An old Japanese jail in the Northern Mariana Islands is to be excavated in an effort to end decades of speculation about the disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart, officials here said yesterday.
Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan are believed to have been detained in 1937 in the jail which is now a Saipan tourist site.
They were last heard from on July 3 that year when they radioed that they were running low on fuel while Earhart was attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world.
"In the past there had been rumors that Amelia Earhart's plane was shot down and she was held captive by her Japanese captors on suspicion that she was a spy. Later she was burned and buried at the back of the jail," Historic Preservation Office (HPO) director Epiphanio Cabrera said.
The Northern Marianas, a chain of 17 islands about 2,400km south of Tokyo, was administered by Japan from 1914 to 1944 and is now a US territory.
Cabrera said the excavation, which he hopes will unlock the mystery surrounding Earhart's disappearance, is expected to be under way by September.
A year after the Earhart disappeared, a French consul sent a telegram to the US State Department, claiming she was a prisoner on Saipan, and some locals still insist she died in captivity and was buried on the island.
"We will just do proper research on this to close the gap within the rumors. To my knowledge, there hasn't much research and excavation in the area," Cabrera said.