Fossett’s FAA identification card, which was found Monday in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Editor’s Note: Preview our November issue’s special report by Contributing Editor James Vlahos, who has been following this story since he first joined the search and rescue efforts in September 2007 and again in August 2008.
Text by West Coast Editor Steve Casimiro, photos courtesy of KSRW-TV Sierra Wave
Two identification cards apparently belonging to missing aviator Steve Fossett have been found near Mammoth Lakes, California, by a local hiker, along with hundreds of dollars and a weathered black Nautica sweatshirt. Fossett has been missing since September 3, 2007, when he disappeared on a solo pleasure flight over the Sierra Nevada.
No wreckage was found, and Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Randy Schienle said it hasn’t yet been proven that the IDs are Fossett’s because they don’t have photos. One was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, the other is a pilot’s ID. “We’re not certain that it belongs to Steve Fossett, but it certainly has his name on the ID,” Schienle told CNN.
The items were found by Preston Morrow, a Mammoth local who works at sporting goods store Kittredge Sports. Morrow was hiking toward Minaret Mine north of town on Monday when he ran out of light. Cutting across country, he stumbled upon a weathered hundred dollar bill, then another, then the ID. The card is issued to James Stephen Fossett, so it didn’t immediate click that it might belong to the pilot. Morrow returned with a friend and a GPS on Tuesday, grabbed coordinates, then turned in the items and GPS reading to authorities.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
One of the world’s most lauded aviators, Fossett was the first person to fly around the world alone and the first person to fly nonstop in a balloon and in an airplane. He took off from Flying M ranch, a private pilot’s retreat in rural Nevada, in a two-seat Bellanca Super Decathlon on a morning that was described as delightful for flying. Fossett, who was declared legally dead in February, was not known as a daredevil pilot. Theories revolved around heart attack, seizure, mountain downdraft, or even faked death. Most of the search, which at one point include 20,000 webizens using Google Maps, centered on the area southeast of Flying M. The belongings were found approximately 60 miles west-southwest of the ranch.
Mammoth search and rescue authorities were scrambling to organize a search on Wednesday afternoon, and helicopters were reported airborne and en route. The weather forecast is good through Saturday, when a cold front and snow is expected.
Much of the early reporting on the finding of Fossett’s belongings has been done by Mammoth’s KSRW-TV Sierra Wave. Read their story here.