Samaritan Says Nonprofit Diddled Him for $1 Million in Search for Amelia Earhart's Plane
(CN) - A nonprofit that claims to have found the wreck of Amelia Earhart's final flight took $1 million from a Wyoming man to look for it, without telling him it already had found it, the man claims in court.
Timothy Mellon sued The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and its executive director Richard Gillespie, in Casper, Wyo. Federal Court.
Mellon claims the Delaware-based defendants found Earhart's Lockheed Electra twin-engine, all-metal monoplane near Nikumaroro, in the South Pacific, in 2010.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, performs investigations, aviation archeology and historic preservation of rare and historic aircraft.
"As part of its efforts, TIGHAR engages in extensive fund raising utilizing corporate sponsorships and private dollars to fund its activities," Mellon says in the complaint.
"Among the most prominent of its efforts is TIGHAR's ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific in 1937."
TIGHAR focused on the island of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, in the Republic of Kiribati, Mellon says.
"Operating on a hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan landed and perished on Nikumaroro, TIGHAR has launched a number of expeditions to the island and conducted numerous detailed surveys and searches of the island and its surrounding waters.
"In 2010, TIGHAR undertook an expedition to the island known as Niku VI.
"The expedition, which lasted from May 18, 2010, through June 14, 2010, included the use of a remote-operated vehicle which was equipped with a high-definition video camera. Significant footage of the waters surrounding Nikumaroro was obtained during the investigation, including footage of the wreckage of the Lockheed Electra flown by Amelia Earhart when she disappeared in 1937," the complaint states.
But TIGHAR failed to disclose the discovery, Mellon says, and began planning and fund raising for its next expedition, Niku VII.
Mellon claims that Gillespie contacted him by telephone, fax and mail to solicit contributions for the expedition, telling him that "the Earhart aircraft had not been located."
Believing the group had not found the wreckage, Mellon says, he donated $1 million.
"At no time did Mr. Gillespie discuss the Niku VI expedition or the debris field that was discovered as part of that expedition," the complaint states. "Instead, Mr. Gillespie represented that the wreckage had not been found and expressed optimism that by utilizing additional tools a discovery was possible during the Niku VII expedition.
"Based upon TIGHAR's representations Mr. Mellon contributed stock having a value of $1,046,843.00 to help fund the Niku VII expedition."
In July 2012, TIGHAR departed from Hawaii with Mellon, a Discover Channel crew and other supporters in tow, Mellon says.
The group again used a remote-operated vehicle and a high-definition camera, Mellon says. The complaint does not provide details of the results of Niku VII. But afterward, TIGHAR announced plans to raise money for Niku VIII, the complaint states.
Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1937, the Kansas native attempted a 29,000-mile flight around the globe. On her second attempt, nearly 22,000 miles in, Earhart's voice transmissions stopped somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Search efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and others failed to yield a trace of the Electra or its occupants. Earhart was declared legally dead on Jan. 5, 1939.
Mellon seeks treble damages and attorneys' fees for racketeering, fraud and negligence.
He is represented by Jeff Oven with Crowley Fleck, of Billings, Mont., and Timothy Stubson of Casper, Wyo.