7 Crazy Amelia Earhart Disappearance Theories

1A photo may prove Amelia Earhart was taken prisoner by the Japanese

Shortly after midnight on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and co-pilot Fred Noonan climbed into their Lockheed Electra and took off from a New Guinea airfield to continue their journey around the globe. That was the last time they were seen alive.

Eighty years later, Shawn Henry, a former executive assistant director of the FBI, has co-produced a two-hour History Channel documentary
Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence Armed. He has a recently-discovered photograph purportedly taken of Earhart days after she crash-landed on a remote South Pacific atoll and offers up the theory of a U.S. government cover-up that runs counter to the widely-accepted idea that Earhart died after her plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean.

The black and white photo, unearthed by retired U.S. Treasury Agent Les Kinney in 2012, shows a woman with short hair, much like Earhart's cut, sitting on a dock on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with her back to the camera. A man, who looks like Noonan, is standing a short distance behind her. Some forensic experts believe the photo is "very convincing evidence" of the duo in the custody of the Japanese.

Henry, who led a team of investigators examining a range of evidence—including plane parts found on a remote Pacific island consistent with the aircraft Earhart was flying—said of the photo, “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.”

2Co-pilot Fred Noonan was thought to be an alcoholic

It's somewhat accepted among many Earhart researchers that co-pilot Fred Noonan was an alcoholic. Rumors persist he was drunk on the flight that ended in the duo's disappearance, and the loss of the flight could have resulted from his debility.

During preparations for the flight to Howland Island, from which they later disappeared, Earhart sent a telegram saying that a delay was necessary due to a "personal unfitness." This has been interpreted as code for Noonan's having been too drunk, or hung over, to navigate, but there are other distinct possibilities. It would hardly be surprising if one, or both, members of the had been fatigued, or just plain sick. Footage exists showing Earhart and Noonan boarding the airplane—both appeared bright and cheerful with Noonan helping Amelia up onto the wing. The stories about his drinking seem to have begun in 1966 with the publication of The Search for Amelia Earhart by Frederick Goerner.

3Amelia Earhart was believed to have been a New Jersey housewife

In the 1970s, a book called Amelia Earhart Lives by Joe Klass claimed that Irene Bolam, a woman residing in Monroe Township, New Jersey, was the lost pilot.

After someone had mistaken the housewife for Earhart at a garden party on New York's Long Island, the rumor gained traction. (It didn't help that Bolam was also a pilot.) The book claimed that Earhart returned to the U.S. and lived a quiet life after World War II, with hopes of never returning to the public eye.

Bolam denied she was Earhart and sued Klass and publisher McGraw-Hill after the book was released. She received a settlement of an unknown amount, and the publisher pulled Amelia Earhart Lives from store shelves.

4Amelia Earhart's remains were eaten by coconut crabs on Nikumaroro Island

In 1940, a British colonial officer reported that he had discovered a partial skeleton along with an old sextant box on Gardner Island, which is now known as Nikumaroro, part of the Phoenix Islands in the Republic of Kiribati in the South Pacific. The partial skeleton has since been lost, but a more recent analysis of measurements of some of the bones left behind concluded that they belonged to a relatively tall woman of European ancestry. Also scattered around the island were the tattered remains of shoes, a jar of freckle cream, and evidence of campfires.

Another inhabitant of Nikumaroro? Giant coconut crabs.

Coconut crabs can grow to about the size of a small dog, have been known to each chickens and kittens, and are capable of eating the flesh of a pig and scattering the bones. Human remains are also a possibility, so it stands to reason that if Earhart and Noonan died on Nikumaroro, they became crab food.

5Earhart ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean

Aviator Elgen Long is a proponent of the "crash and sink" theory regarding Earhart's disappearance. With thirty-five years of research under his belt, he and his wife, Marie K. Long, have been responsible for documenting the people and data involved in the event. The couple's historical collection now resides with the SeaWord Foundation.

Long believes that relatively near to Earhart's destination, Howland Island, the Electra ran out of fuel. Earhart and Noonan were left with no choice but to ditch at sea. The Longs further concluded that the plane's empty fuel tanks would have filled up rapidly with sea water, causing the Electra to sink. Without any survival equipment aboard and no land anywhere near them, the duo would have gone down with the plane.

6Amelia Earhart was a U.S. spy killed or captured by the Japanese

In the 1994 book Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart, author Randall Brink maintains that Earhart was not just embarking on a daring civilian flight around the world, but was on a spy mission. Brink claims her plane was secretly equipped to take pictures of Japanese island installations, and interviewed a former a Lockheed technician, who told him, "I recall that I was directed to cut two 16-to-18-inch-diameter holes for the cameras, which were to be mounted in the lower aft fuselage bay and would be electrically operated." These cameras were placed there to take pictures of Japan's military buildup in the islands.

Brink believes the aviatrix wandered into Japanese military airspace over the Marshall Islands and was detected and either shot down or forced down.

7Amelia Earhart's plane crashed near where she took off in New Guinea

In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted, all-metal, twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea. They brought a tag from plane with them back to base, where the numbers “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers led them to believe they had found Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra Model 10E.

The theory follows that Earhart and Noonan should have “arrived” close to their next stop (Howland Island), but after fruitlessly searching for the destination, Amelia turned back for the Gilbert Islands. Low on fuel, with no usable runways between Lae (where they began this leg of the journey) and Howland, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts. Their aircraft is believed to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and crashed into the jungle.

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