Published November 26, 2007
CHICAGO – The wife of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who disappeared while flying his plane in September in rugged Western terrain, asked a court Monday to declare him legally dead.
"As painful as it is for Mrs. Fossett, other members of the family and his many friends, it is time to initiate this process," said attorney Michael A. LoVallo, who filed the petition in Cook County Circuit Court.
The request was a step toward resolving the legal status of Fossett's estate, which according to court papers is "vast, surpassing eight figures in liquid assets, various entities and real estate," LoVallo said.
Fossett, 63, disappeared Sept. 3 after taking off in a single-engine plane from an airstrip near Yerington, Nev., heading toward Bishop, Calif.
Fossett was on a pleasure flight and not looking for a dry lake to use as a surface on which to set the world land speed record, as was initially reported, according to the petition filed on behalf of Peggy V. Fossett.
He did not have a parachute, nor did he take a watch that had a transponder and could have sent out a distress signal, the petition said. There was a transponder aboard but no signal was received.
With winter closing in, a rescue effort that involved dozens of planes and helicopters was officially suspended after more than a month of searching. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded in a preliminary report that the plane was destroyed in a fatal accident.
Fossett had become one of America's best-known adventurers in more than a decade of pouring his fabulous wealth — earned in Chicago's commodities markets — into chases for world records in sailing, ballooning and other rugged and sometimes dangerous outdoor activities.
The soft-spoken, California-born Fossett had previously survived a nearly 30,000-foot plunge in a crippled balloon, a dangerous swim through the frigid English channel and hours stranded in shark-infested seas.
He also completed Alaska's Iditarod race, scaled some of the world's best-known peaks, sailed and flew around the world, and set more than 100 aviation and distance records.
The area where authorities believe his plane went down is rugged and mountainous, with many ravines covered by trees and brush. While the wreckage of the plane has not been found, the petition said there was no chance that Fossett might somehow have survived.
Among other things, he had only a single water bottle to cope with the 80-degree heat, even if he had emerged from the wreckage alive.
"Fossett did not have any reason to disappear," the petition said. "Fossett was happy and passionately involved in his pursuit of adventure."