Search expenses to be billed to Fossett's widow

Gov. Jim Gibbons intends to bill the widow of missing multimillionaire adventurer Steve Fossett for $687,000 the state spent in searching for the famed aviator last fall, a spokesman said.

Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal it was his understanding that the governor will bill Peggy Fossett for costs of the unsuccessful search.

Fossett, 63, took off Sept. 3 from Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch, south of Yerington, in a small plane on what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight.

During a monthlong search, ground crews, the Nevada National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol scoured a 20,000 square-mile area, but turned up no sign of Fossett or his plane.

Hilton, the hotel magnate, later voluntarily sent the state a check $200,000 to cover some of the search costs.

Fossett was declared legally dead Feb. 15 by an Illinois judge. In making that determination, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Jeffery Malak said Fossett left a "vast," eight-figure estate.

Billing someone for the costs of a search is unusual.

On Tuesday, before Kieckhefer revealed the governor's plans, state Emergency Management Director Frank Siracusa said state and local government search and rescue workers have a long-standing tradition of not charging when they hunt for missing persons, even for multimillionaires such as Steve Fossett.

"We do not charge the rich or the poor," Siracusa said. "There is no precedent where government will go after people for costs just because they have money to pay for it. You get lost, and we look for you. It is a service your taxpayer dollars pay for."

But Siracusa added that the final decision on whether Peggy Fossett would be billed rested with the governor, who since January has cut state spending to deal with a budget shortfall projected to top $900 million by mid-2009.


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