Photo “proving” that Amelia Earhart survived turns out to be bogus

Only five days ago I wrote a post about a new photograph that, some experts thought, constituted strong evidence that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan had survived their crash in 1937 and had been captured by the Japanese. The photo, revealed on a History Channel program, purported to show Noonan and Earhart on a dock on the Japanese-controlled atoll of Jaluit, with Earhart looking at what seemed to be the remnants of her plane being towed by a ship. The speculative story ends with her and Noonan later dying in Japanese custody on Saipan.

The photo:

The interpretation:

As I said in my earlier post, I’m credulous about stuff like this, and I was excited at the finding. Sadly, though, it wasn’t Earhart and Noonan, and the excitement, well, it was all due to credulous folk like me. I did wonder how they knew the photo was taken in 1937, when Earhart and Noonan vanished, since the picture had no label.

Well, a Japanese blogger, in just 30 minutes of work, discredited the whole thing. As the Guardian reports:

But serious doubts now surround the [History Channel’s} film’s premise after a Tokyo-based blogger unearthed the same photograph in the archives of the National Diet Library, Japan’s national library.

The image was part of a Japanese-language travelogue about the South Seas that was published almost two years before Earhart disappeared. Page 113 states the book was published in Japanese-held Palau on 10 October 1935.

The caption beneath the image makes no mention of the identities of the people in the photograph. It describes maritime activity at the harbour on Jabor in the Jaluit atoll – the headquarters for Japan’s administration of the Marshall Islands between the first world war and its defeat in the second world war.

The caption notes that monthly races between schooners belonging to local tribal leaders and other vessels turned the port into a “bustling spectacle”.

Kota Yamano, a military history blogger who unearthed the Japanese photograph, said it took him just 30 minutes to effectively debunk the documentary’s central claim.

Once again, Google is your friend:

Yamano ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long timeframe starting in 1930.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said. “I was really happy when I saw it. 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.”

Indeed. I am exculpated to some degree as I didn’t make the claim, but I did repeat it.

Although the photo was published in 1935, it appears to have been taken much earlier; as the Guardian reports:

Matthew B Holly, a military expert, told Agence France-Presse the photo appeared to have been taken about a decade earlier than the date given by the History Channel.

“From the Marshallese visual background, lack of Japanese flags flying on any vessels but one, and the age configuration of the steam-driven steel vessels, the photo is closer to the late 1920s or early 1930s, not anywhere near 1937,” he said.

So much for confirmation bias: a beautiful theory killed by an ugly fact. As Emily Litella said:

h/t: Matthew Cobb



  1. dev41
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    It’s sad to see the once respected History Channel become the epitome of “fake news.”

    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never really watched cable TV; but I’ve always heard it referred to as “The Hitler Channel”.

      • busterggi
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        It used to be the Hitler Channel but that was a long time ago when it presented actual history.

  2. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared.

    I find it strange that the History Channel didn’t flush their paychecks down the toilet. They obviously don’t care about historical fact. What they want is hype and advertising. Fact-checking would not be in their interest (or in their habit).

    • BJ
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Seriously? This is the same channel that has been running shows about aliens (and especially aliens building historic structures like the Egyptian pyramids), Atlantis, and other subjects catering to the very dumb for years now 🙂

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    The real mystery of Emilia might be why they actually tried it. Sometimes the hope of success far outstrips the skills of the people involved and the available technology. Lindbergh only had to hit a very large target, while Emilia was attempting to thread a very small needle.

    • BJ
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Hey, if we don’t have brave people to try crazy shit, we’ll never get anywhere cool.

      They do it because it will be awesome if they succeed! And if they don’t, they get to die a legend for trying.

  4. Geoff Toscano
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I wonder whether there’ll be a rush to defend the claim in some way? Conspiracy theorists are running out of material!

    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Everyone is a “conspiracy theorist” as the war between selling junk and wanting to buy quality is eternal.

      • Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        I figure if the Sandy Hook ‘Truthers’ can sell ‘Your child didn’t die’ in a highly publicized shooting despite all evidence to the contrary, then there is nothing conspiracy believers won’t believe.

        Additionally, they attract people who not only read about the conspiracy, but take it upon themselves to call in death threats to the parents of the slain child, etc. Surely this is a mental illness and not just rampant stupidity.

        • Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          The problem on both sides is too quickly taking second hand “evidence” as valid. Its a lack of due diligence, reasonable skepticism and discernment. If there is, for example, a verifiable truth on the use of paid actors in something on the news, would that convince those who think all conspiracies are false? If people have gone to jail for conspiracy would people believe some conspiracies are true? I think probably not. People fight like crazy not to let any facts into their worlds that contradict pre-existing beliefs. *shrug* I guess humans are just built that way.

  5. Cap
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “I’m credulous about stuff like this”

    Why? And you seemed to easily dismiss the legitimate findings of TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery)>

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I cannot respond to the first question. But for the second I am curious if you mean Jerry did not mention it in his last of many Earhart posts? Because here is what he said on TIGHAR 2012:

      Of course the results aren’t in (can they do DNA analysis?), but it looks increasingly as if Earhart and Noonan made it to the island, lived there a while, and then died a slow death as castaways.

      [ ]

      (As far as I remember it, they could not do DNA analysis on the bone fragments but they are believed to be turtle remains.)

      Your claim of “legitimate findings” reminded me of this review:

      “By the 1970s, there were two prevailing theories: the U.S. Navy’s, which was that the plane crashed and sank, and the more intriguing possibility that Earhart had been captured by the Japanese. By the early 1990s, Gillespie and TIGHAR said they had enough evidence to offer a third theory: that Earhart and Noonan ended up as castaways on Nikumoraro. Today, the three major theories haven’t evolved much—although if you look, there are plenty of supplementary fringe theories from amateur message board detectives. Did she, in fact, crash on New Britain, an island in Papua New Guinea? Or, more improbably, did she survive and live undercover on Long Island under a different name?

      We will probably never know. Seventy-nine-year-old mysteries don’t really get solved. They just linger, the perfect breeding ground for even more theories—and, in this case, a lot of animosity.”

      [ ]

      So there is infighting going on.

      (Moreover the question has the prior of being unlikely to be settled, combined with the observation that the number of hypotheses increase instead of decrease is a hallmark for unsolvable questions.

      I would go and find other entertainment.)

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        combined with the observation that the number of hypotheses increase instead of decrease *which together* is a hallmark for unsolvable questions.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        I think you are right on the money.

        To really make any progress new reliable evidence, like identifiable parts of the plane, incontrovertible documents or identifiable remains would need to be found. Otherwise people are just chewing on the same very few bits of evidence and often end up reasoning far beyond the facts or convincing themselves that bad evidence is actually convincing.

  6. Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  7. Bruce Swanney
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    One in the eye for the History Channel.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      I think that they couldn’t care less. The people who gobble up the stuff on the History channel will not be put off by this debunking even if they were aware of it.

  8. Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Astonishing how far the History Channel has fallen. Just a little bit of research uncovers the baloney.

  9. J. Quinton
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    “The History Channel”

    Well, that was the first mistake. Believing that a program that touts ancient aliens, ghost stories, shark week every other week, and intricate — yet completely unknowable (read: fictional) — details of Jesus’ life every Christmas was reliable.

  10. Phil Rounds
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Even without the date issue i had reservations about this. The individuals in the picture could be literally anyone and there is no airplane in the picture. It’s merely assumed that it was there because the barge was about the right size and “Amelia” was looking at it. The History Channel seems to have stopped showing real history sometime around the Dubya administration

    Heres’s some interesting though;

  11. BJ
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Just curious Jerry, but what made you so credulous? It was a blurry photo of a figure from behind with no date. And it was from The History Channel. I’m genuinely interested.

  12. rickflick
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Why are we tempted to accept such a threadbare story from a discredited source? I think people just naturally have a wish and a will to believe a romantic story with a resolution. It relieves our floating anxiety and cognitive dissonance. It’s a bit like buying in to religion. The exciting narrative will get you if the fear of oblivion doesn’t.

  13. Draken
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    So that’s the secret of the Japanese’s health and longevity: their national library is a Diet Library.


    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      This illustrates a question I’ve always had: how do translations like that happen anyway? For example, Japan has “prefectures” and China has “provinces” – why not “states” in both cases?

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        The etymology section here–

        –sheds some light on this particular case.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          & sub

        • rickflick
          Posted July 11, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          Reminds me of the Diet of Worms(1521). Martin Luther did not enjoy it.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          “The Japanese Parliament (the Kokkai) is conventionally called the Diet in English, indicating the heavy Prussian influence on the Meiji Constitution, Japan’s first modern written constitution.”

          Right, I had forgotten that.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

            Well, that implies that you were aware of it once in the first place, which is more than I can say. 😉 Thanks for spurring me to do a little exploring.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Called it [ ].

    Right before the post where I could not be arsed to find out that the criminal Gutierrez was adult at the time of the crime.

    “Never mind!”

  15. Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    For those who are interested the photo appears on page 99 of the travelogue.

  16. Phil Rounds
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    A while back i retraced Amelia’s flight using Microsoft Flight Sim…..only i flew it in a Consolidated PBY Catalina. It seemed to me the best choice given there would be so much flying done over water. Howland Island isn’t much more than a speck in the Pacific and i could see how they might get lost trying to locate such a small target. Had she been in a PBY, they could have just landed and awaited rescue.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      The PBY is one of my favorite aircraft. Years ago I had dreams of refurbishing one as something like an airborne travel-trailer for vacations with the family. It has remained a dream. In other words, very far from reality.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      How good is a Catalina in landing on the open ocean?


      • busterggi
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Pretty damn good.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          Many of the early airplanes were sea planes and even some of our airliners. This was because big large runways were far and few between.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            I’m aware of that, but also aware that most (all?) scheduled air routes with flying boats used harbours, lagoons or lakes as their landing sites. Carefully surveyed sheltered water, in other words.


            • Randy schenck
              Posted July 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

              Yes it was just one of those early things in aviation history that did not last. Like other things, not very economical or realistic in the long term. Besides, salt water rusts the hell out of things. Only the military could afford flying boats.

              • een
                Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

                Mmm…up to a point. There was a regular air service using flying boats between New Zealand and Australia for about 15 years up to 1954. I guess the problem was getting an aircraft with the range, although I believe they also visited some of the smaller Pacific islands which, as you point out, wouldn’t have had much in the way of large runways.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                Well, I had in mind the ‘Coral Route’ from (IIRC) Auckland to Tahiti – via Fiji, Aitutaki Lagoon (Cook Islands). Flown by Short Solent flying boats. All the landing sites were harbours or lagoons, I believe.

                (This is why Aitutaki rather than Rarotonga, the main island in the Cooks – Raro doesn’t have a lagoon, or rather its ‘lagoon’ is fairly intermittent inside a fringing reef).


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 11, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, I’m not going to watch a 43-minute documentary. Would you care to summarise the relevant point?

          It’s my impression that the vast majority of seaplane / flying boat landings were on lakes, rivers, harbours or lagoons – sheltered water, and that landings on the open sea were relatively rare. And very, very dependent on the state of the sea.


      • Posted July 11, 2017 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Better than a Lockheed Electra

  17. busterggi
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Published two years before Earhart disappeared? You know there will be fringers who will claim it was time travellers that kidnapped Earhart now.

    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Well, one fictional version of the story amounts to “forward time travel” on her part …

    • Richard
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      No, it was aliens who did it. See the ST:VOY episode ‘The 37s’ – you don’t think Hollywood could just make up something like that, do you?

  18. Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I dunno. Why should we believe a date in the archive of the Japanese government, which has ample reason to doctor evidence of a crime against a US national during peacetime?

    Why was this picture classified as top secret by our own government for so long?

    What about the fact that a former assistant FBI Director made a positive identification of Earhart in the picture?

    And what is that thing hovering in the sky to the left of the telephone pole?

    This smacks of a coverup.

    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts. Why is the photo from the US national archives in better shape than the one in this travelogue? Why was the photo in the US national archives in the file dated 1944, but the travelog is from 1935? Where is the original? Are there negatives? Can the publisher be contacted? Who was the publisher? Who shot the photo? How could it be verified to have been published in 1935 and not 1937? Etc. Good sleuthing, but there are still more questions.

      • busterggi
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Let’s see – the photo in the archives wasn’t handled as much as the one in the travelogue so its in better shape.

        Its in the file for 1944 because someone put it there – maybe, if you believe the finder. Note that it isn’t labeled as being taken in 1944.

        The original was probably in the files of the publisher of the travelogue and may have been destroyed during WWII (you must have heard about that).

        It can be verified as to when it was published by the copyright date of the travelogue – it can be older than that but not newer.

        Basic questions with basic answers.

      • Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        darwinwins was joking. You, I’m not sure about…..

        • rickflick
          Posted July 11, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          That’s something a seasoned cover-upper would say – “just joking”. I’m not having any. Why, just while I was reading this thread my electric toothbrush switched itself into high gear, the LED lights over my keyboard blinked 3 times and caught fire. It could only mean one thing…

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

            …you’re using Samsung batteries?

            • Colin McLachlan
              Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:17 am | Permalink

              😀 😀

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      “And what is that thing hovering in the sky to the left of the telephone pole?”

      That is Richard Branson, in his balloon.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink



    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      The white yacht is flying a bunch of signalling flags. With imaging enhancement, it was possible to decode them. They say “watch out for the grassy knoll”.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink


  19. jeffery
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    All the “proof” I needed that it was bogus was that it was ON the “Mythtory Channel”- nice to see that verified, though….

  20. Richard Jone4s
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    It has always puzzled me that there is such a belief that Earhart must have landed on an island somewhere. Just look at a map of the Pacific; isn’t it far more likely that she crashed into the ocean and that the remains are a few thousand metres below the surface?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      If MH370 could do it…


  21. W.Benson
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t gullible with this photo — with other topics I suspect I am. I never heard that Earhart and Noonan were flying anywhere near Japanese territory. If on the outside chance they crashed and were rescued and left sitting on a dock in the Marshall Islands, there is no reason the Japanese would not have recognized them as civilian adventurers, treated them well, and returned them with much fanfare. In short, the story makes little sense.

  22. Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    “The photo, revealed on a History Channel program, purported to show Noonan and Earhart on a dock on the Japanese-controlled atoll of Jaluit…”

    20 years ago, this probably would have been vetted by the more mainstream channels such as “The History Channel.” Now, you are basically getting the equivalent of clickbait, where the only criteria for broadcast is how much attention will the program garner. Forget about “infotainment”; this is pure entertainment.

    But of course, the very engine that helped create this environment (the internet and Web) offered the correction! So we find ourselves in an era where mainstream media outlets (and I include cable television in that group) are increasingly unreliable as sources of information about reality, but where even more good information is out there than in the past if you know where to look and who to consult.

    This is going to result in a small number of very informed people, who have the inclination, time, and intelligence to work through the data to arrive at reasonable opinions, and a much larger number of uninformed people who lack one or more of those three necessary criteria. This does not bode well for democracies around the world.

  23. Helen Hollis
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    My mother would let me stay up late with her just to watch her, We laughed so hard together. My best memories of my mother was the two of us sharing this together.

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