Fossett's Plane Found A Year After Crashing

Searchers have turned up the wreckage of adventurer Steve Fossett's airplane in California's Inyo National Forest. Fossett vanished more than a year ago while flying a single-engine plane from Nevada. A hiker said he'd found ID cards and a pilot's license with Fossett's name, leading to the latest search. Fossett's remains have not been found.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

We have an update now on the mysterious disappearance of the adventurer Steve Fossett. This morning investigators said they found the wreckage of his plane in a remote mountainous region in eastern California. Fossett was known for setting world flying records. He vanished more than a year ago while he was flying solo over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. NPR's Richard Gonzales is covering the story and joins us now. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD GONZALES: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How was the wreckage of the plane found?

GONZALES: Well, an aerial search team last night spotted what they believed was a wreckage near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, just as the sun was going down. They sent in a ground team to confirm that. They arrived there late last night. Madera County Sheriff John Anderson made the announcement this morning. So let's listen here.

Sheriff JOHN ANDERSON (Madera County, California) The search team got the GPS coordinates. They went in, and they did locate an aircraft which we have now confirmed is the one that Steve Fossett was flying when it disappeared last Labor Day.

GONZALES: Now, this search had started on Wednesday after authorities had learned that documents that possibly belonged to Fossett had been found by a local hiker. Now, among the documents were his pilot's ID with his name and his birth date. The hiker, Preston Morrow, took those documents to the police, and this morning Sheriff Anderson confirmed that those documents do belong to Steve Fossett.

SHAPIRO: What are authorities saying about his remains?

GONZALES: Well, there's no sign of them yet. In fact, the apparent circumstances of this wreckage indicate that his remains may never be found. Here's Sheriff Anderson. He's describing the scene of the wreckage.

Sheriff ANDERSON: It appeared to me that it was a head-on crash into the side of a mountain, into a rock. The plane moved in an upward direction for 100 feet or so and disintegrated. The engine was found about 300 feet farther than the fuselage and the wings.

GONZALES: And the crash site is at about 10,000 feet in elevation. A snowstorm is coming in soon, so snow could severely hamper the search if Fossett's remains are not found very soon, like within the next day or so.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, there was a massive search for him just over a year ago when he first disappeared. Did the search team ever get close to this site?

GONZALES: Well, they're saying that the plane was found in an area that had been scanned by fixed wing planes that flew over about 19 times. But those planes were flying at elevations that would make it very difficult to spot the wreckage of a small plane on the ground in a mountainous region. There are still many unanswered questions such as did Fossett run out of fuel? Did his engines fail? Did cloud cover prevent him from seeing the mountain he crashed into? Investigators are hoping that they can get to the crash site to find answers to those questions.

SHAPIRO: Thank you. That's NPR's Richard Gonzales on news today that search teams have found the wreckage of the plane belonging to missing adventurer Steve Fossett.

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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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