October 2, 2008

Hiker Finds License Believed to Be Fossett’s Pilot’s License Found in Calif. May Be Fossett’s


By Juliana Barbassa

The Associated Press


A hiker in a rugged part of eastern California found a pilot's license and other items possibly belonging to Steve Fossett, the adventurer who vanished on a solo flight in a borrowed plane more than a year ago, authorities said Wednesday.

The hiker, Preston Morrow, said he found a Federal Aviation Administration identity card, a pilot's license, a third ID and $1,005 in cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes on Monday. He said he turned the items in to local police Wednesday after unsuccessful attempts to contact Fossett's family.

Mammoth Lakes police Investigator Crystal Schafer confirmed that the department had the items, including the ones bearing Fossett's name.

Search teams led by the Madera County Sheriff's Department have been sent to the scene, said sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stewart.

Morrow said he found no sign of a plane or any human remains.

Fossett, whose exploits included circumnavigating the globe in a balloon, disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off in a single- engine plane borrowed from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton. A judge declared Fossett legally dead in February following a search for the aviator that covered 20,000 square miles.

Michael LoVallo, a lawyer for Fossett's widow, Peggy, said, "We are aware of the reports and are trying to verify the information."

Aviators had flown over Mammoth Lakes in the search for Fossett, but it had not been considered a likely place to find the plane. The most intense searching was concentrated to the north, given what searchers knew about sightings of Fossett's plane, his plans for when he had intended to return and the amount of fuel he had in the plane.

Morrow, 43, who works in a Mammoth Lakes sporting goods store, said he initially didn't know who Fossett was. It wasn't until he showed the items to co-workers Tuesday that one of them recognized Fossett's name.

"It was just weird to find that much money in the backcountry, and the IDs," he said. "My immediate thought was it was a hiker or backpacker's stuff, and a bear got to the stuff and took it away to look for food or whatever."

Morrow said he returned to the scene with a friend Tuesday to search further and did not find any plane wreckage or human remains. They did find a black Nautica pullover fleece, size XL, in the same area, but he said he wasn't sure whether the items were related.

Morrow said he consulted local attorney David Baumwohl, and they initially tried to contact the Fossett family but were unable to get through to their lawyers.

"We figured if it was us, we'd want to know first. We wouldn't want to learn from the news," Baumwohl said.

When they weren't able to contact the law firm that handled the death declaration , they decided to turn everything over to the police, the attorney said.

when he vanished

Steve Fossett, a millionaire adventurer, disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off in a single-engine plane in Nevada.

Originally published by BY JULIANA BARBASSA.

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