CHICAGO – Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who risked his life seeking to set records in high-tech balloons, gliders and jets, was declared dead Friday, 5 months after he vanished while flying in an ordinary small plane.
The self-made business tycoon, who in 2002 became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon, was last seen Sept. 3 after taking off in a single-engine plane from an airstrip near Yerington, Nev., heading toward Bishop, Calif. He was 63.
At the request of his wife, Peggy V. Fossett, a judge declared Fossett legally dead in Cook County Circuit Court as a step toward resolving the legal status of his estate, said her attorney, Michael LoVallo.
Judge Jeffrey Malak heard testimony Friday from Peggy Fossett, a family friend and a search-and-rescue expert before deciding there was sufficient evidence to declare him dead.
“It was very sad,” LoVallo said, “and at first she hoped and sort of envisioned him walking down the road the next day with another story to tell. But as the days went on, she realized it wasn’t going to happen as it had on other occasions when he’d had close calls.”
Fossett was on a pleasure flight when he vanished and not looking for a dry lake bed to use as a surface on which to set the world land speed record, as was initially reported, according to his wife’s petition.
Dozens of planes and helicopters spent more than a month searching the rugged western Nevada mountains before the effort was called off as winter approached.
The search area covered 20,000 square miles, and according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, about 15 to 20 private planes have vanished in the area since 1950.
LoVallo said Peggy Fossett would like to recover the remains “and really find out what happened.” Plans are to resume a recovery search in the spring.