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Judge rejects lawsuit over Amelia Earhart search

July 25, 2014

CASPER, Wyoming (AP) — A U.S. judge on Friday dismissed a man’s claims that an aircraft recovery group secretly found wreckage of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s missing airplane in the South Pacific but kept it quiet so it could continue raising funds for the search.

District Judge Scott Skavdahl dismissed the lawsuit that Timothy Mellon filed last year against the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and its executive director, Richard E. Gillespie.

Mellon claimed the group found Earhart’s plane in 2010 but kept it secret to collect $1 million from him for the search. He is the son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon.

Earhart was trying to become the first female aviator to circle the globe when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in the South Pacific in 1937.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery has staged repeated expeditions to look for her plane, narrowing its search most recently to the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro.

Lawyers for the group and Gillespie have maintained Timothy Mellon’s lawsuit was absurd. They said discovering conclusive proof of Earhart’s plane would be far more lucrative than continuing to raise money to search for it.

Gillespie said the group hopes to continue its search. He said Mellon’s lawsuit has cast a shadow over its fundraising efforts for another planned expedition to search waters around Nikumaroro this fall.

Gillespie said he’s frequently asked why it’s important to find conclusive proof of what happened to Earhart, now close to 80 years after her disappearance.

“People still make decisions in their lives because of the example that Amelia Earhart set. And so, in that sense, she’s still very much alive in the American consciousness,” Gillespie said. “Because she matters to people, her fate matters to people.”

Tim Stubson, a lawyer representing Mellon, said it’s too soon to tell how his client will respond to Skavdahl’s ruling.

“Obviously we’re disappointed with the judge’s decision,” Stubson said.