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Adventurer Steve Fossett No Stranger to Tall Odds

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Adventurer Steve Fossett No Stranger to Tall Odds


Adventurer Steve Fossett No Stranger to Tall Odds

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The search continues today for millionaire/adventurer Steve Fossett. His single engine plane went missing Monday over Nevada. He was reportedly scouting locations for an attempt at a new land speed record. Fossett set his sights on making world records, and he racked up a lot of them. He was perhaps best known for being the first person to fly around the world solo in a balloon.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Steve Fosset once claimed that he wasn't really all that special.

Mr. STEVE FOSSETT (Aviator; Adventurer): Well, no. I'm not a super anything. And, in fact, maybe that's why people are personally interested in me, because I'm really pretty close to normal.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: 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.

Mr. FOSSETT: It's a clear night up above. I can see the stars, but there's cloudscovering down below.

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

Mr. FOSSETT: It's enormous relief and satisfaction, because I've put everything into this - all of my effort, all of my skills.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He'd failed five times before. Once, in a nasty thunderstorm, he plummeted over five miles down into the Coral Sea. But long before that incident, Fossett said he was used to things going wrong.

Mr. FOSSETT: I enjoy what I'm doing, and I'm willing to take both the good and the bad that comes with it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: 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, jets.

Mr. FOSSETT: GlobalFlyer, one mile, mile - runway 1, 7.

Unidentified Man: Virgin GlobalFlyer, 101, third lane, runway 1, 7.

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

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He landed in Kansas to a cheering crowd.

Mr. FOSSETT: Well, that was something I've wanted to do for a long time, a major ambition. And I had to get working about getting the right people to associate it with. And I'm a really lucky guy now. Thank you.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. F. ROBERT VAN DER LINDEN (Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum): If he had been doing this in the 1930s, schoolchildren would know his name.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Bob van der Linden is a curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, which houses Fossett's balloon capsule and the GlobalFlyer.

He says Fossett's exploits put him in the grand tradition of historic adventurers. But what's different about Fossett is that he's always trying something new.

Mr. VAN DER LINDEN: You name it, he's attempted to set a record at it. Shoot, he's even driven dog sleds.

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

Mr. VAN DER LINDEN: A month or so ago, he set a fail plan record for distance and speed. He was preparing for a attempt to break the world absolute speed record for the automobile.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And Bob van der Linden says just about a week ago, he got a call from Fossett. The sportsman wanted to get back some of the equipment he'd given to the museum. He said he just wasn't done with it yet.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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