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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Island prison hunt for Earhart
Amelia Earhart in Ireland, 1932, after completing her flight across the Atlantic
Earhart's exploits made her famous around the world.
A disused Japanese jail on a remote Pacific island is to be excavated in an effort to find the grave of US aviator Amelia Earhart, who vanished in 1937.

Officials on Saipan, a US-run territory in the Northern Mariana islands, hope to begin digging in September.

Ms Earhart was attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world when she disappeared along with her navigator, Fred Noonan.

Neither was seen again, but some think they became prisoners on Saipan.

Ms Earhart was heading from New Guinea to the tiny Howland Island - predicted to be a long, dangerous leg of her journey - when she disappeared on 2 July 1937.

Burnt and buried?

No trace of Ms Earhart or Mr Noonan has ever been found, despite a huge $4m search operation.

Nevertheless, there have long been suspicions that she was shot down by the Japanese as she passed close to Saipan.

The island is situated 3,800 miles (6,100km) south-west of Hawaii, thousands of miles from her intended route.

Jan 1921: Begins flying lessons
Oct 1922: Breaks women's altitude record
Jun 1928: First woman to fly across Atlantic
May 1932: First woman to cross Atlantic solo
Aug 1932: First woman to fly US coast-to-coast
Jan 1935: First person to solo from Honolulu to Oakland
Jun 1937: Begins round-the-world flight
"In the past there had been rumours that Amelia Earhart's plane was shot down and she was held captive by her Japanese captors on suspicion that she was a spy," said Epiphanio Cabrera, director of the Northern Marianas' Historic Preservation Office.

Among the evidence is a telegram sent by a French consul to the US State Department saying that Ms Earhart was held captive on the island.

Island officials have now applied to the US National Park Service for approval and funding for a dig.

"We will just do proper research on this to close the gap within the rumours. To my knowledge, there hasn't much research and excavation in the area," Mr Cabrera said.

"The rumours have been passed down for many years that Amelia Earhart's plane was shot down by the Japanese and she was put into the jail.

"She was burned at the jail and buried at the back of it."

Amelia Earhart, who was 39-years-old when she disappeared, had made several landmark flights ahead of her doomed voyage.

In 1928 she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, and repeated the journey solo in 1932.

She claimed numerous other distance and speed records during the 1930s before setting out on her round-the-world voyage on 1 June 1937.

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