The "crash-and-sink" theory suggests that Earhart and Noonan died after the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the vast Pacific Ocean.
The experts believe the photo was taken by a spy before the pair of aviators were imprisoned in Saipan, where they ultimately died.
They theorize that Japanese forces captured Earhart and Noonan, believing them to be spies and held them prisoner in the Mariana Islands.
The photo appears to show Earhart sitting on a dock, with Noonan standing on the left side of the photograph. The image-which analysts believe to be real-depicts several individuals, including two believed to be Earhart and Noonan, at the edge of a dock, and is indicated in a typed label to have been taken in 1937 in the Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Some point to similarities between the man's receding hairline and Noonan's actual appearance.
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Facial recognition expert Ken Gibson said that the evidence is "very convincing".
At just 31, she was the first woman pilot to successfully fly over the Atlantic and was dubbed "Queen of the Air", having penned books and featured in commercial adverts. Now, 80 years later, newly UNCOVERED evidence from within U.S. Government archives may finally bring this case to a close. "We don't know when". "The nose is very prominent", Gibson said.
It features reports by retired federal agent Les Kinney, who said the photograph was found among thousands of National Archives documents he sifted through in his hunt for more information about Earhart's disappearance.
The Japanese government denied having any record of Earhart and Noonan being held in captivity, but many records from the time were destroyed in World War II.
US investigators quickly gave up the search, concluding they crashed into the ocean and formally pronounced them dead in 1939.
"People take photos and interpret them, and they're free to do that", Cochrane said.