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Foul play isn't suspected in Fossett's disappearance

Authorities don't think the aviator was trying to vanish, either.

September 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

RENO — Authorities investigating the disappearance of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett said Thursday that they had largely ruled out some of the more unlikely explanations for why they hadn't found his plane, including the possibility he wanted to vanish.

No trace has been found of his single-engine plane despite a small air force that has scoured the canyons and hillsides along the Sierra Nevada's eastern front for 11 days, raising the prospect that he is not there.

Rich, famous and apparently happy in his pursuits of adventure, Fossett had been flying on a scouting mission for a dry lake bed to attempt to break the land speed record.

Could he have grown tired of the limelight and wanted to start a new life? Could he have fled some personal or financial problems?

"We have looked at that," Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford said Thursday.

"We have assets that are tracking financial records, credit card transactions, cellphone use," he said, noting they had not received any calls claiming sightings of Fossett.

Investigators also dismiss the notion that Fossett met foul play or was kidnapped to be held for ransom.

"If we find a wreck area, we will need to treat that like a crime scene before we rule out foul play," Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Chuck Allen said. "But there's no reason to think about that now."

A longtime prosecutor in neighboring Washoe County said the normal course of an investigation would include at least a brief look into even the most unlikely scenarios.

"I have no idea about Mr. Fossett, but I know that it has happened in the past where we have had guys just disappear and stage things," Washoe County Dist. Atty. Richard Gammick said.

"When you can't find individuals for an extended period of time, you would have to look at everything."

But Gammick thinks it's much more likely that Fossett's plane simply went down in a rugged canyon, or perhaps a lake, where searchers haven't found him and perhaps never will.

High winds kept most search planes grounded Thursday. Ground crews returned to a spot in the Pinenut Mountains in western Nevada where two witnesses reported seeing a plane like Fossett's fly into a canyon, but not out, on Labor Day. About 80% of the area has been searched, Civil Air Patrol Maj. Ed Locke said.

To the south, just across the California line, crews finished searching an area northeast of Yosemite National Park.

Another possibility is that Fossett strayed much farther afield than the search area, which already covers 17,000 square miles. The plane he was flying could have taken him deep into California, Oregon or Arizona, all states with vast areas of wilderness.

"We may never find it, that's an absolute fact," Locke said. "But we've got to continue as long as we've got leads."

Locke also said Thursday that old plane wreck sites found last week that were thought not to have been previously charted actually had been.

Further examination determined that one of the six sites was not plane wreckage, he said. And of the other five -- three in Nevada and two in California -- only one was not already on the registry of old crashes kept by the U.S. Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center in Florida, Locke said.

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