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US judge hears arguments over Earhart plane search

July 17, 2014

CASPER, Wyoming (AP) — The search for Amelia Earhart’s missing airplane could land in front of a U.S. jury, depending on how a judge rules in a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was duped into donating $1 million for an expedition.

A U.S. District judge heard arguments Thursday on dismissing a lawsuit that centers on whether Earhart’s plane, which disappeared in July 1937 in the South Pacific, was found.

Tim Mellon maintains in his lawsuit that the U.S.-based The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and its executive director, Ric E. Gillespie, actually found Earhart’s plane in 2010. Mellon, son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, says the group kept the discovery secret so he would keep giving it money.

However, the expedition group maintains it did nothing wrong because there was no conclusive evidence whether it had found Earhart’s plane. The searchers have seen a few man-made materials on the ocean floor in the area where it thinks Earhart’s plane crashed.

The judge said he will issue a ruling later but did not specify a date.

After the hearing, Gillespie said the group would be ridiculed if it had declared it found Earhart’s plane based on an undersea video of a few objects.

Tim Stubson, a lawyer representing Mellon, said whether Earhart’s plane has been found is central to determining whether fraud has occurred.

Earhart was trying to become the first woman aviator to circle the globe when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery has staged repeated expeditions to search the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, about 1,800 miles (2,895 kilometers) south of Hawaii.

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