Flying in the footsteps of Steve Fossett

Photographer Shannon Litz and I went looking for Steve Fossett on Wednesday thanks to Valley pilot Jim Herd.

Not a week ago I said a good writer doesn't have to fly to put the reader in the cockpit. So there I was, bouncing around in Jim's Beech Bonanza with my video camera flying over the Pine Nuts on our way to where Steve Fossett was last seen.

I've lived in Nevada most of my life and when Jim pointed out that most of the state looks pretty similar I had no arguments.

Barren rounded hills sparsely covered with scrub brush climb into dark green piƱon mountains. Erosion has carved what Jim calls nooks and crannies across the landscape.

Accompanying us was KREN television reporter Wendy Garcia, who brought a large camera with her. Wendy and I were in the back seat conducting a complicated ballet trying to stay out of one another's shots as Jim flew over the little patch of green that marked Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch.

Jim pointed out an aircraft on the end of the tarmac that might have been Fossett's jet, and then turned the plane south along the East Walker River.

Jim flew us south over the Borealis gold mine.

I was having trouble keeping track of the video camera as we flew toward Corey Peak and Lucky Boy Pass above Hawthorne.

We occasionally spotted a vehicle, a tanker truck on the way to the mine, a camper, a brown building. Nothing that could be mistaken for a downed aircraft, but from 3,000 feet their true nature required concentration to determine.

It was smoky up there, too. A layer of brown haze lay over the desert, which is usually clear as a bell. Jim said he didn't think the haze would complicate the search that much. Searchers only have to look through 1,000 feet of smoke to the ground. Any further and eyes become worse than useless.

We flew over Aurora, apparently, because it looks like that's the way we went on the map and then over Bodie and Bridgeport.

As we went north along the Walker River Canyon, Jim said the Bellanca Super Decathlon aircraft Fossett was in would have been perfect for flying the canyons, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for where he might of gone.

As we flew into Carson Valley, I looked to my left and saw a white cross that might have been an airplane. I pointed it out to Jim and he said it looked like a rock formation. As we passed, I knew that we hadn't found Steve Fossett.

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Associated Press reporter Tom Gardner asked me how The Record-Courier broke the international story that Steve Fossett was missing in the Sierra.

I told him I got a tip, found a source, wrote it up and posted it to the Web.

Basically the same way we would break any story, regardless of general interest.

When I was in college, celebrated Las Vegas newspaper and television reporter Ned Day described the journalistic imperative to us.

"Get the story, get it right, get it out," he said.

Sometimes the stars won't line up no matter how hard you try, but they did on Tuesday for the most part at exactly 9:13 a.m.

And then the fun began. About 20 minutes after I posted the item the calls started.

The first one was from a CNN radio producer who wanted me to go live on the air to read what I'd posted on the Web. Then came CBS, Fox News, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Nancy Grace, the Charles Adler Radio Show and a radio host from Edmonton named Leslie Primeaux.

Since Adler and Primeaux called on Wednesday instead of when I was on deadline I gave them both interviews.

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Valdis Boyd sent me a picture of her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Boyd, who was injured in Iraq last month, receiving a certificate from an Air Force colonel. It turns out an Air Force medical unit has been treating Michael, who may soon be on his way back to the states, according to his mom.

In the picture, Valdis points out that Michael is favoring the foot that was injured when an improvised explosive device went off under his Stryker armored vehicle on July 18. Michael is a 2000 graduate of Douglas High School and was on his second tour in Iraq when he was injured.

-- Kurt Hildebrand is editor of The Record-Courier. Reach him at or 782-5121, ext. 215.


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