Revisiting a Moment with Steve Fossett

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Search and rescue teams are still searching the Nevada desert for adventurer Steve Fossett, who was reported missing late Monday after he took a small plane on a scouting mission. A 1997 interview with Fossett illustrates his personality and achievements.

ALEX COHEN, host:

In Nevada today, airborne search teams are crisscrossing the desert trying to find any sign of Steve Fossett. Fossett was reported missing late Monday. He'd been in a small plane on a scouting mission.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

He is, at heart, an adventurer. He swam across the English Channel, mushed in the Iditarod dogsled race, and got behind the wheel at the 24-hour Le Man's road race.

DAY TO DAY's Alex Chadwick met Steve Fossett several times and interviewed him in 1997. Alex said what impressed him most was Fossett's boyish, almost puppy-dog enthusiasm. Alex is in Kansas City on assignment. Here are his thoughts about that interview 10 years ago.

ALEX CHADWICK: Back then, Steve was best known of what he didn't do. He was trying to fly solo across the Atlantic or around the world in a balloon. He'd launch in Colorado and come down in Kansas. Even after he made the first solo across the Pacific, reporters thought he was kind of a nut. Steve knew and it didn't ever seem to bother him.

So you've only been doing this for five years?

Mr. STEVE FOSSETT (Adventurer): That's right. I'm a newcomer to ballooning, which really blows the socks off of my friends. And in ballooning that I've come in, and now I'm trying to do some really interesting flights.

CHADWICK: Maybe it was the early lessons of a commodity trader that kept his spirits high. He must have survived some pretty rough landings in the market too. I used to see him at National Geographic, where Steve was like a Latter-day example of the old gentleman explorer but a little perplexed by where to go. Those spiritual forbearers had already got to the mountains and the jungles and the poles.

Well, he would go faster in a sailboat, and farther in a balloon, and higher in a glider, and longer in a jet. He would push the extremes. And he did all of them, all daring and really dangerous pursuits. He knew the risks, he told me. The scary parts are always the elements that you can't control, he said, as with two balloonists who'd been shut down over Asia by a military jet.

Mr. FOSSETT: This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of around-the-world flight is the military risk.

CHADWICK: Of being shut down. It's not of crashing, it's of being shut down?

Mr. FOSSETT: Well, yes. Balloons can be flown down. I could have an equipment problem with the balloon and I can fly it to the surface and do some kind of a reasonable landing. That's not the threat of death. The threat of death would be something dramatic like actually being shot.

CHADWICK: He told me this in a borrowed office at Geographic on a day when he was going to another press conference to announce another attempt to do what no one else ever had. I don't recall which event this was, but I can see Steve Fossett now, as then, a man in his mid-50s who had moments when he seemed like 15. He was setting off on an adventure. He still thought adventure was possible. He couldn't wait to get back outside.

How do you keep up your good spirits?

Mr. FOSSETT: Well, I enjoy this. And I've learned to view things that don't always go exactly right, you know, sometimes I view them with a bit of sense of humor. I'm so used to things going wrong. And I enjoy what I'm doing and I'm willing to take both the good and the bad that comes with it.

CHADWICK: When Steve went missing two days ago, he was scouting for a site in Nevada to attempt to set a new land-speed record. It's hard to think they won't find him alive somewhere.

For DAY TO DAY, this is Alex Chadwick.

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