12th Day Of Searching Brings No Sign Of Fossett

A 12th day of searching from the air and on the ground has turned up no sign of famed aviator Steve Fossett.

Search organizers say ground crews finished searching in the Pinenut Mountains today, without no success.

Searchers also failed to find any trace of Fossett in the Sonora Pass area in California after a woman reported she heard what sounded like a plane and then a possible crash while camping in the area over Labor Day.

Ground patrols tomorrow (Saturday) will concentrate on an area in Mineral County south of the Flying M Ranch in Lyon County.

The Oregon wing of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol is sending a Cessna 182 to Nevada, to help with the search for missing millionaire pilot Steve Fossett.

The aircraft, and its three-person crew, will stay in Nevada at least through the weekend, to spell other crews who have been searching for Fossett.

It has also been revealed that missing aviator Steve Fossett was not wearing his specialist survial watch that included an emergency beacon that could transmit his position.

Also authorities investigating the mysterious disappearance of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett said Thursday they've ruled out some of the more unlikely explanations for why they haven't found his plane, including the possibility he wanted to vanish.

The fact a small air force has been scouring the canyons and hillsides along the Sierra's eastern front for 11 days with no trace of the single-engine plane raises the prospect that he's just not there.

Most experts believe he should have been able to land the plane even if the aircraft malfunctioned or was slammed by a big wind gust.

Those fierce Nevada winds kept many search planes grounded Thursday, but ground crews continued to check out fresh leads.

Could Fossett, rich, famous and apparently happy and engaged in his adventurous pursuits - the flight was a scouting mission for a dry lake bed to attack the land speed record - have grown tired of the limelight and simply wanted to start a new life?

Could he have fled some personal or financial problems?

"We have looked at that," Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"We have assets that are tracking financial records, credit card transactions, cell phone use," he said, noting they've received no calls claiming sightings of Fossett.

"With his notoriety, we believe he couldn't walk away from this type of event." he said.

"People would recognize him."

Investigators also dismiss the notion that Fossett might have met foul play, or perhaps been kidnapped to be held for a ransom.

"If we find a wreck area, we will need to treat that like a crime scene before we rule out foul play," Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen said.

"But there's no reason to think about that now."

A longtime prosecutor in neighboring Washoe County said the normal course of an investigation would include at least a brief look into even the most unlikely scenarios.

"I have no idea about Mr. Fossett, but I know that it has happened in the past where we have had guys just disappear and stage things," Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said.

"When you can't find individuals for an extended period of time, you would have to look at everything."

But Gammick thinks its much more likely that Fossett's plane simply went down in a rugged canyon, or perhaps a lake, where searchers haven't found him and perhaps never will.

Gammick recalls an incident a few years back where a Navy jet crashed into Pyramid Lake north of Reno.

"The only way we knew it happened because people saw it," he said.

"If he is in a lake somewhere, they may never find him."

Ground crews returned Thursday to a spot in the Pinenut Mountains in western Nevada where two witnesses reported seeing a plane like Fossett's fly into a canyon but not fly out on Labor Day.

About 80 percent of the area has been searched, Civil Air Patrol Maj. Ed Locke said Thursday.

Search planes had flown the area several times, but the second sighting was reported to authorities Wednesday, so ground crews went in for a closer look.

"There are no new major leads today," Sanford said at a briefing late Thursday afternoon.

Gusty winds kept most of the search planes out of the air Thursday but they hoped to return to action Friday morning, with an emphasis on the Pinenut Mountains east of Minden and northeast of the private airstrip Fossett took off from about 80 miles southeast of Reno on Labor Day, Sanford said.

To the south, across the California line, crews finished searching a mountainous area northeast of Yosemite National Park.

On Wednesday, a woman reported that she had been staying at a cabin
in the area over Labor Day weekend when she heard a noise that sounded like an airplane.

She said that was followed by an apparent explosion, said Jeff Page, emergency coordinator for Lyon County in Nevada.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter and a C-130 aircraft flew over the area Thursday, searching for wreckage or anything else unusual.

"They did a pretty good extensive search and they didn't come up with anything," Alpine County Sheriff John Crawford said.

The woman had returned to her weekend cabin to show deputies where she spotted the smoke.

Crawford emphasized that the woman had not seen an airplane crash.

Rather, she only reported a loud noise and what appeared to be smoke.

The location is atop Sonora Pass off Highway 108, in a remote area of the Sierra Nevada near the border of Alpine and Tuolumne counties.

Another possibility is that Fossett strayed much farther afield than the search area, which already covers 17,000 square miles.

The plane he was flying could have taken him deep into neighboring
California, Oregon or Arizona, all states with vast areas of wilderness.

"We may never find it, that's an absolute fact," Locke said.

"But we've got to continue as long as we've got leads."


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