Fossett's Plane Found; Fossett Still Missing
Update: Details about the wreckage have been added to this post.
Search and rescue workers have found the wreckage of missing adventurer Steven Fossett's airplane.
Crews spotted the plane wreckage from the air late Wednesday night after a hiker found an ID and other items that belonged to Fossett in the mountains near Mammoth Lakes, California, on Monday.
Ground crews later confirmed the plane was Fossett's single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon, the Associated Press reported.
Last September, Fossett took off from Barron Hilton's Flying-M Ranch, 60 miles south of Reno, Nevada, in a plane borrowed from the ranch, never to be seen again. Search and rescue teams mounted a heroic effort and volunteers picked through countless aerial photographs -- looking for any signs of the missing pilot, but they did not have any luck.
The search effort was abandoned until Monday when hiker Preston Morrow found Fossett's FAA identity card, pilot's license and over a thousand dollars in a bush near Minaret Lake, which is in a rugged part of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
"I was just going to go up the top of a ridge, get a really nice view, call it a day, come back down," Morrow, the manager of Kittredge Sports In Mammoth Lakes, told the Associated Press. "As I was coming down, I found the ID card."
Morrow returned to the remote area on Tuesday with his wife and some friends to record the GPS coordinates and look for more belongings. They passed that information along to the local police department.
Armed with Morrow's information, search and rescue crews were able to spot the wreckage by air. This morning, a ground team reached the crash site and verified that the plane was Fossett's. It was badly damaged: The mangled fuselage and engine are lying several hundred feet away from each other.
The discovery has raised some fascinating questions about the missing daredevil's whereabouts. How could someone who set, or attempted to set, over a hundred flying records meet his end during a routine joyride?
"Maybe he survived the crash and walked from the plane and then succumbed to the weather or whatever," said Madera County Sheriff John Anderson during a press conference.
If anyone could survive a rough landing in the badlands of Inyo National Forest and hike out in one piece, it would be Fossett. In addition to his accomplishments as an aviator, he swam the English Channel, competed in the Iditarod sled-dog race, and was no stranger to mountain climbing.
The rescue crew and National Transportation Safety Board officials have not said whether they found Fossett's body. Several publications have speculated that Fossett faked his own death to retire with his mistress, evade a divorce and escape from financial troubles.
Last year, two high-profile searches that made use of satellite imagery and crowdsourcing were unsuccessful. If you can spot the wreckage on Google Earth, or know the exact GPS coordinates of the crash site, please post a comment.
Update: Commenters Jed and CDW have pointed out that the Google Earth data in that area has not been updated since 2005, and thus we will not find pictures of the wreckage there.
Photo: Adie Reed / flickr