- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

CARSON CITY, Nev. | A team of elite athletes and expert mountaineers has ended a weeklong hunt for Steve Fossett, finding no sign of the missing adventurer or his plane but eliminating miles of rugged terrain from areas that still must be searched.

The 10 searchers, headed by Canadian geologist and adventure racer Simon Donato, 31, packed up their gear Saturday after taking a day to explore a steep canyon in Nevada’s Wassuk Range, dominated by 11,239-foot-high Mount Grant.

That followed six days of hiking in the Sweetwater Mountains and Bodie Hills to the west, on the state’s line with California.

“We didn’t find what we were looking for, but we covered a lot of land that can basically be crossed off the [search] map now,” team member Greg Francek said in a phone interview. “We were looking for wreckage probably the size of one or two shopping carts - and it’s hard describe the huge scale of the wild, tough country we were in. It’s really something.”

For their volunteer efforts, the team members got more than blisters, scratches from thick brush, and run-ins with a bear, bobcat, rattlesnake and scorpion. They also won praise from local authorities whose lean budgets prevent them from the sort of extensive searching that followed Mr. Fossett’s disappearance in September.

“We appreciate any help from anyone who has a desire to go out,” said Joe Sanford, Undersheriff of Lyon County, Nev. “I truly believe this thing will come to a close through an outdoorsman.”

“We simply don’t have the resources or the funding to continue to go out and look unless we have a solid lead. Up to that point, we are truly relying on individuals,” Undersheriff Sanford added. “It’s great that they have the wherewithal and the interest to keep this thing alive.”

There were some highs during the week, such as finding a small aluminum door that appeared to have come from a plane. But Mr. Francek said a close look at the door showed that it probably came from a snowcat, an enclosed vehicle that moves on tracks through snow.

Mr. Francek said the door had an external handle and heavy hinges more likely to be seen on a snowcat than on a plane. He added the door, even if from a plane, was too old to have come from the fabric and aluminum-frame plane Mr. Fossett was flying when he disappeared in September.

While one private search for multimillionaire Mr. Fossett is over, others are continuing or are in the planning stages.

Mike Larson, 49, of Carson City, said Friday that he and search partner Kelly Stephenson have been riding all-terrain vehicles and hiking on foot southwest of Hawthorne for several months on days off from work in search of Mr. Fossett.

In late August, Robert Hyman, a D.C. investor and alpinist, plans to bring in a team of up to 15 climbers, mountain guides and others with backcountry expertise to search in the Wassuks, near Hawthorne.

When Mr. Fossett took off Sept. 3 from a remote Nevada ranch on what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight, he headed toward Lucky Boy Pass in the Wassuks.

The search areas are rugged and it has on occasion taken decades to find missing people whose planes crashed in the area. Some have never been found.

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