It's a question we all briefly obsess over at some point: How did Amelia Earhart die? The famed aviator's mysterious disappearance has fascinated the public ever since she vanished in 1937 during an attempt to become the first female pilot to fly around the world. Although she was declared legally dead two years later, her remains were never found. This has led to all kinds of theories about the circumstances of her death, ranging from the plausible (being stranded on an island) to the outlandish (aliens!). Currently, the general consensus is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, died in a crash landing somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, but a newly-uncovered photograph may suggest otherwise.
On Wednesday, the Today show reported an upcoming History Channel documentary, "Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence," features the discovery of an old photograph tucked away in the National Archives. The image depicts a short-haired woman wearing pants — two style choices for which Earhart was known — and a man resembling Noonan standing on a dock. Next to them rests a Japanese ship, Koshu, towing something 38 feet long, which just so happens to be the length of Earhart's plane. According to the caption, the photo was taken in 1937 on the Jaluit Atoll, a part of the Marshall Islands under Japanese control at the time.
NBC News reports that all this led some historians to theorize that Earhart and Noonan didn't die over the Pacific Ocean after all. Instead, it's possible that they survived a crash landing in the Marshall Islands, where they were captured by the Japanese and taken to the Mariana Islands. Proponents of the theory point out that locals claim they witnessed Earhart's plane crash, after which she and Noonan were led away.
Is your mind blown yet?
Independent analysts told NBC News that the photo appears to be undoctored, although that doesn't necessarily mean it's Earhart and Noonan pictured in the image. On the other hand, Gary Tarpinian, who produced the History Channel special, claims that there's little evidence for the traditional narrative of Earhart's death by plane crash either.
"We don't know how she died. We don't know when," he told NBC News.
This isn't the first time someone has proposed that Earhart was captured by the Japanese. A 1987 book claimed that she was executed after landing on Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Others believe her journey was secretly a mission to spy on the Japanese, and after she crashed, she was captured by their military. Disregarding conspiracy theories, numerous witnesses have come forward throughout the years to say they watched as Earhart and Noonan were arrested for spying.
Then again, some believe that Earhart survived the crash and went on to work as a nurse at the Battle of Guadalcanal, or that she secretly returned to the United States and assumed a fake identity. A personal favorite, of course, is that she was abducted by aliens. No matter which theory you subscribe to, it's clear that the newly-discovered photograph has stirred up fascination with her disappearance.
In all likelihood, we'll never know how Earhart died. If the past 80 years of searching are any indication, though, the public will keep gnawing at the mystery of her disappearance like a dog — or perhaps more accurately, a crab — with a bone.