Explorers start new search for missing aviator Steve Fossett | SummitDaily.com

Explorers start new search for missing aviator Steve Fossett

HAWTHORNE, Nev. ” A year after the Labor Day 2007 disappearance of famed aviator and adventurer Steve Fossett, a team made up of friends and admirers is searching for some sign of him or his small plane in rugged mountains just west of this west-central Nevada town.

The 28 searchers, headed by explorers Robert Hyman, Lew Toulmin and Bob Atwater, are hiking into steep, tree- and brush-choked canyons and gulches on the west slope of the Wassuk Range, dominated by towering 11,239″foot Mount Grant.

They’re relying on new information that alters earlier reports on Fossett’s likely path in the plane borrowed from longtime friend and wealthy hotel magnate Barron Hilton for what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight over familiar territory.

He had flown over the area many times since the mid-1990s and once hiked to the top of Mount Grant.

“This is the right thing to do,” Hyman said in a weekend interview at the search team’s isolated camp in mountains about 20 miles west of Hawthorne.

“Explorers don’t leave fellow explorers lost. …

We want to find out what happened to our friend and colleague, no more and no less.”

The main search area, only 10 to 15 miles from Hilton’s Flying M Ranch, was flown over repeatedly last fall in what was described as the largest aerial search for a downed plane in U.S. history.

An extensive ground search also was made.

But Hyman said there’s a lot of land that didn’t get close scrutiny.

“While I feel he’s under our nose here, he’s in an area that’s extremely hard to get to.

It’s the vertical terrain, it’s the dark terrain, and it’s the trees, the vegetation,” Hyman said, adding, “You have to look for the perfect hiding spot, and not just scour the open terrain.”

Fossett, 63, was declared legally dead in February by a Chicago judge.

The multimillionaire’s widow, Peggy Fossett, issued a statement supporting the latest effort, one of three private, self-funded searches this year.

She spent $1 million on last year’s search efforts.

That’s in addition to more than $1.6 million in Nevada agency costs.

“As the world marks the first anniversary of Steve’s death, I am heartened by Bob Hyman’s efforts to resolve the matter of Steve’s disappearance,” Peggy Fossett said.

“My best wishes are with him and his team and I hope for their safe return.”

Hyman’s method of sifting through data obtained by previous searches, utilizing a new high-tech NASA computer program that helps to visualize the land under a plane’s route, and then putting “boots on the ground” to trek over the rugged landscape drew praise from local authorities, whose investigation into Fossett’s disappearance remains open and unsolved.

“If that aircraft didn’t go straight down and kind of angled in under a stand of pine trees, it’s going to take someone physically walking upon that scene to find it,” said Lyon County, Nev., Undersheriff Joe Sanford.

“It’s hard to believe in this day and age that someone could disappear like this ” until you go up in an aircraft and look at how rough the terrain is. It’s absolutely amazing,” said Sanford.

“And we’re looking for something that’s possibly only a foot or two square.”

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