Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett has set records in the air, on land and on the water.
Now search teams from several states have taken to all three in a significantly expanded hunt for any sign of Fossett's single-engine plane, which disappeared Monday after the 63-year-old took off on a short, southbound flight from the Flying M Ranch, 70 miles from Reno, Nev.
Originally, search officials said they were focusing on a 600 square mile area for signs of Fossett's blue and white Bellance Citabria Super Decathlon. The same officials said today that aircraft and ground crews are combing 10,000 square miles of rural desert and mountain landscape, stretching from the site of the ranch west to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas. It's an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.
They also have launched a boat on a Nevada lake inside the search footprint that is equipped with sonar equipment that might detect any submerged wreckage had the plane crashed into the water.
Maj. Cynthia Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Nevada wing of the Civil Air Patrol, acknowledged that she had previously been given "erroneous" information about the size of Fossett's search area.
Why No Word?
Ryan, whose organization is overseeing the Fossett search with reinforcement aircraft from the Utah and California Civil Air Patrols, the Nevada National Guard, as well as local authorities, batted away questions about the public expense of the high-profile adventurer's search.
"Yes, there are some special resources devoted to this search because of who he is," Ryan acknowledged, but added that the "basic" resources are the same that would be devoted to any missing person search.
The key, Ryan explained, is using aircraft, ground crews and now the boat to rule out square footage within the expanded search area. It's a process, she said, that could take more than two weeks.
Pressed on why Fossett, a renowned survival expert, wouldn't have signaled rescue teams were he alive, Ryan said: "We can speculate endlessly about this. Why hasn't he burned a tire? Why hasn't he flashed his wristwatch in the sky? I can't answer all of those questions responsibly and no one can."
Fossett reportedly was wearing a watch equipped with an electronic locator transmitter, but rescue teams have received no signal. Twice, rescue teams had tracked down signals they initially thought had come from an electronic locator transmitter onboard Fossett's plane. Neither was connected to the aircraft.
Man of Many Records
Fossett had set out on a short scouting mission of dry lake beds in the area where he wanted to attempt to break the world land-speed record of 766 mph. The flight was only supposed to last a few hours.
Infrared and high-tech vision technology were being used by planes and helicopters to search for signs of wreckage. A plane equipped with "Archer" technology, which uses hyperspectral and panchromatic imaging systems to identify specific targets from the air, arrived Wednesday. At this point, different types of aircraft are essentially working around the clock.
Fossett had not filed a flight plan for the Monday trip, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, but officials say that it's not required and not uncommon when going out for a quick trip from a private airstrip.
While there undoubtedly is significant cause for concern, rescue officials and Fossett's friends say that if anyone can survive being stranded in the rugged wilderness, it's Fossett, the president of the National Eagle Scout Association.
"Barring some sort of catastrophic landing, this is entirely survivable," Ryan said.
Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson, a close friend and financial backer of some of Fossett's record-breaking attempts, said he thinks the plane Fossett was piloting would be capable of gliding if it lost engine power. Fossett and a co-pilot set an altitude record for gliding in 2006, climbing more than 50,000 feet above the Andes Mountains — one of many aviation records the adventurer holds.
In 2002, Fossett became the first person to circle the Earth alone in a hot air balloon. It was his fifth attempt at the feat after several spectacular failures. In a 1998 bid, Fossett survived a 30,000-foot plummet on a balloon that crashed into the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia.
In 2005, Fossett fought through sleep deprivation and severe turbulence to break another record, becoming the first person to fly around the world solo without refueling. The trip took 76 hours.
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, adding that he would be in Argentina this fall to try to break another glider record.
Fossett, who made a fortune as a risk taker trading stocks, has also broken more than 20 speed sailing records. He has competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and an Ironman Triathlon. He has swum the English Channel and reached the highest peaks in six of the seven continents.
The adventurer, who in total claims more than 100 world records or firsts, has an application pending before the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a permit in Eureka County, Nev., to break the land-speed record. According to Fossett's Web site, www.stevefossett.com, his goal is to hit 800 mph.