CARSON CITY, Nev. – A team of elite athletes and expert mountaineers has ended a weeklong hunt for Steve Fossett, finding no sign of the missing adventurer or his plane but eliminating much rugged terrain from areas that still must be searched.
The 10 searchers, headed by Canadian geologist and adventure racer Simon Donato, 31, packed up their gear on Saturday after taking a day to explore a steep canyon in Nevada's Wassuk Range, dominated by 11,239-foot-high Mount Grant. That followed six days of hiking in the Sweetwater Mountains and Bodie Hills to the west, on the state's border with California.
"We didn't find what we were looking for, but we covered a lot of land that can basically be crossed off the (search) map now," team member Greg Francek said in a telephone interview. "We were looking for wreckage probably the size of one or two shopping carts — and it's hard describe the huge scale of the wild, tough country we were in. It's really something."
There were some highs during the week, such as finding a small aluminum door that appeared to have come from a plane. But team member Greg Francek said a close look at the door showed that it probably came from a snowcat, an enclosed vehicle that moves on tracks through snow.
Francek said the door had an external handle and heavy hinges more likely to be seen on a snowcat than on a plane. He added the door, even if from a plane, was too old to have come from the fabric and aluminum-frame plane Fossett was flying when he disappeared last September.
While one private search for multimillionaire Fossett is over, others are continuing or are in the planning stages.
Mike Larson, 49, of Carson City, said Friday that he and search partner Kelly Stephenson have been riding ATVs and hiking on foot southwest of Hawthorne for several months on days off from work in search of Fossett.
In late August, Robert Hyman, a Washington, D.C., investor and alpinist, plans to bring in a team of up to 15 climbers, mountain guides and others with backcountry expertise to search in the Wassuks, near Hawthorne. When Fossett took off Sept. 3 from a remote Nevada ranch on what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight, he headed toward Lucky Boy Pass in the Wassuks.
The search areas are rugged and it has on occasion taken decades to find missing people whose planes crashed in the area. Some have never been found.
Fossett gained worldwide fame for his scores of attempts and successes in setting records in high-tech balloons, gliders, jets and boats. In 2002, he became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon. He was declared legally dead in February.