Vanishing of Aviator Puzzles Many
By STEVE FRIESS
Published: September 6, 2007LAS VEGAS, Sept. 5 —
As the search for the wealthy adventurer Steve Fossett entered its third day, rescue crews and aviation experts expressed bafflement Wednesday at his disappearance and the inability to find him.
They pointed out that Mr. Fossett was a highly skilled pilot who was flying on a clear day over familiar terrain when his single-engine aircraft vanished Monday morning in rural western Nevada on what was to have been a brief flight.
More than a dozen aircraft have been used to scour a mountainous area south of Reno since the search began in earnest at 6 p.m. Monday, but so far there has been no sign of Mr. Fossett or the blue and white Citabria Super Decathlon he was flying.
What is more, officials say, they have not detected the emergency locator beacon that should have automatically gone off in the event of a crash, or that could have been enabled by Mr. Fossett himself if he was capable.
“This is kind of strange, because these aircraft have transponders and emergency locators and you can usually readily find them anywhere in the world, including under the sea,” said Ross Aimer, chief executive of Aviation Experts, a consulting firm in San Clemente, Calif., who has flown the region several times. “This guy is totally lost in what I would say is not a no man’s land. So far, nobody’s heard the electronic location beacon. That sounds to me very, very strange.”
Will Hasley, co-author of the 2006 memoir “Chasing the Wind: The Autobiography of Steve Fossett,” called the disappearance and the inability to locate Mr. Fossett a “mind-blowing thing.”
“I can’t figure this out,” because although the area is largely mountainous, “I think he was looking at the desert part of it” on his flight, said Mr. Hasley, who last saw Mr. Fossett in July when he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
For a moment Wednesday afternoon, searchers thought they had found Mr. Fossett.
“We thought we had it nailed,” but the wreckage that was spotted turned out to be years old, said Maj. Cynthia S. Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Civil Air Patrol Nevada Wing, speaking at an afternoon news conference in the town of Minden, whose airport is the base for the search.
Minden is just west of Yerington, the town closest to the Flying-M Ranch, an exclusive retreat owned by the hotel magnate William Barron Hilton, where Mr. Fossett took off from a private airstrip Monday morning. His wife of more than 30 years, Peggy, stayed behind, awaiting his return so they could leave Nevada together on a private jet later in the day.
Mr. Fossett, 63, is a veteran aviator known for his quests to set world records. In 2002, on his sixth attempt, he became the first person to complete a solo, uninterrupted flight around the world in a hot-air balloon. Last year he made the longest nonstop flight in aviation history: 26,389 miles in 76 hours, in a lightweight experimental plane.
He also has an application pending with the Bureau of Land Management to try to break the land-speed record, currently more than 766 miles an hour, in a jet-powered car in the Nevada desert sometime next year. Mr. Hasley and others have speculated that on his flight Monday, Mr. Fossett was scouting dry lake beds where he could challenge that record.
Mr. Fossett, whose feats also include the climbing of the Matterhorn and Mount Kilimanjaro, has extraordinary skills as an outdoorsman, and Mr. Hasley said, “I’m hopeful even if he did crash, he would be able to survive.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/us/06a...amp=GGGNfossett