A newly unearthed photograph suggests that Amelia Earhart did not perish at sea back on July 2, 1937, when the famed female aviator vanished from the sky after sending a number of troubling transmissions.
It has long been believed that poor visibility and low gas levels caused the plane to crash in the waters near Howland Island that day, claiming the lives of the 39-year-old pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan.
That theory is now being put to the test however as a result of this never-before-seen image that appears to show both Earhart and Noonan in the Marshall Islands, with a note on the image placing them at the Jaluit Atoll, the Daily Mail reports.
Earhart's plane can also be seen on the far right being dragged by a large ship.
The image is believed to have been taken in 1937, the same year that Earhart went missing in the vicinity of the island chain.
It is a bittersweet discovery however, as the photograph also confirms the long-held belief that Earhart was captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war, this according to experts who will appear on the History special Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, airing this Sunday.
The Japanese government stated that they have no record of Earhart ever being a prisoner.
In the image, Earhart has her back to the camera and is seen speaking to Noonan as they prepare to board a boat.
The faces of the two cannot be seen, but their profiles do bear a striking similarity to the pair, who were close to finishing out their goal of circumnavigating the globe.
It is believed that the photographer was a US spy or emissary operating behind enemy lines in the Pacific.
He was later executed for committing treason according to reports.
A facial recognition expert said that it is likely Earhart and Noonan in the photo, which was discovered in the National Archive by retired federal agent Les Kinney.
The authenticity of the photograph has also been confirmed by experts.
What remains unclear however is how Earhart would have been able to crash land the plane and then get from her destination to the Jaluit Atoll, which is 1021 miles away from Howland Island.
That problem is solved however by a number of locals who claimed to have seen Earhart's plane when it crashed off the island nation.
She would have quickly been taken captive at that point along with Noonan, as Japan had begun to prohibit Westerners from entering their territories by that time.
It has been a theory of many over the years that Earhart died on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands while being held by the Japanese.
The cause of death is believed to have been Malaria or dysentery, which claimed the American icon's life in 1939, just two years after she went missing over the Pacific.
A lengthy file that allegedly described her actions in the Marshall Islands was also on file at the Office of Naval Investigations for years, until the close to 200-page report suddenly went missing - just like its subject matter.
A brief description of the file does still exist, and hints that it contains some crucial information that could unlock the mystery of what happened to the aviatress once and for all.
One specific report, submitted on January 7, 1939, 'contains information that Earhart was a prisoner in the Marshall islands' according to a reference report in the National Archives.
This photo would also confirm that the American government was not only aware that Earhart was alive but also that she had been captured by the Japanese.
It is unclear why they would have then chosen to keep this a secret, though the decision to not reveal that a national hero had been killed by the US's new ally after World War II likely made for a smoother transition during the peace process.
Kinney believes that the photo was taken no later than 1943, as that is when the US began bombing the atoll where Earhart and Noonan can be seen in the photo.
Rumours that Earhart had survived after crashing off the Marshall Islands first began to emerge over six decades ago based on eyewitness accounts from locals who claimed to see the distinct-looking visitor to the area.
That claim was given further credence just two years ago when Kinney discovered two metal fragments he determined were from Earhart's aircraft on the Mili Atoll.
The Mili Atoll is far smaller than the Jaluit mass and approximately 165 miles West, which would suggest this is where Earhart may have crash landed her plane that July morning before being taken to Jaluit.
Earhart had taken off from the Lae Airfield in Papya New Guinea just after midnight in July 2, on one of the final legs of her journey.
She had already become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic when she undertook her mission to go around the world aboard a specially manufactured Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane with Noonan.
The pair were 22,000 miles into the 29,000 mile trip and were due to land at Howland Island, 1,700 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu in the Pacific Ocean, when they got into trouble.
The US Coast Guard station Itasca on Howland Island lost radio contact with Earhart at 8.43am local time on July 2 1937 when she transmitted: "We are running on line north and south".
The official US government version is that Earhart, 41 when she died, and Noonan, 44, ran out of fuel, crashed and died within 40 miles of Howland Island, possibly because of heavy weather in the area at the time.
At that time she also noted that she was having issues with visibility from the cockpit due to the clouds hanging over the Pacific Ocean that day.
She was declared dead in absentia two years later on January 5, 1939, which is around the same time that Earhart is believed to have succumbed to illness while being held on Saipan.
In the 80 years and three days since Earhart went missing, there have been countless reports and claims which allege to have definitive proof of just what happened to the fearless wingwoman.
The other theory which has garnered a good deal of support comes from Ric Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR.
It is their belief that Earhart made an emergency landing on a flat stretch of coral reef known as Gardner Island, or Nikumaroro, southwest of Howland.
Millions have been raised in order to allow them to test this theory, and just last year they claimed to have possibly discovered the remains of Earhart on the island.
According to the Earhart Project, another group eager to prove the fate of America's first and foremost aviatress, there is a newly discovered similarity between Amelia Earhart and the castaway whose partial skeleton was found on Nikumaroro in 1940.
The bones, which were discovered by a person who immediately declared them to be Earhart's remains, were initially dismissed by British authorities after a doctor judged them to be male.
They were then lost until TIGHAR discovered the original British files in 1998, including the skeletal measurements the doctor made.
Measurements supported the theory that the skeletal remains could be Earhart, and the team then enlisted forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman to analyse a picture of the pilot.
After identifying the correct points on the shoulder, elbow and wrist for comparing bone length, Jeff found that Earhart's humerus to radius ratio was 0.76 - virtually identical to the castaway's.
"The match does not, of course, prove that the castaway was Amelia Earhart but it is a significant new data point that tips the scales further in that direction," the organization said at the time.
In their latest venture to prove that Earhart perished on the island with Noonan, the group announced last month that they were bringing in bone-sniffing dogs to search the areas for remains.
TIGHAR members - including engineers and archaeologists - also claimed to have found aluminium panelling fitting 1930s specifications, Plexiglas like that used in Earhart's plane, and ball bearings in the past.
The biggest find however may have been the size 9 Cat's Paw heel dating from the 1930s, similar to that seen on Earhart's footwear in world flight photos.
But the plane itself is nowhere to be found - because, Gillespie says, it would have been pulled into the sea by the tide.
Or, pulled to the Jaluit Atoll on the back of the boat just like in the photo.
And while they may not be getting the same amount of respect that their peers receive for their self-proclaimed breakthroughs, two recent theories have certainly provided Earhart with a fascinating life after her crash.
One of these theories involves her death, and the belief that giant coconut crabs may have carried away the pilot's remains after her body began to decompose on the ocean floor.
Earhart lives on in the second theory, which argues that the flying wonder became an American spy who gathered intel on the Japanese.
The widely held belief though is that the pilot and her navigator were captured by Japanese troops who were setting up military bases in the Pacific.
Those troops were said to be on board a transport ship heading to the island of Saipan, where Japan had a large military base, at the time of the crash.
Some even believe they may have played a role in taking the plane down that day.
Kinney has previously stated his belief that after the crash, the plane was put on carts used for transporting ammunition and then loaded on to a barge that was towed to the island of Jaluit.
There, it is presumed the plane was lifted onto the ship and then taken to Saipan.
Kinney was part of a team that travelled to the Mili Atoll in January of last year, which is
when he found the remains of three of the ammunition cart's metal wheels and axles, while the wooden tops rotted away years ago.
Kinney said: "The rails were moved and reset until the Japanese reached the lagoon side of the beach where the plane was loaded onto a small barge with the help of 40 locals."
In 2009, Wally Earhart, Amelia's fourth cousin, said the U.S. government continued to perpetrate a "massive cover-up" about the couple and insisted they had died in Japanese custody.
"They did not die as claimed by the government and the Navy when the Electra plunged into the Pacific - they died while in Japanese captivity on the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas," said Mr Earhart, who did not reveal his sources.
He said that on Saipan, Noonan was beheaded by the Japanese and Earhart died soon after from dysentery and other ailments.
Kinney and many other Earhart enthusiasts believe her plane was dumped into a giant pit in Saipan along with Japanese aircraft by US marines in the aftermath of World War Two.
The pit is under a runway that is still being used. One researcher is trying to get permission to unearth the planes.
Then there was Thomas E. Devine, who served in a postal Army unit who spoke of a letter from the daughter of a Japanese police official who claimed her father was responsible for Amelia's execution.
Photographs have also emerged over the years claiming to show Amelia in captivity - but these have been found to be fraudulent or to have been taken before she began her flight.
There are also the claims of U.S. troops who landed on Saipan after the war went on to insist they found a safe which, after it was blown open, was found to contain a briefcase filled with Amelia's flying documents.
Another claim, which has received no real support, claims that a stash of Earhart's documents were found in a cave on Saipan.
More will no doubt all be revealed on Sunday at 9pm when the History special Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence airs.