October 3, 2008

Fossetts’s Remains Discovered In Plane Wreckage

Investigators reported the discovery of what they believe may be human remains among the wreckage of 63-year-old millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett's plane wreckage in eastern California.

The minimal remains are believed to be enough to provide a DNA sample for identification testing.

Fossett disappeared in September 2007 while conducting a solo flight from a Nevada ranch.  His plane was discovered Wednesday after a hiker handed over to police items belonging to Mr. Fossett.  The wreckage was subsequently discovered during an aerial search of a remote part of the Sierra Nevada mountains west of Mammoth Lakes, at an altitude of nearly 10,000ft.

A ground team transported by helicopter later confirmed the identity of the plane, a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon, which officials said appeared to have struck the mountainside head-on.

"It was a hard-impact crash, and he would've died instantly," said Jeff Page, emergency management co-coordinator for Lyon County, Nevada, who took part in the search.

Parts of the engine had scattered over a debris field stretching about 150ft by 400ft, and most of the fuselage had disintegrated.

Search teams exploring the site located more personal effects and what they described as a 2 in by 1.5 in bone fragment.

"We found human remains, but there's very little," said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

"Given the length of time the wreckage has been out there, it's not surprising there's not very much."

Rosenker said a California lab would be conducting DNA tests on the material.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson had earlier confirmed the find, but could not confirm if the remains were human.

"We don't know if it's human. It certainly could be," he said.

Officials now plan to extract the plane's wreckage for reassembly and examination, and will also search for further human remains. 

However, forecasters are predicting snow over the weekend, which could potentially hinder the investigation.

In 2002 Steve Fossett became the first person to complete a solo flight around the world in a balloon, and holds about 100 other world records to his name, include 13 World Sailing Speed Record Council titles. 

He vanished a year ago after taking off from a Nevada ranch for a solo flight. Despite an intensive search, there was no trace of him for more than a year. However, on Monday the hiker found identification documents belonging to Fossett in undergrowth about a quarter mile from the crash site.  The discovery triggered an aerial search of a new area.

"The uncertainty surrounding my husband's death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me," said Mr. Fossett's widow, Peggy, in a statement.

"I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life.

"I prefer to think about Steve's life rather than his death and celebrate his many extraordinary accomplishments."

Fossett was also honored by his friend and fellow entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who said Fossett had "led an extraordinary, absolutely remarkable life, and now we can remember him for what he was and move on."

Photo Courtesy Mary Frances Howard - Wikipedia