Search for Fossett narrows based on probability

Searchers are betting that famed aviator Steve Fossett crashed somewhere within 50 nautical miles of the Flying M Ranch, where he was last seen flying south on Labor Day morning.

Maj. Cynthia Ryan said the search perimeter was tightened after the larger 17,000 square mile area was gone over at least once. The area of the search has been tightened to about 8,000 square miles.

"I would say about 100 percent of the area has gotten at least a cursory look," she said.

About four dozen aircraft have joined the search for Fossett, who has been missing since Labor Day morning when he took off in a Super Decathlon Citabria.

Ryan said the search limitation was based on the experience that a pilot either crashes not long after takeoff or while limping back to the airfield.

Nevada National Guard helicopters have moved their base of operations to the Flying M Ranch and are coordinating with the 26 aircraft being flown there. National Guard spokeswoman April Conway said the helicopters would be checking restricted airspace used by the Navy for air operations.

"We don't know if those areas are 'hot' and it is much easier for the National Guard to coordinate with the military to take a look," Ryan said.

Ryan said those areas of restricted air space have been searched previously and that the chance that Fossett's aircraft went undetected was slim.

Fossett took off in calm conditions with clear skies and a 10-mile visibility on Monday morning with four to five hours of fuel.

Witnesses said he flew south, and depending on how he managed his fuel, he could have easily gone 200 miles and had time to return.

However, Ryan pointed out that near Nevada's mountains, air currents tend to rotor, causing some turbulence.

"But an experienced pilot would have known this and stayed away from the mountains," she said.


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