SYDNEY - A US aircraft history expert has dismissed as "beyond ludicrous" claims that the wreckage of aviator Amelia Earhart's plane has been found in Papua New Guinea and is guarded by a six-meter long snake.
Papua New Guinea's Post-Courier newspaper had reported that a plane wreck found in 70 metres of water northwest of Buka in the autonomous Bougainville region in 2005 may answer the mystery of what became of the adventurer.
But the US-based group of aviation enthusiasts The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) dismissed the claim as improbable.
"They contacted me months ago and my response was initially, 'I really don't see how it could be Earhart's plane'," executive director Ric Gillespie told AFP via telephone from the United States.
Earhart's plane took off from Lae, in what is now Papua New Guinea, in July 1937 during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe via the equator. She was never seen again.
A massive search failed to find Earhart or navigator Fred Noonan and the pair are presumed to have died after ditching their Lockheed Electra in the ocean en route to Howland Island -- a tiny isle in the middle of the Pacific.
Gillespie said Earhart's plane was within 200 miles of Howland with four hours of fuel left at most when it disappeared.
"And there's just no way that a 150 mile an hour airplane can fly 2,000 miles in four hours back to New Guinea -- it's not going to happen," he said.
He said the plane could be the wreck of an American US navy Lockheed Ventura that was lost in the area during World War II.
"If there is any airplane there at all I suspect that is what they found," he said, adding that his request for pictures for verification purposes had been ignored.
He said the stories regarding the coral-covered wreck -- such as that valuables including gold bullion had been found inside the plane and that a six-meter (20 foot) snake was guarding it -- were difficult to believe.
"It has just reached the point where it is beyond ludicrous," he said.
"Maybe somebody has seen an airplane which could be mistaken for a Lockheed Electra and things just went way out of control. Maybe they are inventing things to try to keep people away from it but it's just got as silly as anything I've ever seen (regarding Earhart)... and that's saying something."
Many theories, including that Earhart lived for years as a castaway on a remote island, have surfaced since the aviator went missing and Gillespie said the story illustrated the enduring interest in the aviator.
"I suppose it's a tribute to Amelia," he said.