- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Rescue crews searching for famed millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett stumbled upon more false leads yesterday when they discovered more plane wreckage — but didn’t find the missing aviator or his plane.

“Once again, you had your hopes raised and dashed, just as we have,” Nevada Civil Air Patrol Maj. Cynthia Ryan told reporters.

Rescue crews spotted two old wrecks, one of them from a U.S. Navy plane, southeast of the private ranch where Mr. Fossett was staying 80 miles southeast of Reno when he took off Monday for what was supposed to be a three-hour flight.

The false alarm further dampened spirits of the rescuers, whose chances of finding Mr. Fossett, 63, alive in the rugged, concealing landscape of western Nevada are becoming more and more slim.

“The mood is very somber but very focused,” Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford said.

At least eight times during the search, rescue crews have spotted airplane wreckage that they thought might be Mr. Fossett’s, only to learn it was from crashes years and sometimes decades ago.

To some, that is an ominous sign of how hard it will be to find the aviator.

“That’s always a possibility — that he may never be found,” Undersheriff Joe Sanford said. “But I’d like to believe that with our state-of-the-art technology, the chances of finding him are much better.”

Mr. Fossett, a former commodities trader who was the first to circle the globe in a balloon, is considered an expert pilot and survivalist. Search teams have tried to remain optimistic but acknowledged the futility was beginning to take a toll.

“It’s not frustrating, but tiring,” Nevada National Guard Capt. April Conway said.

The search has spread across an area of 17,000 square miles, twice the size of New Jersey. Crews will continue combing sections of that vast landscape, but yesterday they began focusing on the territory within 50 miles of the ranch. Most crashes occur within that radius during takeoffs or landings, Maj. Ryan said.

“We’ve got close to 100 percent covered, at least in some cursory fashion,” she said. “We have to eliminate a lot of territory.”

Once the search for Mr. Fossett is over, or significantly scaled back, inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration likely will be sent to each of the newly discovered wrecks. They will try to identify the pilots and bring closure to their families, agency spokesman Ian Gregor said.

No human remains have been found at any of the crash sites discovered so far. But that’s not a surprise, given their age and that the region is populated by coyotes and mountain lions.

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