More than a dozen aircraft are scouring the rugged western Nevada wilderness for any sign of record-breaking adventurer Steve Fossett, who was last seen Monday morning taking off from a private airstrip in a small, single-engine aircraft.
The 63-year-old, who holds a number of speed and adventuring records on land, sea and air, was reported missing Monday night by a friend, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Fossett had not filed a flight plan for his Monday morning southbound departure in a white and blue Citabria Super Decathlon, but search officials from the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol said at an afternoon press conference that it is not uncommon for pilots to fly out of private, remote airstrips on short trips without filing flight plans.
The plane was described by Civil Air Patrol spokeswoman Maj. Cynthia S. Ryan as a two-seat tandem taildragger capable of executing tricks. The one Fossett was flying, which is not registered to him, is blue and white with orange markings.
Thirteen aircraft, including planes and helicopters, were searching for any signs of Fossett this afternoon, but heavy winds were threatening to put a hold on the air search, which actually began Monday evening when Fossett was formally reported missing. Before contacting authorities, Fossett's friends at the airstrip conducted their own search, Ryan said.
The flying conditions Monday were near perfect, Ryan said, and there is an electronic locator device onboard the plane that could help lead search teams to Fossett.
Fossett reportedly was in Nevada in August working on a jet racer to try to break the world land speed record and may have been scouting dry land beds suitable for his record-breaking attempt, Ryan said.
Fossett has set a number of aviation records. In 2002, he became the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe by hot air balloon; three years later, he succeeded in a 67-hour around-the-world trip without refueling on the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer; in August 2006, he and a co-pilot set the world glider altitude record, soaring more than 50,000 feet above the Andes Mountains. In July, Fossett's flight accomplishments earned him a place in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
"I'm hoping you didn't give me this award because you think my career is complete, because I'm not done," Fossett said at the induction ceremony in San Diego, Calif., adding that he would be in Argentina this fall to try to break another glider record.
Fossett has also broken more than 20 speed sailing records. He has competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and an Ironman Triathlon, swam the English Channel and summited the highest peaks in six of the seven continents.
Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, which has sponsored some of Fossett's record-breaking attempts, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon about the adventurer's disappearance.
"Steve is a tough old boot," Branson said in the statement. "I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up."
Branson acknowledged that the ranch airstrip from which Fossett took off is located in a vast landscape, but said his friend has overcome more substantial challenges than surviving in the wilderness.
"Based on his track record, I feel confident we'll get some good news soon," Branson said.