Amelia Earhart, the first great female aviator in American history, vanished without a trace while crossing the Pacific Ocean in 1937. In the years since then, many have tried and failed to discover her fate.
According to a legal suit filed by a Wyoming man, Timothy Mellon, TIGHAR actually found the plane in 2010. Sonar images taken off the coast of the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro in that year may have shown underwater evidence of the wrecked Lockheed Electra lost with Earhart.
Mellon says that the group never disclosed this possible evidence when they solicited a $1 million donation from him to fund an expedition. His suit is therefore against TIGHAR and the group’s executive director, Richard E. Gillespie.
Does Mellon have a case? Maybe. The sonar images in question are difficult to interpret and experts have already disputed whether or not there is identifiable wreckage visible in them. In addition to this, even Mellon acknowledges that he doesn’t know why TIGHAR wouldn’t announce such a big find immediately.
As for the recovery group, its members deny any fraud. Bill Carter, a lawyer and a member of the group, stated that there was no evidence of fraud. “TIGHAR does not possess any definitive evidence as to the whereabouts of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, and did not conclusively make any discoveries in 2010 which it’s withheld,” Carter told the Associated Press. “There is no financial gain for us in hiding the discovery of the most famous missing aviator in the history of aviation … we would want to publicize the finding.”
The law suit comes less than two weeks after TIGHAR announced that sonar images showed evidence of the missing airplane. Along with the announcement of the find, the group mentioned a need to raise more money if a full expedition were to be mounted.
In light of Mellon’s lawsuit, raising the money might be harder than originally though.