October 2, 2008 in Nation/World

Items found likely missing pilot’s

Search teams spot what looks like wreckage
By TRACIE CONE and JULIANA BARBASSA Associated Press
 
Associated Press photos photo

A California Highway Patrol helicopter heads out Wednesday to search areas where articles belonging to Steve Fossett were found. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Search teams combing a rugged part of eastern California for any sign of Steve Fossett, the adventurer who vanished on a solo flight more than a year ago, have spotted what appeared to be wreckage Wednesday, authorities said.

Erica Stuart, spokeswoman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, would not reveal the exact location of the reported aerial sighting, which she said was called in around sunset.

Searchers had been combing a 10-mile radius around the spot where a hiker had found what appeared to be a pilot’s license and other items belonging to Fossett earlier in the week.

A ground team was en route to the site Wednesday night, and authorities would be able to confirm there is actual wreckage and whether it belongs to Fossett this morning, Stuart said.

Authorities, however, cautioned that hundreds of planes have gone down in the mountainous region, so any wreckage found could belong to other cases.

The hiker, Preston Morrow, said he found a pilot’s license, a glider license, a third ID and $1,005 in cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes on Monday. He said he turned the items over to local police Wednesday after unsuccessful attempts to contact Fossett’s family.

The information on the pilot license – including Fossett’s name, address, date of birth and certificate number – matched Federal Aviation Administration’s records, spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Search teams led by the Madera County Sheriff’s Department went to the scene of the find Wednesday but found no sign of a plane or any human remains.

Fossett, whose exploits included circumnavigating the globe in a balloon, disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off in a single-engine plane borrowed from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton. A judge declared Fossett legally dead in February following a search for the famed aviator that covered 20,000 square miles.

Fossett’s widow, Peggy, said in a statement Wednesday that she was aware of Morrow’s discovery. “I am hopeful that this search will locate the crash site and my husband’s remains,” she said. “I am grateful to all of those involved in this effort.”

Aviators had flown over Mammoth Lakes, about 90 miles south of the ranch, in the search for Fossett, but it had not been considered a likely place to find the plane.

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