More than a year after adventurer Steve Fossett went missing during an airplane flight, federal officials say they have found "human remains" near his crashed plane -- enough for DNA testing that might identify the remains.
"We found human remains, but there's very little. Given the length of time the wreckage has been out there, it's not surprising there's not very much," National Transportation Safety Board acting Chairman Mark Rosenker said, according to the Associated Press. "I'm not going to elaborate on what it is."
Local officials were more conservative about the find in a debris field near the wreckage of Fossett's plane in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, saying the remains are minimal and could just as easily be animal remains.
The discovery of the Fossett crash site began to unfold in the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes, Monday, when hiker Preston Morrow stumbled on something that didn't look quite right stashed away in a pile of dirt and pine needles.
"Out of the corner of my eye I caught some cards, some white cards, and some money," Morrow said. "So I got closer and it was hundred-dollar bills."
The hiker's discovery triggered a renewed flurry of activity in the search for Fossett.
"Late last night, just about the time we were going to call off the search, the aircraft from Yosemite National Park spotted what they thought was wreckage on the ground," said Sheriff John Anderson in a morning press conference at the Mammoth Lakes Airport. "The search team, they were planning to spend the night in the mountains, they got the GPS coordinates of the aircraft, they went in, and they did locate an aircraft which we have now confirmed is the one that Steve Fossett was flying when he disappeared last Labor Day."
Anderson said the crash site was "so severe that I doubt if someone would have walked away from it."
Fossett was last seen Sept. 3, 2007, when he took off from Yerington, Nev., in a Bellanca 8KCAB (N240R) plane. Until this week, extensive searches for his plane and for Fossett had repeatedly turned up empty.
Still, the California hiker didn't know he was holding a key to the mystery until he went to work Tuesday morning at a ski shop and told his colleagues what he had found: a glider license, a national aeronautical card, $1,000 in hundred-dollar bills and a pilot's license bearing the name James Stephen Fossett.
"I told them about the pilot, about a pilot's ID," Morrow said. "And we put all the name, and, 'Oh my gosh that's that.' So that Tuesday morning is when we went, 'Oh my gosh, it's the Fossett guy."
Morrow walked back into the wilderness with his boss the next day and found a sweater. They turned in their findings to the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.
By Wednesday evening, at least a dozen people searching for the wreckage spent the night on the ground, and a helicopter hovered over the craggy ridges in the area scanning for wreckage.
At that time, Fossett's widow, Peggy, also issued a statement, saying, "I am hopeful that this search will locate the crash site and my husband's remains. I am grateful to all of those involved in this effort."