The Obsessed, Feuding Searchers Still Looking for Amelia Earhart

Long Read

(AtlasObscura) It was November 8, 2012, and Timothy Mellon, the son of the late Paul Mellon—once one of the richest men in the world—was ecstatic. The younger Mellon had recently returned from an expedition to the deserted Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro, where some think Amelia Earhart ended up after vanishing in 1937, and his instincts for sleuthing for the truth of the aviator’s disappearance were in overdrive.

Mellon went to Nikumaroro under the aegis of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a non-profit that has been searching for Earhart for nearly 30 years. He also played a large role in financing the expedition, to the tune of around $1 million. That trip, in the end, didn’t uncover anything definitive, but an earlier TIGHAR expedition, in 2010, had produced an underwater video, which Mellon, then an active participant on TIGHAR’s messaging boards, had spent hours watching. In the course of examining the video, he said that November, he’d spotted something significant in the footage: Earhart’s plane. He could see it all: the tachometer, the altimeter, and a co-pilot’s wheel, among many other things.

Mellon posted about his discovery on a TIGHAR message board, but there was a problem: nobody else could see the plane. So after a couple of weeks, and a lot of rancorous disputes, executive director Richard Gillespie shut down the thread. This should have been the end of the story, but, Gillespie told me last month, it was just the beginning.

“The next thing I know,” Gillespie says, “he sues me.”

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