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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Amelia Earhart Plane Search Group

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a Wyoming man who said the group looking for the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s lost airplane deceived him into donating it more than a million dollars.

Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote Timothy Mellon of Riverside could not prove that The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) falsely claimed it had found the plane lost in 1937.

“There is simply no evidence Defendants misrepresented their mission or their status of the search for the Earhart wreckage,” Skavdahl wrote

The group and its CEO Richard Gillespie have been searching for the wreck of the legendary missing Lockheed Electra since 1985.

Famed aviatrix Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting to fly around the world at the equator and were heading from Howland Island in the South Pacific when radio transmissions stopped. Investigators have concentrated on a tiny desert coral atoll, Nikumaroro  in the island nation of Kirbati, where Gillespie believes Earhart landed the plane. Evidence suggests Earhart and Noonan died on the island and the plane’s wreckage was washed out to sea, according to the Discovery Channel, which has worked with TIGHAR.

In 2010, Gillespie and his crew returned to the island for a month and searched the waters surrounding the island. Mellon watched a subsequent documentary by the Discovery Channel in 2012, about the time Gillespie began seeking benefactors, according to Mellon’s complaint.

Mellon donated stock valued at $1,046,843 for the next expedition in July 2012.

However, he later came to believe, based on a review of videos taken of underwater scenes from the 2010 expeditions, that TIGHAR and Gillespie already had found the wreckage but kept that discovery secret in order to defraud him. Those videos showed what Mellon and another person who reviewed them believed may possibly be cables or rods that were part of Earhart’s plane.

So he sued the group for negligent misrepresentation and fraud.

TIGHAR responded that the court should dismiss Mellon’s lawsuit because his conclusions about what he possibly saw in the videos were his interpretations of the objects seen in the water. It also asserted that it would have no reason to falsely claim that it had not found the aircraft when it fact it had because that was its reason for existing.

Skavdahl agreed with TIGHAR.

Mellon could not prove what the group claimed about what it found in 2010 was false, the judge wrote.

“There is absolutely no evidence Defendants knew the 2010 footage depicted anything more than rods (or maybe cables) and a rope in the area where they believe the Earhart wreckage to be. At best, Defendants knew they had strong evidence in support of their hypothesis which warranted further investigation,” Skavdahl wrote.

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