Adventurer Is Reported Missing

Civil Air Patrol crew members prepare to join the units searching hundreds of square miles of rugged Nevada terrain.
Civil Air Patrol crew members prepare to join the units searching hundreds of square miles of rugged Nevada terrain. (2005 Photo By Lisa J. Tolda -- Reno Gazette-journal Via Associated Press)
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Steve Fossett, a tycoon-turned-record-seeker who became the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon, vanished Monday while flying a single-engine plane over rugged terrain in Nevada, authorities said.

Fossett, 63, has not been seen since taking off from a small airstrip in the western part of the state about 9 a.m. Monday on what was supposed to be a two-hour flight.

By yesterday evening, more than 10 aircraft were scouring a large chunk of desert for his plane, but officials said they had found no traces of wreckage. Rescuers had also not picked up any signals from the plane's radios or emergency location transmitter, officials said.

Authorities said that Fossett had borrowed the plane, a Bellanca Citabria, to scout locations where he might be able to break the land speed record, one of his next challenges.

"We believe he was looking for dry lake beds," said April Conway, a spokeswoman for the Nevada National Guard, which is helping in the search. "It was just supposed to be an up-and-down trip."

Conway said that Fossett had about four hours of fuel on the small plane -- a model designed for aerobatics -- when he took off from the Flying M Ranch, a private airstrip owned by Barron Hilton, co-chairman of Hilton Hotels Corp. He was reported missing by a friend when he did not return to the strip, about 70 miles southeast of Reno, Conway said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said that Fossett had not filed a flight plan, making it more difficult to find him. He was not required to file one, and the weather was clear on Monday, Gregor said.

Fossett, a Chicago commodities trader, has been trying to break records for years. He earned fame in 2002 when he became the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon. It took him two weeks to make the trip. In the mid-1990s, he flew solo across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon, also breaking a record.

Two years ago, he became the first person to fly solo around the world in an airplane without refueling. Fossett has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and competed in the Iditarod dogsled race, the Ironman Triathlon and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race.

He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in July, and he has talked openly about breaking other records.

He told Ron Kaplan, the hall of fame's executive director, that he hoped to set a speed and distance record in a helicopter that was being built for the challenge.

"He just embodies the spirit of exploration and perseverance," Kaplan said, adding that Fossett "really lives for the research, the preparation, the training, the organization" of trying to break records.

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