October 3, 2008

A Year on, Fossett Plane is Found

By Stephen McGinty

HE DISAPPEARED into the clouds and left behind a mystery and allegations of a faked death. More than a year after Steve Fossett, the American billionaire adventurer, took off on a routine flight, the wreckage of his small plane has been discovered in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

According to aviation experts, the plane appears to have smashed head-on into the mountainside. But in a point likely to be seized upon by conspiracy theorists, Mr Fossett's body has not yet been discovered.

The wreckage was located after Mr Fossett's pilot's licence and other identification documents were found by a hiker near Mammoth Lakes in California on Monday.

Yesterday Sheriff John Anderson of Madera County said the wreckage had been spotted late on Wednesday during an aerial search of a stretch of the Sierra Nevadas near Mammoth Lakes. A ground team later confirmed the identity of the plane. Mr Anderson said: "The crash looked so severe I doubt if someone would have walked away from it. There was no body in the plane. We have not found any human remains at the crash site."

Most of the fuselage had disintegrated, with engine parts scattered several hundred feet away. Mr Anderson said there would now be an extensive search for human remains.

Preston Morrow, the hiker, said he found a Federal Aviation Administration identity card, a pilot's licence, a third ID and dollars 1,005 (GBP 558) in cash on Monday but saw no sign of a plane or of any human remains.

Mammoth Lakes is about 90 miles south of Flying M Ranch where Mr Fossett, 63, was last seen alive as he set off in the single-engine aircraft on 3 September last year.

Despite an extensive search at the time, nothing was found, which triggered a number of theories that Mr Fossett may have faked his own death and was now living under a new identity.

There were unconfirmed reports of mistresses and stories that his fortune was shrinking as the economy began to struggle, suggesting he might not be as happy as he appeared.

But friends said Mr Fossett had been fine when he disappeared and was excited about trying to break the land speed record, an attempt that was only months away.

Despite the conspiracy theories, he was declared legally dead in February by an Illinois judge, Jeffery Malak. On Wednesday his widow, Peggy, said in a statement that she hoped the search would locate her husband's remains and added: "I am grateful to all of those involved in this effort."

Yesterday Sir Richard Branson, who backed some of Mr Fossett's record attempts and unsuccessfully tried to circumnavigate the globe by balloon with him, said: "It looks very much like we're close to finding Steve.

This should now lay to rest the frivolous stories about Steve and give everyone close to him the chance to pay the right tributes to a truly great and extraordinary man."


STEVE Fossett, the world-famous daredevil, garnered a string of records for his spectacular challenges.

The billionaire achieved world records in feats involving balloons, sailing boats, gliders, airships and powered aircraft.

A few weeks before he disappeared last September, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and told a crowd at Ohio's Dayton Convention Centre he had no intention of giving up his daring feats. "I'm hoping you didn't give me this award because you think my career is complete, because I'm not done," he said.

Fossett, who was 63 when he disappeared, graduated from Stanford University and eventually went to Chicago to work in the securities business, founding his own firm, Marathon Securities.

In 2002 he became the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon, travelling 19,428.6 miles around the Southern Hemisphere in just two weeks.

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