Adventurer's Search Footprint Expanding

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.

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