Amelia Earhart Search: Fraud Claim To Go Forward, Judge Rules

Image: Amelia Earhart Search: Fraud Claim To Go Forward, Judge Rules

Friday, 27 Sep 2013 11:45 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Amelia Earhart, the famed aviation pioneer who became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1932 and disappeared five years later while attempting to circle the globe, is at the center of a 2010 lawsuit that was partially dismissed this week by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl on Wednesday, dismissed the suit's racketeering and negligence allegations, while leaving its fraud and misrepresentation claims intact, the Associated Press reported.

The suit was filed by Wyoming man Timothy Mellon, son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, who sued The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, alleging the organization delayed its announcement that it had located Amelia Earhart’s missing plane in 2010 so that the group could solicit $1 million from him for another search.

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The only problem is, the missing plane at the center of the lawsuit has yet to be found.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft, known as TIGHAR, which has been investigating the disappearance of Earhart and her airplane for decades, found an "anomaly" in 2010 via sonar image at the depth of about 600 feet off Nikumaroro Island in the small South Seas republic of Kiribati.

In 2012, TIGHAR found a debris trail in the same general area as the sonar image, and subsequently launched an underwater search for evidence of the plane, after having recovered various items that could suggest Earhart final resting place was that island.

Among the items found was an anti-freckle cream jar belonging to a brand popular in the early part of the 19th century, a clothing zipper from the '30s, a bottle of hand lotion, and a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried and human bone fragments.

In the trial, TIGHAR's attorney Bill Carter argued that it was not in the organization's interest to keep the discovery a secret, rather the organization would seek to publicize the find immediately in order to protect it from others who might discover the item and attempt to lay claim to it.

"There is no financial gain for us in hiding the discovery of the most famous missing aviator in the history of aviation," Carter said.

As for whether or not the plane has been recovered, Carter said, "TIGHAR does not possess any definitive evidence as to the whereabouts of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra [plane], and did not conclusively make any discoveries in 2010 which it’s withheld. . . All of its information and its research is compiled and available for public viewing on its website."

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Reacting to the judge's dismissals on Wednesday, Mellon's lawyer Tim Stubson said he was pleased that the judge let some of the allegations stand, the AP reported.

"We're generally pleased," Stubson said. "This case has been really at its heart a fraud case, and the fraud and the negligent misrepresentation claims remain. So it leaves the door wide open for us to prove our allegations."

In his decision, the judge quoted an earlier court ruling that stated, "A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely."

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