No Sign of Missing Millionaire Adventurer

About Steve Fossett

Fossett earned his millions in the financial services industry before becoming a record-breaking adventurer. He holds three records for circumnavigating the globe — in a sailing vessel, balloon and airplane:

2002: Became the first hot air balloonist to fly solo around the world, nonstop.

2004: Set the record for the fastest trip around the world on a sailing vessel, completing the journey in 58 days.

2005: Became the first person to circle the globe solo, nonstop and without refueling, in an airplane.

Fossett has set 116 records in balloons, airplanes, gliders, airships and sailboats.

Between 1993 and 2004, he set 23 official world records in sailing, 11 of which still stand.

He has competed in endurance sports events including Alaska's Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the Ironman Triathlon, and the English Channel swim.

Fossett has climbed more than 400 mountain peaks, including Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro.

Rescuers are using photos from space to search the rugged mountains and desert of western Nevada to look for millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett.

Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire who is one of Fossett's financial backers, said rescuers are studying the pictures with the help of the search engine Google. They hope the images will offer clues of the direction Fossett's plane took and whether there was anything unusual.

Fossett's plane disappeared Monday as he was scouting dry lake beds for an attempt to set a world land speed record. Citing the many times that Fossett had cheated death, his friends and admirers said they were not ready to give up hope.

"Steve is a tough old boot. I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up," said Sir Richard Branson, the U.K. billionaire who has helped finance many of Fossett's adventures. "Based on his track record, I feel confident we'll get some good news soon."

The plane, a Bellanca Citabria Super Decathlon, carried a locator that sends a satellite signal after a rough landing, but no such signal had been received.

An aerial search Tuesday that included 14 aircraft conducted grid searches over 7,500 square miles — an area larger than Connecticut — but intended to concentrate on 600 square miles when the search resumed Wednesday.

Fossett, the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon, took off alone Monday morning from an airstrip at hotel magnate William Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch, about 70 miles southeast of Reno. A friend reported him missing when he didn't return.

It was not known what kind of survival gear, if any, Fossett might have had with him. He was planning just a short flight before returning to the private air strip.

Civil Air Patrol Maj. Cynthia Ryan would not speculate about how many days someone might survive in the terrain, but she and longtime associates of the 63-year-old adventurer said he had proven survival skills.

"He's a very savvy and methodical and determined pilot. I'd give him the highest odds," she said.

Winds gusting up 40 mph on Tuesday kept search planes from flying as low to the ground or as close to the 10,000-foot peaks as they would have liked, Ryan said.

One Civil Air Patrol pilot said turbulence was so bad that his aircraft dropped 1,500 feet in about three seconds. The downdrafts and gusts also provide a very real danger: They can come out of nowhere to push aircraft into the granite mountainsides if pilots aren't careful.

"It's provided a real bouncy ride for our searchers and that makes it really difficult to look at what's on the ground," Ryan said.

Forecasters said the winds would drop to about 10 mph on Wednesday in the county Fossett had targeted. Temperatures were in the high 40s overnight and were expected to be in the high 70s and low 80s on Wednesday.

Searchers have had little to go on because Fossett apparently did not file a flight plan, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

"It is a very large haystack, and an airplane is a very small needle, no doubt about it," Ryan said at a news conference.

Fossett has an application pending before the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a permit in Eureka County to attempt to break the land-speed record of 766.6 mph.

In 2002, Fossett became the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon. In two weeks, his balloon flew 19,428.6 miles around the Southern Hemisphere. The record came after five previous attempts — some of them spectacular and frightening failures.

It is among dozens of firsts claimed by Fossett in his life as an adventurer, which he embarked on after earning a fortune as a financial trader.

He set marks for speed or distance in balloons, airplanes, gliders, sailboats — even cross-country skis and an airship, according to his Web site. In March 2005, he became the first person to fly a plane solo around the world without refueling.

Fossett also has experience as an outdoorsman, climbing some of the world's best-known peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

He also swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dog sled race in 1992, participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in 1996 and broke the round-the-world sailing record by six days in 2004.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Adventurer Steve Fossett No Stranger to Tall Odds

Steve Fossett, left, and Sir Richard Branson wave to reporters in Feb. 2006 i i

Steve Fossett, left, and Sir Richard Branson wave to reporters after Fossett made an unscheduled landing due to electrical problems with the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer on February 11, 2006. David Dyson-Pool/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David Dyson-Pool/Getty Images
Steve Fossett, left, and Sir Richard Branson wave to reporters in Feb. 2006

Steve Fossett, left, and Sir Richard Branson wave to reporters after Fossett made an unscheduled landing due to electrical problems with the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer on February 11, 2006.

David Dyson-Pool/Getty Images

Steve Fossett once claimed that he wasn't really all that special.

"I'm not super anything. Maybe that's why people are personally interested in me, because I'm really pretty close to normal," he said.

Maybe, if your definition of normal means being willing to throw yourself to the mercy of the winds. In 2002, Fossett went whizzing around the world in a tiny bright yellow capsule tethered to a balloon. He spent two weeks riding the winds - sometimes just a few hundred feet above the ocean, sometimes at 200 miles per hour - for around 20,000 miles.

As he neared the finish line, just south of Australia. Fossett spoke to his supporters by satellite phone.

"It's a clear night down below," he announced over the static. "It's enormous relief, [having put] … everything into this."

Fossett had failed five times before. Once, in a nasty thunderstorm, he plummeted more than 5 miles down, into the Coral Sea north of Australia. But long before that incident, Fossett said he was used to things going wrong.

"I enjoy what I'm doing and am willing to take both the good and bad that comes with it," he said.

Even when he was failing, he was setting records in ballooning, and when he wasn't ballooning, he was setting other kinds of records - in boats, gliders and jets.

In 2005, Fossett flew a small airplane called the Virgin GlobalFlyer around the world. He did it alone, without refueling or stopping.

Landing in Kansas to a cheering crowd, he said he was a "lucky guy" to be able to follow his dream.

Fossett's exploits put him in the grand tradition of historic adventurers, said Bob van der Linden, s a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which houses Fossett's balloon capsule and the Global Flyer.

What's different about Fossett, van der Linden said, is that he is always trying something new.

"You name it, he's attempted to set a record in it, he's even driven dog sleds," he said. "If he had been doing this in the 1930's, schoolchildren would know his name."

Fossett also swam the English Channel and climbed some of the world's highest mountains, but his first career was in financial trading. He reportedly earned millions. That seems to have set him free to do what he loved - to become, as he once put it, an "adventure sportsman."

Just a week ago, van der Linden said, he got a call from Fossett: the sportsman wanted to get back some of the equipment he had given to the museum. He said wasn't done with it yet.

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