As allegations of an elaborate double life begin to emerge regarding the disappearance of Steve Fossett, investigators are questioning whether he really died–or even crashed–at all. But land surveyor Mike Larson, who has spent almost every free weekend searching for the crash site since Fossett disappeared, disagrees with the new allegations.
Friday, 1 August 2008
If Steve Fossett had been asked to choose the manner of his parting, it's quite likely he'd have decided to simply fly off into the sunset. And give or take a few daylight hours, that's more or less what happened: on the morning of Monday 3 September 2007, the world-famous adventurer, pioneer and all-round hero of aviation left a secluded Nevada airfield for a routine pleasure flight over the local desert. He never returned.
To fans of the feats of endurance Fossett had shoehorned into his 63 years, the disappearance sparked a mixture of concern – and disbelief. Here was a man who had circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon, and set more than 100 records in five adventure sports (60 of which still stand), and clambered from the wreckage of almost as many crashed aircraft as he'd eaten vacuum-packed dinners. Here, in short, was a born survivor.
Yet here he was, one of the world's most experienced aviators, apparently getting into terminal difficulty during an everyday leisure flight taken in near-perfect conditions, using a small, single-engined aeroplane known for its reliability.
After Fossett's wife, Peggy, raised the alarm, an emergency search of mammoth proportions launched into action. For a month, the Civil Air Patrol, National Guard, and hundreds of flying enthusiasts (most volunteering their aircraft), combed thousands of square miles of mountain, canyon and desert in search of the missing airman.
They searched day and night, logging tens of thousands of flying hours. But, in spite of one of the most thorough and widespread search operations in history, no wreckage, and no body, was ever found. On 15 February this year, Steve Fossett was declared dead by a judge in his home town of Chicago.
That should have been the end of it. But, like any unsolved mystery, the disappearance of Fossett has retained an enduring fascination for his many admirers who have continued (often against his widow's wishes) to search for the adventurer's remains. And, this week, that unsolved mystery took an extraordinary turn.
On Sunday, Lt-Col Cynthia Ryan of the US Civil Air Patrol, official spokeswoman for the search-and-rescue operation, was quoted as saying that she believes Fossett may not have actually crashed. Her astonishing theory is that this all-American hero had somehow faked his own death.