Judge tosses some claims in Earhart wreckage case

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — It’s been more than 75 years since aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra vanished somewhere over the South Pacific yet the mystery of her disappearance made waves Wednesday halfway around the world in a Wyoming court.

A federal judge in Casper dismissed racketeering and negligence allegations on Wednesday in a lawsuit claiming an aircraft preservation group had found the wreckage of the plane but did not disclose it so it could raise more money for searches.

The judge did, however, leave fraud and misrepresentation claims intact and that portion of the legal action will proceed.

The lawsuit filed by Timothy Mellon, son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, claims the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery of Delaware and its executive director, Richard E. Gillespie, accepted money from Mellon to search for the plane after discovering the wreckage in 2010.

The defendants deny finding the wreckage in the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

Mellon, a resident of Riverside, Wyo., says he gave the group more than $1 million last year to help fund a search in the area.

Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1932. She was trying to become the first female to circle the globe when she and her navigator disappeared in 1937.

Lawyer John Masterson, who represents the defendants, declined to comment on the ruling, saying he was still reviewing it.

At a court hearing in August, Masterson told the judge that Mellon’s allegations amounted to a “factual impossibility.”

Masterson said it was absurd for Mellon to argue that the group had found Earhart’s plane and kept the search going to fleece donors. He said an actual discovery could spawn movies, books and other lucrative ventures that would raise far more money than continuing the search.

Lawyer Tim Stubson, who represents Mellon, said he was pleased that U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl let some of the allegations stand.

“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.”

Mellon had asserted the recovery was negligent in failing to recognize the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft in underwater video it took on the 2010 expedition. Stubson said the video likely will come out in court in coming months.

Gillespie said in an interview after last month’s court hearing that many experts have analyzed the underwater video and don’t agree that it depicts Earhart’s famous aircraft.

Skavdahl noted in his ruling that the defendants had asked him to dismiss the whole lawsuit on the grounds that Mellon’s allegations are, “so strained, so contrary to logical thinking and so contrary to the human condition as to warrant summary dismissal.”

However, Skavdahl wrote that he can’t dismiss a lawsuit only because it appears unlikely the allegations can be proven.

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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