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If you’re like most Americans, the story of Amelia Earhart is one that you’re familiar with, but never devoted much serious thought to.

It’s a narrative that’s first introduced to most of us in grade school:

Earhart was an aviation pioneer and the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, but her life was cut tragically short during a failed attempt to fly around the globe. 

Amelia Earhart Photo

The circumstances surrounding Earhart’s disappearance remain mysterious, but it’s been widely assumed that she died in a crash after running out of fuel.

Now, 80 years after the famed pilot’s disappearance, a controversial photo is raising questions about the accuracy of that assumption.

The image – part of a new documentary produced by the History Channel and former FBI assistant director Shawn Henry – is being presented as evidence that Earhart did not die in a crash or as a castaway.

Instead, Henry claims, Earhart was held captive by the Japanese after crash landing her plane on a remote island in the South Pacific.

The photo, he says, shows Earhart surrounded by her captors.

Amelia Earhart

“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 notes that the Japanese likely did not realize they were imprisoning a famous pilot, and they "may have believed" that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were American spies.

The theory that Earhart died in captivity has been espoused by numerous Earhart buffs over the years, but Henry claims this is the first photographic evidence that supports that notion.

The image has been analyzed by a digital forensic who confirmed that it hasn’t been retouched, as well as a facial recognition expert who says it’s "likely" that the seated woman in the photo is Earhart.

Earhart Newspaper
(New York Daily News Archive)

But there are some skeptics who insist that even if Earhart is the woman in the photo, the image proves nothing about her disappearance.

Ric Gillespie, owner of an organization dedicated to solving the Earhart mystery, says Earhart would not have had enough fuel to reach the Marshall Islands, where the photo was taken.

He also points out that her alleged captors in the image are not carrying guns, and do not appear to be behaving in any sort of menacing fashion.

Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence premieres on the History Channel on Sunday, July 9.