Disappearance of Steve Fossett

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Steve Fossett is a businessman and pilot who set several aviation records during his lifetime. He disappeared while flying solo on September 3, 2007.

Disappearance and search


It was initially believed he might be examining the many flat playa areas of Nevada.

At 8:45 am, on Monday, September 3, 2007, Fossett took off in a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon airplane from a private airstrip known as Flying-M Ranch ( 38°36′13″N, 119°00′11″W), near Smith Valley, Nevada, 30 miles south of Yerington, near Carson City and the California border. The airfield is owned by Barron Hilton and is the site of the biennial Barron Hilton Cup invitational soaring encampment. It was initially believed that Fossett was searching for a suitable lake bed for a world land speed record attempt.

According to CNN, the search for Fossett began about six hours later. The aircraft has tail number N240R registered to the “Flying M Hunting Club, Inc.” There was no signal from the plane’s 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 at first thought that Fossett may have also been wearing a Swiss-made Breitling Emergency watch with a manually operated ELT having a range of up to 90 miles, but no signal was received from it, and on September 13, 2007, Fossett’s wife Peggy issued a statement clarifying that he owns such a watch, but was not wearing it when he took off for the Labor Day flight.

Fossett took off with enough fuel for four to five hours of flight, according to Civil Air Patrol spokesperson Maj. Cynthia S. Ryan. 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, teams of ten aircraft searched but found no trace of wreckage after scouring a large area of rugged terrain. 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 September 10, 2007, search crews had found eight previously uncharted crash sites,some of which are decades old, but none related to Fossett’s disappearance. Out of hundreds of tips received, authorities said they were focusing on four they considered credible. About two dozen aircraft were involved in the search.

On September 7, 2007, Google Inc. helped the search for the aviator through its connections to contractors that provide satellite imagery for its Google Earth software. Richard Branson, Fossett’s British billionaire friend, said he and others were coordinating efforts with Google to see if any of the high-resolution pictures might include Fossett’s aircraft.

On September 8, 2007, the first of a series of new high resolution imagery from DigitalGlobe was made available via the Amazon Mechanical Turk beta website so that users could flag potential areas of interest to search in what is known as crowdsourcing. By 11 September 2007, up to 50,000 people had joined the effort scrutinizing more than 300,000 squares of the high resolution imagery. The volunteers inspected each 278-foot-square area and flagged any that they believe contained something worthy of follow up. Squares flagged by several people were given greater scrutiny. Peter Cohen of Amazon believed that the entire search area had been covered at least once by 11 September 2007.

Survival experts hosted by news organizations, CNN and MSNBC, reported on September 12, 2007 that Fossett was likely to be dead. On September 17, 2007, the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol reported that they were suspending all flights in connection with their search operations, but National Guard and private search flights continued, as well as ground searches.

The NTSB has begun 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 later revised to remove that assumption. Fossett’s friend and fellow explorer, Sir Richard Branson has publicly made similar statements.

On September 19, 2007, authorities confirmed they would stop “actively” looking for him 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, on September 30, 2007 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. On October 2, 2007, the Civil Air Patrol announced it had called off its search operation.


  1. Friess, Steve (2007-09-04). Millionaire Aviator Missing on Short Flight – New York Times. ‘The New York Times’. Retrieved on 2007-09-04. “Mr. Fossett, 63, took off from a ranch owned by the hotel magnate William Barron Hilton at about 9 a.m. but was expected back by noon to leave the ranch with his wife on a private jet, said Major Cynthia S. Ryan, public information officer of the Civil Air Patrol Nevada Wing.”
  2. Steve Fossett was looking for lake beds suitable for land speed record attempt. BYM Marine & Maritime News (2007-09-04). Retrieved on 2007-09-04. “There is no indication as to why a signal has not been received from the plane’s emergency beacon.”
  3. Levin, Alan (2007-09-06). Fossett search stresses need for new beacons. USA Today. Gannett. Retrieved on 2007-09-08. “The small plane piloted by Fossett, 63, was equipped with an older emergency beacon that is notorious for failing to operate after crashes, according to federal safety officials and the agencies that monitor the emergency beacons.”
  4. Geis, Sonya (2007-09-06). Rescue Crews Find No Sign Of Missing Adventurer. ‘Washington Post’. Retrieved on 2007-09-08. “In a telephone interview, [Fossett’s friend Granger] Whitelaw said Fossett always wears a Swiss-made Breitling watch with the same type of electronic location transmitter that commercial jets use to alert rescuers when they crash.”
  5. Search for Fossett could solve decades-old mysteries. ‘CNN’ (2007-09-13). Retrieved on 2007-09-13. “Fossett’s wife, Peggy, issued a statement Thursday in response to questions about whether her husband was wearing a watch with an emergency transmitter on his flight. She said he owned such a Breitling watch but did not bring it on the trip.”
  6. Aviation record-holder Steve Fossett missing“, CNN, September 4, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-04. 
  7. Sonner, Scott. “FAA: Adventurer Fossett’s Plane Missing“, AP, September 4, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-04. 
  8. Steve Fossett reported missing by US aviation authorities (September 4, 2007).
  9. Kansascity.com, Adventurer’s routine flight disappears into a mystery
  10. Fiorino, Frances (2007-09). Advanced Recon System Aids Fossett Search. Aviation Week. McGraw-Hill. Retrieved on 2007-09-08. “According to CAP, a set of parameters describing the intended target, including its color and shape, is programmed into the ARCHER system.”
  11. Friess, Steve (2007-09-10). Search for Fossett turns up wrecks of 8 other small planes. San Francisco Chronicle p. A-1. Hearst Communications Inc.. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. “The search for Fossett across a 17,000-square-mile swath of the Sierra Nevada has revealed the wreckage of eight other small planes…”
  12. Associated Press (2007-09-10). Searchers frustrated over Fossett search. USA Today. Retrieved on 2007-09-14. “…search parties have spotted wreckage of eight other airplanes that had been lost for years in and around the rugged mountains of western Nevada.”
  13. Riley, Brendan (2007-09-08). Vast, desolate area hinders Fossett search. Monterey Herald. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. “…another downed plane Friday that was spotted on a hillside about 45 miles southeast of Reno…turned out to be an old crash, a plane last registered in Oregon in 1975”
  14. Gerdner, Tom (2007-09-08). Aviator’s Fate Puzzles Search Crews. Associated Press. Retrieved on 2007-09-08. “In their quest to find missing aviator Steve Fossett, searchers have come across eight uncharted plane crash wreckage sites. But none of the wrecks shed light on what may have happened to the multimillionaire.”
  15. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/09/08/fossett.ap/index.html
  16. Yahoo.com, Google helps in search for aviator
  17. Amazon Mechanical Turk, Steve Fossett Missing: Help find him by searching satellite imagery project
  18. 50,000 Volunteers Join Distributed Search For Steve Fossett, Wired News, By Steve Friess, 11 September 2007, 2:00 p.m.
  19. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/09/12/fossett.search.ap/index.html
  20. “Steve Fossett likely dead, survival experts say”, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20732023/
  21. Check-Six.com – Missing – Steve Fossett
  22. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/09/18/fossett.search.ap/index.html
  23. NTSB Preliminary Report – SEA07FAMS2 – on the loss of N240R
  24. Howard, Scott and Stewart Campbell (2007-09-20). Federal Agency Retracts Fossett Statement After KOLO 8 Probe. KOLO-TV News. Retrieved on 2007-09-21. “…the National Transportation Safety Board’s officials preliminary report noted that Fossett was “presumed fatally injured and the aircraft substantially damaged.””
  25. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071015/ap_on_re_us/steve_fossett
  26. CNN (2007-10-03). Search called off for adventurous aviator Steve Fossett. CNN News. Retrieved on 2007-10-03. “The Civil Air Patrol has called off the search for multimillionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, nearly a month after he took off from a Nevada ranch, the agency announced Tuesday..”