Adventurer's Search Footprint Expanding

The hunt for Steve Fossett will cover 10,000 square miles -- not 600.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:07 AM

Sept. 6, 2007 — -- 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.

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."