New photo could prove Amelia Earhart survived her final flight

It has been 80 years since world-renowned pilot Amelia Earhart vanished while on her around-the-world flight, and a new photo might be the missing link in unraveling the mystery of her disappearance.

At the time of her disappearance, it was widely believed Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan crashed her plane in the South Pacific after running out of fuel. In a new documentary airing Sunday, July 9 on the History Channel, former FBI official Shawn Henry attempts to answer the questions surrounding the mystery of Earhart's vanishing -- and makes the claim that she could have survived a crash.

On July 2, 1937, a then 39-year-old Earhart and Noonan were flying east from Papua New Guinea on the final leg of her global journey. In what is now believed to be her final radio communication, Earhart then expressed concern about her fuel levels, saying "Gas is running low."

RELATED: A look at Amelia Earhart's life and career

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Amelia Earhart's life and career
(Original Caption) Amelia Earhart, 27, who plans to hop to England with Wilmer Stultz. Amelia seated in aircraft.
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Located in front of the 1860 home where Amelia Earhart was born in 1897
(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Famous Aviatrix Gives Views To Air Crash Committee On American Aviation Needs. Amelia Earhart Putnam appeared before the Senate Aircraft Accident on Friday to outline what was in her opinion the outstanding needs of American Aviation for the prevention of accidents. Left to right: Senator Royal Copeland and Miss Earhart. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
7/7/1937-Los Angeles, CA-ORIGINAL CAPTION READS: here is one of the last pictures made of Amelia Earhart, missing with her navigator in the mid-Pacific. The picture was made as she completed preparations for her ill-fated flight. Photo shows Earhart seated and staring to her left.
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), American Aviation Pioneer, Portrait, 1937. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Amelia Earhart in Hawaii. Honolulu, Hawaii: Tea in Hawaii for Amelia Earhart, famous aviatrix, after a day's flying, shortly before she took off on her sensational solo hop across the Pacific to Oakland, California. As she took refreshments in a Honolulu home where she was a guest.
The reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, is pictured in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of renowned Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Executive Director Ric Gillespie said that new analysis of the photo appeared to show what could be the undercarriage of a Lockheed Electra airplane such as the one that Earhart was flying, emerging from a reef. The anomaly on the reef that could be wreckage is on the left between the beach and the open water. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
(Original Caption) 'Free Air' as long as she can stay aloft in trans-ocean flying for Amelia Earhart, but if forced down she was prepared for the worst with this tiny rubber lifeboat. The famed aviatrix demonstrated it before taking for the East from Los Angeles 'to see it would have worked.' Inflated by a tiny cylinder, the boat has to be kept pumped up by hand.
American aviator Amelia Earhart smiles May 22, 1932 upon arriving in London, England having become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic alone. Carlene Mendieta, who is trying to recreate Earhart's 1928 record as the first woman to fly across the US and back again, left Rye, NY on September 5, 2001. Earhart (1898 - 1937) disappeared without trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Photo by Getty Images)
Close-up view of an aircraft fuselage skin that is claimed to belong to famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart's plane as shown during a press conference in Washington on March 16, 1992. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery claims that the skin and other items including a woman's shoe prove conclusively that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan perished on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro while on the final leg of a round-the-world flight in 1937. REUTERS/Mike Theiler BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
The patch is shown on the plane under this yellow arrow. (TIGHAR)
This patch, found on a remote Pacific Island by researchers with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, is believed to have come from Earhart's plane Electra. (TIGHAR)
The shredded patch being held up against a reproduction of where on the plane it would have fit. (TIGHAR)
The patch covered the special window denoted at the back of the plane. (TIGHAR)
(Image courtesy of: Miami Herald)
Renowned U.S. pilot Amelia Earhart is pictured in this 1928 photograph released on March 20, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Earhart, saying fresh evidence from a remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A close-up view of what scientists say could be the undercarriage of a Lockheed Electra airplane is pictured at the reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Executive Director Ric Gillespie said that new analysis of the photo appeared to show what could be the undercarriage of the aircraft such as the one that Earhart was flying, emerging from the reef. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS QUALITY FROM SOURCE
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Miss Amelia Earhart, the American airwoman, who is missing on the last and longest stage of her world flight. It is feared she has been forced down in the Pacific. With her navigator, Captain Noonan, she was making for Howland Island, but is now many hours overdue. (Photo from stock) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
circa 1935: American aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937), the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, decorated with leis during her visit to Honolulu, Hawaii. Earhart had arrived by ship. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) A Pardoned Trespass. Culmore, Londonderry, Northern Ireland: No admonitions were forthcoming when Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam landed on a private field at Culmore, Londonderry, Ireland, completing her flight from Newfoundland across the Atlantic. Here's Amelia (center) with Miss Gallagher (holding child) and the Misses Burns, after she had descended from her plane on the field owned by Miss Gallagher.
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST, 1929: Amelia Earhart speaks on radio during the Cleveland National Air Races. Earhart flew a prototype helicopter plane during the races. (Photo by Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images)
June 1931: American aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937) climbs into the cockpit of her airplane at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, just before embarking on a trip to California. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)
American aviator Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1837) leans out the window of the train engine with the engineer and a conductor during a trip from Pittsburgh to Altoona, Pennsylvania, August 1928. Earhart had recently become the first woman to be on a non-stop transatlantic flight. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)
20th June 1928: US aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937), and Captain Raleigh on the roof of the Hyde Park Hotel, London, after she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, from Newfoundland to Wales (on 17th June 1928). (Photo by Hewerdine/London Express/Getty Images)
394033 03: (FILE PHOTO) Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called 'Friendship' in Newfoundland. Carlene Mendieta, who is trying to recreate Earhart's 1928 record as the first woman to fly across the US and back again, left Rye, NY on September 5, 2001. Earhart (1898 - 1937) disappeared without trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Photo by Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Miss Amelia Earhart--the Girl Lindy--of Medford, Massachusetts, as she appeared in 1918 when she graduated from the Ogontz School--a prep school at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miss Earhart is the first licensed woman pilot in the United States and aside from her flying ability, her marked resemblance to Colonel Lindbergh in face and figure has been noted. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
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"Have been unable to reach you by radio," Earhart said. "We're flying at 1,000 feet."

In the soon-to-air documentary, "Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence," Henry points to a recently-discovered photograph believed to feature Earhart on a remote atoll in the South Pacific in offering the theory that Earhart landed her famed Lockheed Electra safely, but was then captured by the Japanese Military.

"This absolutely changes history," Henry tells PEOPLE Magazine. "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."

Henry led an investigative team in examining a range of evidence as part of their research for the documentary and says the theory that the pair may have been held captive in Japan has been floated for decades, but the new photograph unearthed by retired U.S. Treasury Agent Les Kinney in 2012 and just now made public in the documentary aides in making that more plausible an occurrence.

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