A military history blogger in Japan has, with very little effort, debunked a widely publicized theory that was at the center of a documentary that aired Sunday on the History channel, claiming that it proved that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan survived an emergency landing or crash in 1937 and were taken into Japanese custody, where they likely were both killed.
Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, made by documentarist and former executive assistant director of the FBI Shawn Henry, took as its primary evidence a photograph discovered by Earhart buff and retired US Treasury Agent Les Kinney in the National Archives in files marked as "declassified." The undated photograph showed a Japanese military vessel that was known to have joined in the search for Earhart's lost plane in 1937, as well as what appeared to possibly be the plane itself being towed behind the ship, and two figures who might have been Earhart and Noonan using facial recognition experts to back up the claim. The image was labeled in English as having been taken on the Japanese controlled island group of Jaluit Atoll.
As the Guardian reports, via blogger Kota Yamano, the same image turned up in an image search for a ten-year timeframe beginning in 1930, and the image was the 10th search result for "Jaluit Atoll," via Japan's national library. The caption on this version, in Japanese, indicates that it was from a book published in 1935, two years before Earhart disappeared. It describes "monthly races between schooners belonging to local tribal leaders and other vessels [that] turned the port into a 'bustling spectacle.'"
Yamano tells the Guardian "I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done."
The photograph was apparently first published in a 1935 travelogue about the nearby island of Palau, and being a military expert, Yamano identifies the ship in the picture as the Koshu, a ship that the Japanese seized in World War I, and not the Koshu Maru, which the documentary suggested it was, which was first launched in 1937. Yamano says that the Koshu actually "participated in searching mission for Amelia and arrived Jaluit Atoll in 1937, but the ship also arrived there sometimes since 1935."
As the Guardian notes, multiple experts dismissed Kinney's assessment of the photograph which he claims to have discovered two years ago with at least one suggesting it had to have been taken earlier than 1937. Another, Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, sticks to another theory that Earhart died a castaway on the island of Nikumaroro, or Gardner Island, where a partial skeleton was discovered in 1940.
Says Gillespie, "This is just a picture of a wharf at Jaluit [in the Marshall Islands], with a bunch of people [on it]. It’s just silly."