printed stamps about it in the 1980s.  This photograph, which Henry believes was taken by a U.S. spy investigating Japan’s Pacific presence, seems to corroborate their stories that had long been considered nothing more than legend.

“We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan [in the Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer of the History special.

“We don’t know how she died,” Tarpinian said. “We don’t know when.”

The two-hour documentary special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” debuts this Sunday on the History Channel.

Images courtesy of the National Archive