Adventurer Steve Fossett missing

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Steve Fossett
Playa areas in Nevada. Largest playa areas have been used for speed record attempts.

Adventurer Steve Fossett has gone missing over western Nevada. He took off in a single engine plane Monday morning, planning to return around noon, and has not been seen since. Reports say that Fossett was flying to look for a suitable site for his planned land speed record attempt.

Fossett took off in a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon at around 9 a.m. local time Monday (16:00 UTC) and was to return around noon. When he failed to return, his family alerted the authorities, and a search was started about 6 p.m. local time (01:00 UTC Tuesday), involving the Nevada and California Highway Patrols and the Nevada Air National Guard. Fossett only had enough fuel for five hours of flight, at the most, but was also carrying a cellphone and communication equipment in his aircraft.

The search has been impeded by high winds and the fact that rescuers have no idea where Fossett's destination is, since no flight plan was logged prior to takeoff. The search area is estimated to be around 600 square miles (the size of Greater London), which may take up to a week to scour.

Fossett is most famous for gliding around the world in a hot-air balloon in 2002, becoming the first person to fly a balloon solo around the world. He also became the first person to fly around the world without stopping in 2005.

In a statement to the press, his former crewmate and rival, Sir Richard Branson remained confident he will be found: "Steve is a tough old boot. I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up."

On Monday, September 4th, the Civil Air Patrol opened a mission base in Nevada to support search and rescue operations for Fossett.

At 5:30 a.m. PDT on September 6th, the Civil Air Patrol opened a second mission base at Bishop, California. Twelve aircrews and numerous base personnel arrived on scene on September 5th to be able to start launching aircraft early on the morning of the 6th.

Base staff spent the evening and night analyzing what little radar and intelligence information is available, to plan the areas to be searched this morning. Crews will be assigned a search area (or grid) upon arrival at the base, receive a briefing, plan the search area coverage and launch. After they complete each grid, the crews return to the base, document the mission, and are debriefed. They then may have a short break, and start the assignment process again.