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Search Resumes For Adventurer Steve Fossett

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We bring you now more details of a possible breakthrough in the mysterious disappearance of the adventurer Steve Fossett. He's the billionaire known for setting world flying records, and he vanished more than a year ago while flying solo over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Last night, searchers scouring the rugged backcountry of Northern California said they spotted wreckage of what could be that plane. NPR's Richard Gonzales has more.

RICHARD GONZALES: The search began after a local hiker found what appeared to be a pilot's ID card and other documents carrying the name and birth date of James Steven Fossett. The hiker also found a sweatshirt and $1,000 in cash near the town of Mammoth Lakes. That was enough to get the search going again. And then last night came the next big discovery, what appeared to be the wreckage of a small plane like the one Fossett was flying when he vanished in September of last year. It was spotted from the air. Madera County Sheriff Spokesperson Erica Stuart refuses to disclose the exact location but says search teams are moving in to get a closer look.

Ms. ERICA STUART (Sheriff Spokesperson, Madera Country): When they said they thought they'd spotted wreckage, we had to send in a crew to that area to find out if in fact it is wreckage, and secondly, if it is wreckage, who does the wreckage belong to.

GONZALES: Stewart says the ground search team should be able to make that determination shortly after dawn. Fossett disappeared after taking off in a single engine plane from a private airfield about 80 miles southeast of Reno. The renowned adventurer was reportedly searching for a dry lake bed to stage an attempt to break the land speed record. His disappearance set off a high profile search involving hundreds of aviators. But after months of searching, no trace was ever found until now. In February, a court declared Fossett dead. The search has focused on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range about 140 miles southeast of Reno. Lieutenant Michael Salvador is a spokesman for the Madera County Search and Rescue.

Lieutenant MICHAEL SALVADOR (Spokesman, Madera County Search and Rescue): There are no roads into this area, you either hike in or you fly in. But I can confirm that we have search teams on the ground in the area about seven miles west of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. It's a very, very rugged portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at about the 10,000 foot elevation.

GONZALES: Search planes will also be in the air today, and a command post has been set up at the Mammoth Lakes Airport. In a statement yesterday, Fossett's widow, Peggy Fossett, expressed her hope that authorities might finally locate her husband's plane and his remains. Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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