06/07/2017 10:40 BST | Updated 06/07/2017 10:56 BST

Amelia Earhart ‘Survived Crash And Was Captured By The Japanese’

Was there a cover-up?

Legendary aviator Amelia Earhart mysteriously vanished while attempting the first around-the-world flight 80 years ago.

An international hero, Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, but on 2 July in 1937 she and navigator Fred Noonan left Papua New Guinea and went missing during a quest to circumnavigate the world along an equatorial route.

Theories as to what happened to the pair abound. Some believe they crash-landed and died off the island of Nikumaroro, while others claim they perished as castaways in the remote south pacific, pleading to be saved.

National Archives/ History
This picture, believed to be taken in 1937, purports to show Amelia Earhart (sitting, centre) and her navigator Fred Noonan (far left) after they went missing 

Now a haunting photo has emerged purporting to show both the aviator and Noonan after their disappearance in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands.

It is proposed Earhart has her back to the camera and is gazing at what may be her damaged 38ft-long aircraft loaded on a Japanese ship, Koshu. A man believed to be Noonan is positioned to the far left of the photo.

It is an intriguing new theory put forth in Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, a two-hour documentary airing on Sunday at 9pm EDT on the History channel. It uncovers records, including this newly revealed image, that show what may be the pair after they were last heard from.

Bettmann via Getty Images
Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, stands next to the propellor of her plane 

The film argues that after the pair crash-landed in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, they were picked up by the Japanese military and that Earhart, perhaps presumed to be a US spy, was held prisoner. Earhart and Noonan were held in Saipan, where they ultimately died, it claims. 

And there’s more: It suggests the United States government knew of her whereabouts and did nothing to rescue her, according to the film.

After Earhart and Noonan vanished, the US government closed the book on its investigation just two weeks later. Its vaguely worded findings were inconclusive.

Bettmann via Getty Images
Earhart and Noonan with a map of the Pacific that shows the planned route of their last flight 

Was there a cover-up? The film proposes there was.

The documentary is hosted by former FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry, whose fascination with the case is equalled by former US Treasury Agent Les Kinney, who discovered the photo hidden and mislabelled in the US National Archives. Kinney, who has spent 15 years searching for Earhart clues says the photo “clearly indicates that Earhart was captured by the Japanese.”

In the documentary, that photo is subjected to facial-recognition and other forensic testing. Understood to have been taken by a spy, it is judged authentic, and likely to be that of Earhart and Noonan.

In comments reported by NBC News, Ken Gibson also points out the woman alleged to be Earhart is wearing trousers – something the female aviator was known for.

Bettmann via Getty Images
Earhart was attempting the first round-the-world flight when she vanished 

Of Noonan, he said: “The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic. It’s a very sharp receding hairline. It’s my feeling that this is very convincing evidence that this is probably Noonan.”

Japanese authorities have told the channel they have no record of Earhart being in their custody. However, many records from that time did not survive World War II. 

The film also displays plane parts found in an uninhabited island of the Marshall Islands by Earhart investigator Dick Spink that are consistent with the aircraft that Earhart was flying on her round-the-world attempt. And it hears from the last living eyewitness who claims to have seen Earhart and Noonan after their crash.

The documentary tells of “a world-famous aviator who got caught up in an international dispute, was abandoned by her own government, and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Henry sums up. “She may very well be the first casualty of World War II.”