On Labor Day, millionaire adventurer and accomplished pilot Steve Fossett took off from a private airstrip 80 miles southeast of Reno in a Super Decathlon on what was supposed to be a three-hour flight. He did not return.
As this issue went to press, the search for Fossett, 63, was in its second week.
Fossett did not file a flight plan. Search teams made up of volunteers and law enforcement have been searching the Nevada desert since his disappearance. Although Fossett is trained in outdoor survival techniques, as the search entered its second week hope for his safe return began to fade because of the harsh conditions of the region. Of particular concern is the lack of available water and temperatures in the 90s.
There was no report of ELT activation from the plane or a watch Fossett was said to be wearing with a built-in ELT. Many survival experts speculated that either he had crashed and was too badly injured to activate the ELT or had perished.
At first searchers believed that he made the flight to find good locations for setting a land speed record. As the search entered its second week they amended that theory to suggest Fossett was actually on a pleasure flight and narrowed their efforts to within 50 miles of his departure airport, Barron Hilton’s Flying M Ranch.
On Sept. 12 searchers received tips from people who claimed to have seen a blue and white airplane. Two people reported seeing the airplane flying into a canyon some 20 miles from Minden, Nevada, but not coming back out. Another person reported seeing the airplane, then hearing what sounded like an explosion. The alleged sightings are 100 miles apart and are being investigated.
According to the adventurer’s web site, SteveFossett.com, Fossett’s last confirmed position, on Sept. 3, showed the aircraft west of Powell Canyon.
In addition to law enforcement, search and rescue organizations and the Civil Air Patrol, private citizens were encouraged to join in the search through the Internet using programs that display satellite images of the terrain, such as Google Earth and Amazon.com’s Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Computer-based searchers were shown satellite images and asked to check carefully for anything that might be an airplane. As of press time, thousands of people had joined in the Internet-based search.
Coordinators of the search said that all leads were being checked out.
The search has been especially frustrating since the Nevada desert has several airplane crash sites in it and crashes decades old have been mistaken for Fossett’s downed airplane. People who have had family members disappear during flights in the desert have contacted authorities to find out if those crash sites are connected to their loved ones. Authorities said investigations of those crash sites will have to wait until the search for Fossett concludes.
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