Fossett still missing, officials still hopeful

The search continues, but the whereabouts of world-renowned pilot Steve Fosset were unknown this afternoon.

Missing since noon Monday, he has been the focus of a 60,000-square-mile search by the Nevada and California members of the Civil Air Patrol, Nevada National Guard and other government and private resources.

Tuesday's winds had died down and a haze settled into Carson Valley at Minden-Tahoe Airport, which is now serving as a base for the search. Civil Air Patrol personnel milled about as a Blackhawk helicopter revved up to join the effort.

Reduced winds will allow planes to fly closer to the ground for Wednesday's search, which is focusing on the Walker River Basin and eastern slope of the Sierra. A Gippsland Air Van, plane complete with Archer multi-spectral imaging system that should distinguish Fossett's plane from background clutter, flew in to join the effort. The system can detect just 10 percent of a target mass, said Major Cynthia Ryan, spokeswoman for the Civil Air Patrol.

Much is speculative, but Ryan said a resourceful individual could survive in the desert for about two weeks with water. Fossett had no known medical conditions and has a history of walking out of these situations on his own, Ryan said.

"If a person out there is injured, their time is reduced significantly," she said. "But Fossett is an outdoorsman who knows how to take care of himself. We'll keep searching until we find something, one way or the other."

The search area includes miles of rugged territory from Yerington to Bishop and approximately 100 miles on either side of those towns.

Fossett had no survival kit when he left on Labor Day morning from the Flying M Ranch in southern Lyon County. The Citabria Super Decathlon single-engine aircraft he was flying had a working emergency landing transmitter (ELT) designed to send out a radio signal if the aircraft crashes, but that technology is not foolproof, Ryan said.

"ELT's have saved many lives," she said. "But if the battery is low, the plane submerged or completely destroyed, there won't be a signal."

The aircraft belongs to the Flying M Hunting Club owned by Barron Hilton, who performed the prefllight on the plane and said it was in perfect working order, Ryan said.

Nevada provides a special challenge because it's the most mountainous state in the country. Shadows in canyons could hide the plane, making it necessary to repeat a search over time as the light shifts, Ryan said.

Fossett holds numerous aviation world records in balloons, gliders, airships and powered aircraft.

In 2006, he set both the absolute non-stop distance record and absolute closed circuit distance record for any aircraft. He established a new glider world altitude record and was added to the list of aviation legends in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Fossett's attempts to make the absolute land speed record are slated for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

The current record of 763 mph was set in 1997 by Britain's Andy Green.

Information from the Steve Fossett Challenges Web site.


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