Underwater video shot four years ago in a remote South Pacific island doesn’t show the wreckage of the airplane flown by Amelia Earhart on her fateful round-the-world flight of 1937, say experts retained by an aircraft preservation group.

Stating that the video does not provide evidence for an aircraft debris field, the reports were filed in court this week by expert witnesses for The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating Earhart's fate.

In 10 archaeological expeditions, TIGHAR has tested the hypothesis that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing on the flat coral reef at the western end of Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati some 350 miles southeast of their target destination.

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According to the hypothesis, Earhart might have survived on Nikumaroro as a castaway for a matter of weeks, and possibly more.

Timothy Mellon, the son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, alleges that the Delaware aircraft preservationist group found Earhart's twin-engined Lockheed Electra already in 2010, but hid the discovery to raise money to continue the search.

Mellon, who filed a federal lawsuit last year, says he donated the group more than $1 million in 2012 to contribute for another search.

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Mellon’s charges have been called absurd by TIGHAR’s lawyer John Masterson, who argued that keeping the discovery of the Electra secret in order to raise more money from donors would have made no sense. Such a finding would have been more lucrative in terms of movies, books and other rewarding ventures, he said.

Earlier this year, expert witnesses for Mellon filed court statements in which they reported their analysis of an eight minute high definition ROV video shot during the 2010 expedition in the waters off Nikumaroro. They argued that the shapes of two underwater formations are debris from the Electra, specifically the aircraft’s tail wheel and part of the front landing gear.

The experts created 3-dimensional CAD models of such aircraft parts based on dimensions taken from Electra parts and superimposed, rotated and scaled images of the 3-D models on still frames from the video sequence.

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According to Rhode Island engineer John D. Jarrell, one of the experts retained by Mellon, the objects are consistent with parts of Earhart's long-lost aircraft.

“In the absence of an alternative explanation for the source of those objects, we conclude that they are likely to have originated from Earhart's Electra," Jarrell wrote.


But both photogrammetrist James I. Ebert, an expert in photo analysis, digital mapping technologies and image processing, and Les Kaufman, a professor of biology at the Boston University Marine Program, disagree.

“The methods used to construct, rotate, scale and superimpose outlines of known plane parts upon objects seen in the video were effortful and clever. However, I did not find the demonstration convincing,” Kaufman wrote.

“All that I could make out unambiguously on the video, even after the powerful suggestions brought forward by the superimposed diagrams, were two pieces of rope of different gauge, a circular piece of wire, a few other pieces that could conceivably be man-made debris, and a very great deal of largely unconsolidated carbonate reef rock,” he added.

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Ebert noted that the two formations focused upon by Mellon’s experts in the video “are identical in color and texture to the surrounding coral and/or sediments, giving no visual hint of consisting of metal and rubber.”

“In addition, there is no way of determining scale in the video images, so they may be of virtually any size. For these reasons it is not appropriate, and even less is it conclusive in any way, to hypothesize that these are aircraft debris, rather than coral or rock formations,” Ebert wrote.

At a court hearing last September, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper dismissed two of the four counts in the lawsuit, refuting allegations of racketeering and negligence.

Skavdahl has set trial for August on the remaining claims of fraud and misrepresentation.

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“I think the lawsuit can definitely be resolved without going to trial if all parties are willing to recognize and appreciate the new information and perspectives revealed in the discovery process,” Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.

“Reason can prevail and we can move forward toward solving the Earhart mystery,” he added.

A new, one-month expedition to Nikumaroro is schedule to start on Sept. 15.