by Bella Rum

A documentary, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” airs on the History channel at 9 p.m. tonight. It promises to present new and compelling evidence about the unsolved fate of pioneer female aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan. Earhart, her navigator, and her plane famously disappeared on the final leg of an around-the-world flight in 1937, never to be heard from again.

I was fascinated with Amelia Earhart and her disappearance when I was a kid. As you can imagine, crazy theories abounded. The big question: Did she survive the crash? She was my first experience with conspiracy theories that spring up like weeds after the unexpected or mysterious loss of a beloved (or despised) public figure. JFK would come later.

The boys at school seemed more obsessed with rumors of Adolph Hitler faking his suicide and escaping to a safe, prepared and undisclosed location, but it was Amelia who captured my imagination. Instead of subscribing to the most widely accepted account of her plane crash-landing in the Pacific Ocean, I preferred to believe she was living happily on a deserted island, wearing her cut-off aviator pants, eating local fruit and drifting to sleep in a hammock. It was easier than accepting the more obvious theory that this unbelievably courageous daredevil came to an abrupt and unheralded end, and was now sleeping in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. No! She dwelled in a self-constructed hut, and picked bananas every morning for breakfast. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The documentary focuses on a “black-and-white photograph found by former Treasury agent Les Kinney in declassified National Archive records in 2012.” It is believed to have been taken by a British, Australian or U.S. spy. What appears to be a woman wearing the style pants Earhart wore and sporting Earhart’s signature hairstyle – too long for a man of the times, too short for a native woman – is sitting on a dock. A man who meets the description of Fred Noonan – a Caucasian man with a prominent nose and a sharply receding hairline – stands on the dock with several local people. Facial recognition software indicates that this could be Fred Noonan. This new theory embraces the idea that Earhart survived the crash, was captured by the Japanese, by whom she was believed to be a spy, and was taken to a Japanese prison and died there.

A new theory takes its place among the others.

Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence – History channel tonight at 9 p.m.