Final Flight

Hiker Preston Morrow found Steve Fossett’s identification cards on in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. The crash site was discovered a few days later, 65 miles due south from the Flying-M Ranch where he took off, and 5 miles  due west of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s base operations, although his remains were not initially found.

“This is beyond the realm of anything imaginable,” Morrow said. “I personally don’t like it, but I will say I’m happy I found what I found.”

At 8:45 am, on Monday September 3, 2007 — Labor Day — Fossett took off in a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon airplane from a private airstrip in Yerington, Nevada, owned by Barron Hilton. Fossett was reported missing the same day.

The search for Fossett began about six hours later. Despite a month of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and others, Fossett could not be found, and the search by CAP was called off on October 2, 2007.

The aircraft had tail number N240R registered to the “Flying M Hunting Club, Inc.” There was no signal from the plane’s “Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon” emergency locator transmitter (ELT) designed to be automatically activated in the event of a crash, but it was of an older type notorious for failing to operate after a crash.

It was first thought that Fossett may have also been wearing a Swiss-made Breitling Emergency watch with a manually operated ELT that had a range of up to 90 miles but no signal was received from it. Fossett’s wife, Peggy, later issued a statement clarifying that he owned such a watch, but was not wearing it when he took off for the Labor Day flight

Steve Fossett was born April 22, 1944 and grew to be a businessman, and a record-setting aviator, sailor, and adventurer.  Fossett was born in Jackson, Tennessee but he grew up in Garden Grove, California and graduating from Garden Grove High School.

He made his fortune in the financial services industry, and was best known for many world record, including five nonstop circumnavigations of the Earth: as a long-distance solo balloonist, as a sailor, and as a solo flight fixed-wing aircraft pilot. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club, Fossett set 116 records in five different sports, 60 of which still stood when he disappeared.

Fossett’s interest in adventure began early. As a Boy Scout, he grew up climbing the mountains of California, beginning with the San Jacinto Mountains.

His father, an Eagle Scout, encouraged Fossett to pursue these types of adventures and encouraged him to become involved with the Boy Scouts early. He became an active member of Troop 170 in Orange, California.

At age 13, Fossett earned the Boy Scouts’ highest rank of Eagle Scout and was a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, the Boy Scouts’ honor society, where he served as lodge chief. He also worked as a Ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico during the summer of 1961.

Scouting was the most important activity of his youth admitted in 2006.

“When I was 12 years old I climbed my first mountain, and I just kept going, taking on more diverse and grander projects,” Fossett wrote.

In later years, he was described as a “legend” by fellow Scouts.As a national BSA volunteer, he served as Chairman of the Northern Tier High Adventure Committee, Chairman of the Venturing Committee, member of the Philmont Ranch Committee, and member of the National Advisory Council.

He later became a member of the BSA National Executive Board, and in 2007, Fossett succeeded Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as president of the National Eagle Scout Association after having served on the World Scout Committee.

Fossett was honored with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 1992. In 1999, he received the Silver Buffalo Award, BSA’s highest recognition of service to youth.

In college at Stanford University, Fossett was already known as an adventurer; his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers convinced him to swim to Alcatraz and raise a banner that read “Beat Cal” on the wall of the prison, closed two years previously. He made the swim, but was thwarted by a security guard when he arrived.

In 1966, Fossett graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics. Two years later, Fossett received an MBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and married  Peggy Viehland of Richmond Heights, Missouri.

Fossett’s first job out of business school was with IBM; he then served as a consultant for Deloitte and Touche, and later accepted a job with Marshall Field’s.

Fossett later said, “For the first five years of my business career, I was distracted by being in computer systems, and then I became interested in financial markets. That’s where I thrived.”

Fossett then became a successful commodities salesman in Chicago, first for Merrill Lynch in 1973, where he proved a highly successful producer of commission revenue for himself and that firm. He began working in 1976 for Drexel Burnham, which assigned him one of its memberships on the Chicago Board of Trade and permitted him to market the services of the firm from a phone on the floor of that exchange.

In 1980, Fossett began the process that eventually produced his enduring prosperity: renting exchange memberships to would-be floor traders, first on the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

After 15 years of working for other companies, Fossett founded his own firms, Marathon Securities and Lakota Trading, from which he made millions renting exchange memberships.  He founded Lakota Trading for that purpose in 1980.

In the early 1980s, he founded Marathon Securities and extended that successful formula to memberships on the New York stock exchanges. He earned millions renting floor trading privileges (exchange memberships) to hopeful new floor traders, who would also pay clearing fees to Fossett’s clearing firms in proportion to the trading activity of those renting the memberships.

By 1997, the trading volume of its rented memberships was larger than any other clearing firm on the Chicago exchange. Lakota Trading replicated that same business plan on many exchanges in the United States and also in London.

Fossett would later use those revenues to finance his adventures.

“There was a period of time where I wasn’t doing anything except working for a living. I became very frustrated with that and finally made up my mind to start getting back into things,” he said

He began to take six weeks a year off to spend time on sports and eventually moved to Beaver Creek, Colorado, in 1990, where for a time he ran his business from a distance. Fossett later sold most of his business interests, although he maintained an office in Chicago until 2006.

Fossett became well known in the United Kingdom for his friendship with billionaire Richard Branson, who’s Virgin Group sponsored some of Fossett’s adventures.

Steve Fossett was well known for his world records and adventures in balloons, sailboats, gliders, and powered aircraft. He was an aviator of exceptional breadth of experience, from his quest to become the first person to achieve a solo balloon flight around the world (finally succeeding on his sixth attempt, in 2002, becoming the first person to complete an uninterrupted and unrefueled solo circumnavigation of the world in any kind of aircraft) to setting, with co-pilot Terry Delore, 10 of the 21 Glider Open records, including the first 2,000 km Out-and-Return, the first 1,500 km Triangle and the longest Straight Distance flights.

His achievements as a jet pilot in a Cessna Citation X include records for U.S. Transcontinental, Australia Transcontinental, and Round-the-World westbound non-supersonic flights. Prior to Fossett’s aviation records, no pilot had held world records in more than one class of aircraft; Fossett held them in four classes.

Fossett made the first solo in 2005, nonstop, unrefueled circumnavigation of the world in an airplane, in 67 hours in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, a single-engine jet aircraft. The following year, he again circumnavigated the globe nonstop and unrefueled in 76 hours, 45 minutes in the GlobalFlyer, setting the record for the longest flight by any aircraft in history with a distance of 25,766 statute miles.

He set 91 aviation world records ratified by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, plus 23 sailing world records ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council. Then on August 29, 2006 he set the world altitude record for gliders over El Calafate, Argentina at 50,722 feet.

Management and sponsorship of the majority of his projects was handled by UK based sports marketing agency Project 100 Communications Ltd for whom Fossett had first driven at Le Mans in 1992.

Fossett landed in Leader, Saskatchewan, Canada, on  February 21, 1995 after taking off from South Korea, becoming the first person to make a solo flight across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon.

He became the first person to fly around the world alone in 2002, nonstop, in any kind of aircraft. He launched the 10-story high balloon Spirit of Freedom from Northam, Western Australia, on June 19, 2002 and returned to Australia on July 3, 2002, subsequently landing in Queensland.

Duration and distance of this solo balloon flight was 13 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes 20,626.48 statute miles. The balloon dragged him along the ground for 20 minutes at the end of the flight.

Fossett’s top speed during the flight was 186 miles per hour over the Indian Ocean. Only the capsule survived the landing; it was taken to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where it was displayed.

The trip set a number of records for ballooning: Fastest (200 miles per hour, breaking his own previous record of 166 miles per hour), Fastest Around the World (13.5 days), Longest Distance Flown Solo in a Balloon (20,482.26 miles), and 24-Hour Balloon Distance (3,186.80 miles) on July 1.

While Fossett had financed five previous tries himself, his successful record-setting flight was sponsored by Bud Light. In the end, Fossett actually made money on all his balloon flights; he bought a contingency insurance policy for $500,000 that would pay him $3 million if he succeeded in the flight, and along with sponsorship, that payout meant that in the end, Fossett did not have to spend any of his money other than for initial expenses.

Fossett was also one of the world’s most accomplished sailors. Speed sailing was his specialty and from 1993 to 2004 he dominated the record sheets, setting 23 official world records and nine distance race records.

On the maxi-catamaran Cheyenne (formerly named PlayStation), Fossett twice set the prestigious 24 Hour Record of Sailing. In October 2001, Fossett and his crew set a transatlantic record of 4 days 17 hours, shattering the previous record by 43 hours 35 minutes — an increase in average speed of nearly seven knots.

As skipper, Fossett set the world record for fastest circumnavigation of the world (58 days, 9 hours) in Cheyenne with a crew of 13 in early 2004. Nearly three-years later, Fossett held the world record for crossing the Pacific Ocean in his 125-foot sailboat, the PlayStation, which he accomplished on his fourth try.

At the time of his death, a submarine, DeepFlight Challenger, was under construction to let him be the first solo submariner to reach the Challenger Deep. That honor eventually went to film director and adventurer James Cameron in April 2012.

Fossett set the Absolute World Speed Record for airships on October 27, 2004. The new record for fastest flight was accomplished with a Zeppelin NT, at a recorded average speed of 62.2 knots.

The previous record was 50.1 knots set in 2001 in a Virgin airship. In 2006, Fossett was one of only 17 pilots in the world licensed to fly the Zeppelin.

He made the first solo nonstop unrefueled fixed-wing aircraft flight around the world between February 28, 2005, and March 3, 2005. He took off from Salina, Kansas, where he was assisted by faculty members and students from Kansas State University, and flew eastbound, with the prevailing winds, returning to Salina after 67 hours, 1 minute, 10 seconds, without refueling or making intermediate landings.

His average speed of 342.2 mph was also the absolute world record for “speed around the world, nonstop and non-refueled.” His aircraft, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, had a carbon fiber reinforced plastic airframe, with a single Williams FJ44 turbofan engine.

It was designed and built by Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, for long-distance solo flight. The fuel fraction, the weight of the fuel divided by the weight of the aircraft at take-off, was 83 percent.

Fossett set the absolute world record on February 11, 2006,  for “distance without landing” by flying from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, around the world eastbound, then upon returning to Florida continuing across the Atlantic a second time to land in Bournemouth, England.  The official distance was 25,766 statute miles and the duration was 76 hours 45 minutes.

The next month, Fossett made a third flight around the world in order to break the absolute record for “Distance over a closed circuit without landing” (with takeoff and landing at the same airport). He took off from Salina, Kansas on March 14, 2006 and returned on March 17, 2006 after flying 25,262 statute miles.

There are only seven absolute world records for fixed-wing aircraft recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and Fossett broke three of them in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. All three records were previously held by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager from their flight in the Voyager in 1986.

Fossett contributed the GlobalFlyer to the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection. It is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum after he personally flew the plane to the Center and taxied it to the front door.

The record setting pilot added two U.S. transcontinental fixed-wing aircraft records to his list of achievements in the same day. On February 5, 2003, he flew his Cessna Citation X jet from San Diego, California to Charleston, South Carolina in 2 hours, 56 minutes, 20 seconds, at an average speed of 726.83 mph to smash the transcontinental record for non-supersonic jets.

He returned to San Diego, and then flew the same course as co-pilot for fellow adventurer Joe Ritchie in Ritchie’s turboprop Piaggio Avanti. Their time was 3 hours, 51 minutes, 52 seconds, an average speed of 546.44 mph, which broke the previous turboprop transcontinental record held by Chuck Yeager and Renald Davenport.

Fossett also set the east-to-west transcontinental record for non-supersonic fixed-wing aircraft on September 17, 2000. He flew from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California in 3 hours, 29 minutes, at an average speed of 591.96 mph.

On July 2, 2005, Fossett and co-pilot Mark Rebholz re-created the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic which was made by the British team of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown in June 1919 in a Vickers Vimy biplane. Their flight from St. John’, Newfoundland, Canada to Clifden, Ireland in the open cockpit Vickers Vimy replica took 18 hours 25 minutes with 13 hours flown in instrument flight conditions.

Because there was no airport in Clifden, Fossett and Rebholz landed on the 8th fairway of the Connemarra Golf Course.

The team of Steve Fossett and Terry Delore set ten official world records in gliders while flying in three major locations: New Zealand, Argentina and Nevada, United States. An asterisk indicates records subsequently broken by other pilots.

Fossett and co-pilot Einar Enevoldson flew a glider into the stratosphere on August 29, 2006. The flight set the Absolute Altitude Record for gliders at 50,727 feet.

Since the glider cockpit was unpressurized, the pilots wore full pressure suits (similar to space suits) so that they would be able to fly to altitudes above 45,000 feet. Fossett and Enevoldson had made previous attempts in three countries over a period of five years before finally succeeding with this record flight.

As a young adventurer, Fossett was one of the first participants in the Worldloppet, a series of cross country ski marathons around the world. While he had little experience as a skier, he was in the first group of ‘citizen athletes’ to participate in the series debut in 1979.

And in 1980, he became the eighth skier to complete all 10 of the long distance races, earning a Worldloppet medallion. He has also set cross-country skiing records in Colorado, setting an Aspen to Vail record of 59 hr, 53 min, 30 sec in February 1998, and an Aspen to Eagle record of 12 hr, 29 min in February 2001.

Fossett was a lifelong mountain climber and had climbed the highest peaks on six of the seven continents. In the 1980s, he became friends with Patrick Morrow, who was attempting to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents for the “Seven Summits” world record (which Morrow did achieve in 1985).

He accompanied Morrow for his last three peaks, including Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, and Elbrus in Europe. While Fossett went on to climb almost all of the Seven Summits peaks himself, he declined to climb Mount Everest in 1992 due to asthma. He also later returned to Antarctica to climb again.

He competed in and completed premier endurance sports events, including the 1,165-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in which he finished 47th on his second try in 1992 after training for five years. He became the 270th person to swim across the English Channel on his fourth try in September 1985 with a time of 22 hours, 15 minutes.

Although Fossett said he was not a good enough swimmer “to make the varsity swim team”, he found that he could swim for long periods. Fossett competed in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii (finishing in 1996 in 15:53:10), the Boston Marathon, and the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile Colorado ultramarathon which involves running up elevations of more than 14,000 feet  in the Rocky Mountains.

Fossett raced cars in the mid-1970s and later returned to the sport in the 1990s. He competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans road race twice, in 1993 and in 1996, along with the Paris to Dakar Rally.

He tried six times over seven years for the first solo balloon circumnavigation. His fifth attempt cost him $1.25 million of his own money; his sixth and successful attempt was commercially sponsored.

In 1998, one of the unsuccessful attempts at the ballooning record ended with a five-mile plummet into the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia that nearly killed Fossett; he waited 72 hours to be rescued, at a cost of $500,000.

The first attempt began in the Black Hills of South Dakota and ended in New Brunswick 1,800 miles later. The second attempt, launched from Busch Stadium, cost $300,000 and lasted 9,600 miles before being downed halfway in a tree in India; the trip set records at the time for duration and distance of flight — with Fossett doubling his own previous record — and was called Solo Spirit after Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Fossett slept an average of two hours a night for the six-day journey, conducted in below-zero temperatures. After taking too much fuel to cross the Atlantic Ocean and circling Libya for 12 hours while officials decided whether or not to allow him into their airspace, Fossett did not have enough fuel to finish the flight.

That year, Fossett flew farther for less money than better-financed expeditions — including one supported by Richard Branson — in part due to his ability to fly in an un-pressurized capsule, a result of his heavy physical training at high altitudes. The Solo Spirit capsule was put on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum across from the Apollo 11 command module.

In 2002, Fossett received aviation’s highest award, the Gold Medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and in July 2007, he was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame. He was presented at the ceremony by Dick Rutan.

In 1997, Fossett was inducted into the Balloon and Airship Hall of Fame. In February 2002, Fossett was named America’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year by the America Sailing Association at the New York Yacht Club.

He was the oldest recipient of the award in its 41-year history, and he was the only recipient to fly himself to the ceremony in his own plane.

He received the Explorers Medal from the Explorers Club following his solo balloon circumnavigation. He was given the Diplôme de Montgolfier by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1996.

He received the Harmon Trophy, given annually “to the world’s outstanding aviator and aeronaut”, in 1998 and 2002. He received the Grande Médaille of the Aéro-Club de France, and the British Royal Aero Club’s Gold Medal in 2002 and the Order of Magellan and the French Republic’s Médaille de l’Aéronautique in 2003.

The Scaled Composites White Knight Two VMS Spirit of Steve Fossett was named in Fossett’s honor by his friend Richard Branson, in 2007. Following his disappearance, Peggy Fossett and Dick Rutan accepted the Spread Wings Award in Steve Fossett’s behalf at the 2007 Spreading Wings Gala, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver, Colorado.

Fossett took off with enough fuel for four to five hours of flight, according to Civil Air Patrol spokesperson Major Cynthia Ryan. CAP searchers were told that Fossett had gone out for a short flight over favorite territory, possibly including the areas of Lucky Boy Pass and Walker Lake.

At one point it was suggested that he might have been out scouting for potential sites to conduct a planned land speed run, but that later turned out to be untrue. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson noted that Fossett apparently did not file a flight plan, and was not required to do so.

On the second day, Civil Air Patrol aircraft searched but found no trace of wreckage after initiating a complex and expanding search of what would later evolve into a nearly 20,000 square miles area of some of the most rugged terrain in North America. The search presented a severe challenge from the standpoint of flying hundreds of hours in very difficult conditions safely.

On the first day of CAP searching, operations were suspended by mid-day due to high winds, according to Ryan. By the fourth day, the Civil Air Patrol was using fourteen aircraft in the search effort, including one equipped with the ARCHER system that could automatically scan detailed imaging for a given signature of the missing aircraft.

By the end of the week, search crews had found eight previously uncharted crash sites, some of which are decades old, but none related to Fossett’s disappearance. The urgency of what was still regarded as a rescue mission meant that minimal immediate effort was made to identify the aircraft in the uncharted crash sites, although some had speculated that one could have belonged to Charles Ogle, missing since 1964.

All told, about two dozen aircraft were involved in the massive search, operating primarily from the primary search base at Minden, Nevada, with a secondary search base located at Bishop, California. CAP searchers came from Wings across the United States, including Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Google Inc.. helped the search for the aviator through its connections to contractors that provide satellite imagery for its Google Earth software. Sir Richard Branson, British billionaire and friend of Fossett, said he and others were coordinating efforts with Google to see if any of the high-resolution images might include Fossett’s aircraft.

The first of a series of new high-resolution imagery from DigitalGlobe were made available via the Amazon Mechanical Turk beta website so that users could flag potential areas of interest for searching, in what is known as Crowdsourcing. Within three days up to 50,000 people had joined the effort, scrutinizing more than 300,000 278-foot-square squares of the imagery.

Peter Cohen of Amazon believed the entire search area had been covered at least once. Amazon’s search effort was eventually shut down without any measurable success.

Ryan later said it had been more of a hindrance than a help. She said that persons purporting to have seen the aircraft on the Mechanical Turk or have special knowledge clogged her email during critical days of the search, and for even months afterward.

Many of the ostensible sightings proved to be images of CAP aircraft flying search grids, or simply mistaken artifacts of old images. Psychics flooded the search base in Minden with predictions of where the aviator could be found.

Ryan got the majority of these calls personally, often at her home, in the middle of the night. One man from Canada was particularly persistent with daily calls to Ryan, interfering with her press briefings.

Ryan asked her Incident Commander to issue a ‘cease and desist order,’ backed up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) if necessary. Ryan noted that every message, letter, or phone call was taken seriously — which swamped the USAF specialists assigned the task of reviewing every one of them without regard to apparent plausibility.

In retrospect, the crowdsource effort was “not ready for prime time,” according to Ryan.

Of course Ryan sparked her own troubles when she suggested the adventurer may have faked his own death, speculating he’d done so because of personal problems or fears about his business dealings.

“I’ve been doing this search and rescue for 14 years. Fossett should have been found, she said. “It’s not like we didn’t have our eyes open. We found six other planes while we were looking for him. We’re pretty good at what we do.”

After her comments were picked up by the national and international media, the national headquarters of the Civil Air Patrol responded.

“Recent comments attributed to Ryan regarding the search for Fossett contain errors of fact, appear to be taken out of context and were not released with the knowledge or approval of CAP,” said CAP Lt. Col. E.J. Smith.

Ryan’s comments also drew the ire of Branson.

“I’m absolutely sure that it’s absolutely bullocks. And you know he’s was the most wonderful man and he had everything to live for,” Branson said. “I think it’s pretty unfortunate that people are speculating this way. It’s below the belt and pretty unpleasant.”

Furthermore, speculation started to take amore sinister turn as Internet sites began offering up the idea that Fawcett was being used as a cover-story to assist the U.S. Air Force recover a 150 ton nuclear warhead.

This story originated two-days before Fawcett’s disappearance when it was learned a B-52 bomber took off from Minot Air Force base in North Dakota, flying to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana while carrying five or six Advanced Cruise Missiles.  Many conspiracy theorists came to believe a warhead was missing due to the discrepancy in the count.

“There was an error which occurred during a regularly scheduled transfer of weapons between two bases,” commented a Pentagon spokesperson. “The weapons were safe and remained in Air Force control and custody at all times.”

Eventually the rumors faded allowing teams to return to looking for the missing flier.

Survival experts speculated that Fossett was likely to be dead. Within five day of this announcement, the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol said it was suspending all flights in connection with its search operations, but National Guard search flights, private search flights and ground searches continued.

The National Transportation Safety Board began a preliminary investigation into the likely crash of the plane that Fossett was flying. The preliminary report originally stated that Fossett was “presumed fatally injured and the aircraft substantially damaged”, but was subsequently revised to remove that assumption.

Authorities confirmed they would stop actively looking for Fossett in the Nevada Desert, but would keep air crews on standby to fly to possible crash sites.

“Nobody is giving up on this man”, said department spokesman. “The search is going to continue. It’s just going to be scaled back”, he said.

However, it was announced that after further analysis of radar data from the day of his disappearance, ground teams and two aircraft had resumed the search.

The Civil Air Patrol announced it had called off its search operation. Ryan later noted that the search was the largest, most complex peacetime search for an individual in U.S. history.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons’ spokesman, Ben Kieckhefer told the media that Gibbons had decided to direct the state to charge Steve Fossett’s family for the $687,000 expense of the search for Fossett.  Kieckhefer later played the report down saying Gibbons did not intend to demand an involuntary payment from Fossett’s widow, but that such a payment would be voluntary

“We are going to request that they help offset some of these expenses, considering the scope of the search, the overall cost as well as our ongoing budget difficulties,”  Kieckhefer said

Kieckhefer denied outright that a bill for the family was being prepared, and he said, “It will probably be in the form of a letter,” which Kieckhefer indicated would include a financial outline of the steps taken by the state, the associated costs, and a mention of the state’s ongoing budget difficulties.

Days prior to this announcement, state Emergency Management Director Frank Siracusa noted that “there is no precedent where government will go after people for costs just because they have money to pay for it. You get lost, and we look for you. It is a service your taxpayer dollars pay for”, although he conceded that legally any decision would rest with Gibbons.

During a 2008 Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee hearing, Siracusa indicated that he had hired an independent auditor to review costs incurred by the state in searching for Fossett, but added, “We are doing an audit but not because we are critical of anybody or suspect something was done wrong”.

Chairman Morse Arberry queried Siracusa as to why, since they lacked funds, had the state not billed the Fossett family for its search costs, to which Siracusa did not directly respond. Later he stated his comments to the Committee may have given the false impression that he had hired an auditor for the purpose of later challenging the state’s financial burden incurred on its behalf by the National Guard during the search operation.

Hilton, from whose ranch Fossett had departed on the day he went missing, had previously volunteered $200,000 to help pay for the search costs. In the end, the Nevada search cost $1.6 million, “the largest search and rescue effort ever conducted for a person within the U.S.”

In the end it was the hiker who found the missing adventurer, the widow chose to praise.

“I especially want to thank Preston, who made this discovery and turned over Steve’s belongings to the authorities,” Peggy Fawcett said.

Almost a year after Fossett went missing; twenty-eight friends and admirers conducted a foot search based on new clues gathered by the team. That search concluded September 10.

Late in the day, air search teams spotted wreckage on the ground at coordinates and a team was sent out to search for possible remains. But Gary Derks, Director of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, said it was unlikely that any significant remains would be found.

“If they are, it’ll be a miracle,” he said, citing the passage of time, the rough winter and the presence of animals in the area.

Near the end of the month, search teams recovered two large human bones that they suspected might belong to Fossett. . Tennis shoes with animal bite marks on them were also recovered.

These bones were found a half miles east of the crash site on Volcanic Ridge, part of the Ritter Range.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said that DNA testing of the two bones by a California Department of Justice forensics laboratory confirmed a match to Fossett’s DNA.  He added Fossett would have died on impact in such a crash, and that it was not unusual for animals to drag remains away.

This fact does not explain how the ends of the aerobatic harness he was wearing could have come free from the 5-point cam-lock, considering that their release requires the cam-lock knob be twisted a quarter-turn. Manipulating the cam-lock could not have been accomplished by someone other than Fossett.

According to interviews by the Discovery Channel — who provided a camera crew the day after his ID was found by a hiker — the one fact that disputes the official findings was the location of hardware that had been part of the pilot’s harness. Pilots who knew him were interviewed by the Discovery Channel for a January 2009 documentary on the incident in which they expressed certainty that the harness could not have been released by any animal that may have moved his body.

The reason for their opinion pertains to the mechanism (twisting) required to release the harness and the fact that no other hardware was attached. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this harness was in use or being worn at the time of the crash.

The NTSB issued its report and findings. It states that the plane crashed at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, 300 feet below the crest of the ridge.

The elevation of peaks in the area exceeded 13,000 feet. However, the density altitude in the area at the time and place of the crash was estimated to be 12,700 feet.

The aircraft, a tandem two-seater, was nearly 30 years old, and Fossett had flown approximately 40 hours in this type. The plane’s operating manual says that at an altitude of 13,000 feet the rate of climb would be 300 feet per minute.

The NTSB report says that “a meteorologist from Salinas provided a numerical simulation of the conditions in the accident area using the Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting numerical model. At 0930 — the approximate time of the crash — the model displayed downdrafts in that area of approximately 300 feet per minute.

There was no evidence of equipment failure.

Finally, the NTSB declared the probable cause of the crash as “the pilot’s inadvertent encounter with downdrafts that exceeded the climb capability of the airplane. Contributing to the accident were the downdrafts, high density altitude, and mountainous terrain.”

Asked why he takes risks, Fossett claimed they simply a set of problems to be solved.

“I don’t seek risk,” he said. “I don’t like to be scared and I spend a lot of effort figuring out how to reduce risks.”

As of 2012, Fossett’s remains had not yet been interred.

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