Amelia Earhart Mystery: Newly Found Photo Could Prove the Pilot Lived—and Was Captured by the Japanese

Glass ceiling–shattering pilot Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937 while trying to fly around the world. But now, almost exactly 80 years later, there may be a new development in her disappearance.

Experts said they believe a recently uncovered photo from the National Archives shows Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan the same year the aviators went missing, the Today Show reported exclusively on Wednesday. The woman thought to be Earhart isn't facing the camera, but her characteristics match up. The picture is labeled "Jaluit Atoll," which is the name of an area in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and displays the Japanese ship Koshu as it moves a 38-foot-long item.

Earhart's plane was 38 feet, 7 inches long.

Related: Newsweek Rewind: When Amelia Earhart disappeared

"We have no evidence anywhere that she crashed into the ocean, even though that's been the common narrative for so many years," Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director of the FBI, told Today. "I think we have a lot of evidence that she lived and survived in the Marshall Islands."

Henry worked on the upcoming History Channel special Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, which discovered the photo in question. So, too, did executive producer Gary Tarpinian, who laid out his Earhart theory in the Today interview: The Japanese took Earhart to Saipan in the Mariana Islands and imprisoned the pilot until her death.

There are a number of theories about what happened to Earhart after she was last seen on July 2, 1937, taking off from New Guinea to travel to Howland Island. The suggestion that she and Noonan crashed and were captured by the Japanese is not new—witnesses have been saying for years that they saw the duo get arrested for spying.

"My father was 23 at the time and working at the Japanese seaport moving drums of water for a Japanese company that took water from the big spring east of the port. That dock area is where he saw the two tall white people under guard," local politician Stanley McGinnis Torres told the Japan Times. "He couldn't say that the Americans he saw were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. He couldn't say for sure what happened to them, but it makes sense to me that the prisoners, whoever they were, were either killed here on Saipan or sent on to Japan for questioning."

Others, of course, have poked holes in the story or continued to pursue other explanations. Representatives from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, for example, told The New York Times they think Earhart landed on the island of Nikumaroro. In their account, she transmitted distress signals and tried to request a rescue but was ultimately stranded.

The History Channel crew, however, remained unconvinced—and excited over the photo, which they swear is authentic and suggest may have been covered up by government officials, according to People.

"This absolutely changes history," Henry said.