Search Resumes For Adventurer Steve Fossett

Authorities in northern California say they've spotted what could be the wreckage of Steve Fossett's plane. He was a wealthy adventurer who vanished last year during a solo flight over the Sierra Nevada. Earlier this week, a hiker found some items appearing to belong to Fossett.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We bring you now more details of a possible breakthrough in the mysterious disappearance of the adventurer Steve Fossett. He's the billionaire known for setting world flying records, and he vanished more than a year ago while flying solo over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Last night, searchers scouring the rugged backcountry of Northern California said they spotted wreckage of what could be that plane. NPR's Richard Gonzales has more.

RICHARD GONZALES: The search began after a local hiker found what appeared to be a pilot's ID card and other documents carrying the name and birth date of James Steven Fossett. The hiker also found a sweatshirt and $1,000 in cash near the town of Mammoth Lakes. That was enough to get the search going again. And then last night came the next big discovery, what appeared to be the wreckage of a small plane like the one Fossett was flying when he vanished in September of last year. It was spotted from the air. Madera County Sheriff Spokesperson Erica Stuart refuses to disclose the exact location but says search teams are moving in to get a closer look.

Ms. ERICA STUART (Sheriff Spokesperson, Madera Country): When they said they thought they'd spotted wreckage, we had to send in a crew to that area to find out if in fact it is wreckage, and secondly, if it is wreckage, who does the wreckage belong to.

GONZALES: Stewart says the ground search team should be able to make that determination shortly after dawn. Fossett disappeared after taking off in a single engine plane from a private airfield about 80 miles southeast of Reno. The renowned adventurer was reportedly searching for a dry lake bed to stage an attempt to break the land speed record. His disappearance set off a high profile search involving hundreds of aviators. But after months of searching, no trace was ever found until now. In February, a court declared Fossett dead. The search has focused on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range about 140 miles southeast of Reno. Lieutenant Michael Salvador is a spokesman for the Madera County Search and Rescue.

Lieutenant MICHAEL SALVADOR (Spokesman, Madera County Search and Rescue): There are no roads into this area, you either hike in or you fly in. But I can confirm that we have search teams on the ground in the area about seven miles west of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. It's a very, very rugged portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at about the 10,000 foot elevation.

GONZALES: Search planes will also be in the air today, and a command post has been set up at the Mammoth Lakes Airport. In a statement yesterday, Fossett's widow, Peggy Fossett, expressed her hope that authorities might finally locate her husband's plane and his remains. Richard Gonzales, NPR News.

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Remains Found With Wreckage Of Millionaire's Plane

Investigators in California's Sierra Nevada have found what are believed to be human remains amid the wreckage of a small aircraft piloted by adventurer Steve Fossett.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that small bone fragments were discovered at the site in the rugged Inyo National Forest.

DNA tests were expected to determine whether the remains are those of Fossett. It appears that the plane hit a mountain at the 10,000-foot level. Crews were moving quickly to remove the wreckage as a snow storm was headed toward the region.

Fossett vanished in Sept. 2007 during a solo flight. An extensive search at the time was unsuccessful. The search resumed this week after a hiker discovered some identification cards. The items were found a short distance from the wreckage.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said Thursday that an aerial search of the region near the town of Mammoth Lakes late Wednesday revealed the crash site. They confirmed around 11 p.m. that the tail number matched Fossett's single-engine Bellanca plane, he said.

Hiker Finds Fossett's ID

Teams began searching the area after a hiker found ID belonging to Fossett on Monday. The hiker said he found a Federal Aviation Administration identity card, a pilot's license, a third ID and $1,005 cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes.

Fossett, 63, disappeared in September 2007, after taking off from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton. The plane crashed about 90 miles south of the ranch. He did not file a flight plan, but friends said he was going on a casual pleasure flight.

In the weeks after Fossett went missing, there were extensive land and air searches, but no wreckage was found. He was declared legally dead in February.

Fossett made a fortune trading futures and options on Chicago markets. He gained worldwide fame for more than 100 attempts and successes in setting records in high-tech balloons, gliders, jets and yachts. In 2002, he became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon.

From NPR and wire reports

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