Mystery deepens as Steve Fossett search continues
MINDEN (AP) — With the Nevada-based search for missing aviator and adventurer Steve Fossett starting its third week, parallels are being drawn to the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance over the Pacific Ocean 70 years ago.
About 30 planes, most with three-member crews, went aloft Sunday looking without success for Fossett, missing since Labor Day. Another 45 people drove or hiked through sections of the rugged, remote search area on the edge of the Sierra in northern Nevada and eastern California.
Search officials planned to meet today to decide how to proceed with the hunt for Fossett, 63, a millionaire who has sailed and flown around the world and has set many aviation and distance records.
“It’s not to call things off, but to determine what the future status will be,” Maj. Ed Locke of the Nevada Air National Guard said at a press briefing Sunday.
Ric Gillespie, who led efforts this summer to find Earhart, who vanished in July 1937 during an around-the-world flight attempt, said that as the search for Fossett continues the parallels to the hunt for Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, will increase.
“We like to think that anything is findable with enough resources. But it could turn into another Amelia Earhart situation,” Gillespie said in a telephone interview. “If they don’t find something, the mystery element will grow and grow.”
“Steve Fossett already is famous enough. But if it turns into a mysterious flight into oblivion, he will be more famous than he already is,” added Gillespie, head of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. “A legend always is more memorable than a personality.”
Locke, asked about the Earhart comparison, said, “There might be another Discovery Channel show 30 years from now: ‘Where is Steve Fossett?'”
As the search continues over a 20,000-square-mile area, the odds of finding Fossett alive diminish — despite his known survival skills. He had previously survived a nearly 30,000-foot plunge in a crippled balloon, a dangerous swim through the frigid English Channel and hours stranded in shark-infested seas.
“If he isn’t found by an aerial search, some hiker or hunter will stumble onto the wreckage some day,” said Gillespie.
The search area extends to near the location of a World War II military crash that wasn’t pinpointed until 2005, when climbers spotted the ice-entombed body of Leo Mustonen at the wreck site in Kings Canyon National Park. A second body was found at that high Sierra site last month, but has not yet been identified.
While the small air force combing the wilderness hasn’t found Fossett, searchers have spotted a half-dozen uncharted crash sites that, once they’re investigated, might bring some solace to families of fliers who disappeared decades ago. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, about 15 to 20 private planes have vanished in the area since 1950.
The search for Fossett has included the Civil Air Patrol, Nevada National Guard, search and rescue ground crews and private pilots. Organizers estimate the effort has so far cost more than $500,000.
Friends of Fossett also have launched a Web site where Web surfers worldwide can get involved by downloading Google Earth satellite photos of the search area and reporting anything they see. Tips — most of them false alarms — have poured in from far and wide — the Netherlands, Belize, Australia.
On the Net:
Steve Fossett: http://www.stevefossett.com