MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A newly discovered photograph suggests legendary aviator Amelia Earhart, who vanished 80 years ago on a round-the-world flight, survived a crash-landing in the Marshall Islands.
The photo, which was discovered by the History Channel in a long-forgotten file in the National Archives, reportedly shows Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on a dock in Japanese custody years after their plane vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean.
WMC Action News 5's Jerica Phillips reached out to former Memphis International Airport Commissioner Jon Thompson about the recent discovery. Thompson is an avid collector and was an aerospace engineer by trade. We first spoke with him five years ago about his mission to find Earhart's plane.
"I was well aware of this story that has surfaced several times in the past years," Thompson said. "I visited Saipan and I can tell you that I talked to a senior executive there who told me there was never a Caucasian woman in prison in Saipan until after the late 40s."
Thompson said he doesn't think the photo is really of Earhart and Noonan. However, he said he does not rule out the possibility that the photo is authentic. He said ultimately, time will tell.
Thompson thinks the story of Earhart being captured and held prisoner after her plane crashed is a bit too perfectly fabricated.
"There's a prison cell with the initials A.E. scrolled on the wall, and all of that was put together to provide a little bit of interest in history of somebody trying to prove that she was actually there," Thompson said.
Thompson said the evidence actually points toward Earhart's plane running out of gas, crashing, and killing Earhart and Noonan.
"The fact that she got to the Marshall Islands would be almost impossible that she got there on the amount of fuel that she had."
Thompson recently spent two months probing the Pacific Ocean for Earhart's plane. He said the 18,000 foot dive proved to be a challenge for his team.
"We still think we will find it. We think we will zero in on her location at the bottom of the ocean, but as of today we have not been able to find her."