October 2, 2008
By Alton K. Marsh
The Bellanca Decathlon flown by Steve Fossett on the day he disappeared in September 2007 has been found in California, rather than in Nevada where past searches have concentrated. Several small bones were found at the crash site and will be examined by a DNA expert to see if they are from an animal or are human.
Fossett disappeared on a flight from the Flying M Ranch near Yerington, Nev., reportedly made to locate a flat desert area where he could set a new land speed record.
The aircraft was located well across the California border in Madera County, a mountainous region with terrain above 9,000 feet, according to a tour operator in the area. A hiker exploring an off-trail area near Red’s Meadow Oct. 1 found cash, a pilot’s certificate with Fossett’s name on it, a Soaring Society of America membership card with Fossett’s name, and a badly weathered sporting license issued by the National Aeronautic Association. The association issues licenses to those seeking to set world records. The crash site is part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and is close to the Devil’s Postpile National Monument.
The FAA has established a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over the crash site until further notice, extending from the surface up to 16,000 feet. The TFR covers an area with a 9-nautical-mile radius centered on the Bishop VOR’s 280-degree radial at 40 nm.
The identification documents were found less than a mile from the aircraft crash site. An official at Red’s Meadow Pack Stations and Resort said bears and coyotes are numerous in the area.
Fifty searchers from 10 counties, Yosemite National Park, the U.S. Forest Service, and dog teams trained to find bodies joined in an effort to find the remains. Madera County Sheriff’s Department officials said in a press briefing that the aircraft appeared to hit the mountain head-on, then continued up the mountain for 100 yards. The engine was found an additional 300 feet away. The aircraft’s N number was found. An NTSB official called it a nonsurvivable crash. The airplane was initially located by aircraft from Yosemite National Park.
Fossett, a Chicago investor, had devoted his life to setting as many world records as possible on land, at sea, and in the air. Most notable was his 2005 flight in GlobalFlyer, which made him the first pilot to fly solo nonstop around the world without refueling. He became the first person to fly a balloon solo around the world in 2002 and soared to 50,671 feet in a glider over Argentina in 2006. At the time of his death he held more than 100 world records.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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