- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - An aircraft recovery group is asking a federal appeals court to dismiss a Wyoming man’s claim that the group secretly found wreckage of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s missing airplane in the South Pacific but kept it so it could continue raising funds for the search.

District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper in July rejected a lawsuit that Timothy Mellon of Riverside, Wyoming, filed against the Pennsylvania-based International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and its 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.

Mellon last fall asked a federal appeals court in Denver to reverse Skavdahl’s decision summarily dismissing his case. The TIGHAR group and Gillespie filed papers with the appeals court last week asking it to uphold Skavdahl’s ruling.

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 TIGHAR has staged repeated expeditions to look for her plane, narrowing its search most recently to the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

Expert witnesses for Mellon filed statements in Skavdahl’s court last year saying they saw similarities between parts of Earhart’s plane and objects shown on video of the ocean floor from TIGHAR’s 2010 search.

In his ruling, Skavdahl wrote that it wasn’t clear what was shown on the video. “There is no evidence in the record that, in fact, the Earhart wreckage lies on the ocean floor off of Nikumaroro and defendants knew, or should have known, that fact upon review of footage from (the expedition),” he wrote.

Gillespie said Wednesday that his group is raising funds to mount another expedition to the South Pacific to continue the search this summer.

Gillespie has said Mellon’s claims that TIGHAR would keep the discovery of the wreckage of Earhart’s plane secret don’t make sense. Gillespie maintains finding the plane would generate more money from documentary films and other sources than there would be in raising money to continue the search.

“He sees one thing, and we see something else, and nobody knows for sure what’s there,” Gillespie said of Mellon. “And you can’t have a trial on whose opinion is right, and that’s what Judge Skavdahl said.”

Tim Stubson, a Casper lawyer, represents Mellon. “It’s really important to Mr. Mellon that an organization like TIGHAR be upfront and be truthful about what they’re trying to do and what they found,” Stubson said Wednesday.

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