Search for aviator enters second week
September 11, 2007
A hotline has been established for tips in the search for famed aviator Steve Fossett.
The number is (910) 396-0704 and when the tone comes, dial 4719. Officials say tipsters should be prepared to leave their name, contact number, latitude and longitude coordinates and a description of the area.
Officials said they are getting dozens of tips a day from people using Google Earth and Amazon.com to join in the search.
“We’re encouraged by the number of responses we’re getting,” Maj. Cynthia Ryan of the Civil Air Patrol said Tuesday. “The ones I’ve taken personally are all over the map.”
On the eighth day of the search, Ryan and Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford declined to speculate on Fossett’s fate.
“We are hoping for the very best outcome from this search,” Sanford said. “If anyone can survive this, Mr. Fossett can. There is no reason to believe there is a problem besides a missing aircraft.”
Searchers are asking that Reno Air Race pilots arriving in Northern Nevada avoid aiding in the search.
“We’re hoping private aircraft won’t try and help us search,” Ryan said. “As long as they stay high enough, they’ll be fine.”
It has been more than a week since Fossett climbed into a borrowed, single-engine aerobatic aircraft and flew south from the Flying M Ranch on a clear Nevada morning.
Beyond the type of aircraft and the general direction Fossett flew after take-off, searchers have found themselves with little to go on in trying to track him.
“Searching is damned hard, frustrating and exhausting,” Ryan said on Sunday. “We’re trying every trick in the book to find him.”
Speculation that Fossett was scouting playas turned out to be just that. Ryan said Fossett mentioned the possibility on his arrival at the retreat owned by hotelier Barron Hilton, but that Labor Day he was just going flying.
When Fossett took off he left his survival kit behind and he brought neither food nor water. He was expected back for the Flying M Ranch’s lunch, something Nevada Department of Public Safety Trooper Chuck Allen told reporters guests don’t miss lightly.
It was, in fact, when Fossett failed to return to the ranch by 1:43 p.m. Sept. 3 that someone called the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office.
Searchers immediately began calling surrounding airports and checking the desert around the Flying M Ranch in case Fossett had crashed somewhere close.
The range of the Super Decathlon Citabria could have taken Fossett many places in Nevada and California safely and then returned him home. Yosemite National Park is within 50 miles of the Flying M Ranch, Lake Tahoe within 60 miles and to the east, miles of Nevada wilderness, seas of barren wrinkled dirt climbing to piñon covered mountains – tan with spots of green so dark it approaches black.
Any official speculation on where Fossett might have gone has been based on probability, not possibility. That’s because it’s possible he went virtually anywhere in a 200-mile radius of the Flying M Ranch. That would have been the outside range of the aircraft.
A cautious pilot wouldn’t go any further than 150 miles, according to the Minden Soaring Club, in order to keep an hour’s worth of fuel onboard. That’s an area of more than 70,000 square miles. Searchers have covered about a quarter of that territory based on probability. They focused their search on a 50-mile radius on Saturday, again betting that if something went wrong with Fossett’s aircraft, it went down near the Flying M, either around take-off or while limping home.
The plane was equipped with an emergency locator transmitter, which is supposed to activate should there be a crash. Fossett also allegedly wore a smaller version of the device, but no signal has been received from either, officials said.
Searchers have said again and again that they would commit the same resources they have to any search they did. The difference, Spokesman Kim Toulouse pointed out on Sunday, has been the media attention.
There is another difference, though. Typically, searchers have some clue as to where the aircraft was last seen.
When 56-year-old Robert Loyns crashed on Aug. 10, he was flying with four other gliders and had radioed he was headed for Boundary Peak, Nevada’s tallest mountain when the last saw him.
When Loyns didn’t return, his friends in the Minden Soaring Club found his crash site on the mountainside two days later.
Even with a flight plan, a search in more rugged terrain can be difficult.
That’s what happened a decade ago when a small floatplane containing four people crashed Oct. 26, 1997. The search for that aircraft took until Nov. 5. In the search’s eighth day, a Civil Air Patrol aircraft was lost, claiming the lives of two searchers.
The search for Fossett has gone from the air to ground and water and even space and cyberspace.
Search and rescue teams from Lyon, Douglas, Mineral and Mono counties have aided in the hunt, according to Lyon County Undersheriff Jim Sanford. Aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol, National Guard, the Flying M Ranch and private volunteers have joined the hunt. A Klamath County, Ore., boat is probing the depths of Walker Lake. People are poring over maps online looking for any sign of the downed plane.
Members of the media ranging from national outlets to trade publications and from as far away as Russia have been in and out of the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
While their numbers have dwindled as the search has gone on, the number of people involved in the search has increased.
Allen said the mood of people searching is positive.
“I want to stress that the attitude, morale and enthusiasm for finding Mr. Fossett is high,” he said. “Each day I feel I can tell some good news to everyone soon.”