Wreckage of Fossett's plane discovered

Body parts found at the crash site, officials assert

(AFP/Getty Images)
By Jia-Rui Chong and Steve Chawkins
Los Angeles Times / October 3, 2008
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MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - As day was breaking through the clouds at the Mammoth Lakes Airport, authorities confirmed yesterday that search and rescue crews had found the plane of missing adventurer Steve Fossett.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said crews flying overhead Wednesday evening spotted what they thought was the wreckage in a mountainous area just west of the Minarets, a series of craggy peaks in the Sierra Nevada.

"They went in, and they did locate the aircraft, which we have now confirmed is the one that Steve Fossett was flying when it disappeared" in September 2007, Anderson said.

Search crews went in after they received Global Positioning System coordinates from the aircraft, and officials were able to reach the wreckage and confirm about 11 p.m. that it was Fossett's plane.

The identification number of Fossett's plane matched the number on the wreckage, he said.

The wreckage was spread out; the engine was found about 300 feet from the fuselage and the wings.

"It appeared to me, just looking at the pictures, it was a head-on crash into the side of the mountain, into a rock," Anderson said. "The plane moved in an upward direction for 100 feet or so, and disintegrated."

The National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday that body parts were found among the wreckage.

The wreckage was found about a quarter-mile from where a hiker on Monday found ID cards that belonged to Fossett.

"What it means is that we know for sure," Anderson said. "There were questions yesterday that perhaps someone threw the cards or money out the window. Now we know the plane was there, the plane crashed, and we probably have a pretty good indication that Steve Fossett's remains are still up in the mountains somewhere."

Five investigators from the NTSB arrived yesterday morning from Washington, D.C., and were preparing to visit the wreckage. Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the NTSB, said investigators had reviewed preliminary information and photographs from the scene.

"It will take us weeks, perhaps months, to have a better understanding of what happened on that mountain that day," Rosenker said.

Anderson said the Madera County Sheriff's Department would send 50 search-and-rescue people and five canine teams from numerous agencies in California and Nevada to look for Fossett's remains.

He said officials planned an "arm-to-arm search" around the crash site.

Fossett, 63, disappeared more than a year ago while on a solo pleasure flight from a remote ranch in Nevada.

The subsequent search for him spanned about 24,000 square miles, including the high country of the Eastern Sierra Nevada.

"It's a needle in a haystack - and you have to find the haystack first," Nevada emergency services official Jeff Page said.

Preston Morrow, a hiker, said he was far off-trail Monday when he found cash and ID cards. He was exploring, trying to find some mines, but he never got there.

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