Rescue Crews Find No Sign Of Missing Adventurer

By Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 5 -- Hundreds of rescuers in trucks, airplanes and helicopters searched for adventurer Steve Fossett in the Nevada desert yesterday but came up with only false sightings, authorities said.

Fossett, 63, took off in a small plane from a private airstrip about 70 miles southeast of Reno on Monday morning and did not return as scheduled that afternoon. Although he wore a watch with an electronic location transmitter on it, no one has picked up any signal from Fossett or his aircraft.

Rescuers are searching a 600-square-mile area of mountains and desert, "looking for a needle in a haystack," said Maj. Cynthia Ryan, a Civil Air Patrol spokeswoman. Fossett had not filed a flight plan.

The commodities trader, known for his solo trips around the world by hot-air balloon and airplane, has also competed in the Iditarod dogsled race, the Ironman Triathlon and the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race.

When he disappeared Monday, Fossett was scouting for a dry lake bed where he hoped to break the land speed record of 766.6 mph next year. He took off in a single-engine fixed-wing plane, a Bellanca Citabria, from the Flying M Ranch owned by Hilton Hotels magnate Barron Hilton.

Despite his death-defying exploits, Fossett is "very thoughtful, so he's not prone to go do something silly," said his friend Granger Whitelaw, co-founder of the Rocket Racing League.

In a telephone interview, Whitelaw said Fossett always wears a Swiss-made Breitling watch with the same type of electronic location transmitter that commercial jets use to alert rescuers when they crash. "It makes me very concerned that he may be injured and not be able to work that ELT," Whitelaw said.

"He's an incredibly accomplished human being, and if anybody can find his way back from a bad situation it would be him, but every hour that passes I get more worried."

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