Authorities dismiss theories that Fossett wanted to vanish
Associated Press Writer
RENO, Nev. (AP) ” As the search for Steve Fossett enters its 12th day, authorities investigating the disappearance of the millionaire adventurer say they’ve ruled out some of the more unlikely explanations for why they haven’t found his plane, including the possibility he wanted to vanish.
Despite a small air force that has scoured the rugged wilderness along the Sierra Nevada’s eastern front, there’s been no trace of his single-engine aircraft since he took off from a private airstrip 80 miles southeast of Reno on Labor Day.
Largely suspended by gusty winds on Thursday, the aerial search was scheduled to resume on Friday. Ground crews planned to return to canyons and hillsides on both sides of the California-Nevada line to follow up on tips from people who thought they might have seen a plane like Fossett’s flying that day.
“We may never find it, that’s an absolute fact,” Civil Air Patrol Maj. Ed Locke said. “But we’ve got to continue as long as we’ve got leads.”
Rich, famous and apparently happy in his pursuits of adventure, Fossett had been flying on a scouting mission for a dry lake bed to attempt to break the land speed record.
Could he have grown tired of the limelight and wanted to start a new life? Could he have fled some personal or financial problems?
“We have looked at that,” Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford told The Associated Press on Thursday.
“We have assets that are tracking financial records, credit card transactions, cell phone use,” he said, noting they have not received any calls claiming sightings of Fossett.
“With his notoriety, we believe he couldn’t walk away from this type of event,” he said. “People would recognize him.”
Investigators also dismiss the notion that Fossett met foul play or was kidnapped to be held for ransom.
“If we find a wreck area, we will need to treat that like a crime scene before we rule out foul play,” Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen said. “But there’s no reason to think about that now.”
A longtime prosecutor in neighboring Washoe County said the normal course of an investigation would include at least a brief look into even the most unlikely scenarios.
“I have no idea about Mr. Fossett, but I know that it has happened in the past where we have had guys just disappear and stage things,” Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said.
“When you can’t find individuals for an extended period of time, you would have to look at everything.”
But Gammick thinks it’s much more likely that Fossett’s plane simply went down in a rugged canyon, or perhaps a lake, where searchers haven’t found him and perhaps never will.
By Thursday, crews had searched 80 percent of an area in the Pinenut Mountains in western Nevada where two witnesses reported seeing a plane like Fossett’s fly into a canyon, but not out, on Labor Day.
To the south, just across the California line, crews finished searching an area northeast of Yosemite National Park. California law officers met Thursday with a woman who reported a day earlier that she had camped there over Labor Day and had heard a noise that sounded like an airplane, followed by what sounded like an explosion. A plane found nothing during a flyover Wednesday.
“They did a pretty good extensive search … and they didn’t come up with anything,” Alpine County Sheriff John Crawford said.
In another development Thursday, Locke said they initially thought wreck sites of six old planes they found last week were not previously charted.
However, further examination determined one was not plane wreckage. Of the other five ” three in Nevada and two in California ” only one was not already on the registry of old crashes kept by the U.S. Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Locke said.
Locke said that plane crashed in the early 1960s, but he had no other details.
Officials for the Florida center confirmed earlier this week that the search crews in Nevada had forwarded to them one previously uncharted crash site. Maj. Clifton Hicks, its director of operations, said they were processing that report. He said it involved a Cessna with two people on board, but he had no other details.
Records kept by the National Transportation Safety Board show that since 1962 there have been only two aircraft reported missing in Nevada that have not been found.
Associated Press writer Sandra Chereb in Minden and Don Thompson in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Steve Fossett: http://www.stevefossett.com
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