RENO — The search for adventurer Steve Fossett, who vanished in September after taking off by plane from a remote Nevada ranch, resumes today when a team of athletes and mountaineers starts hiking through rugged mountains on the California-Nevada border where he may have crashed.
The 10-member team is headed by Simon Donato, 31, a Canadian geologist whose avocation is adventure racing through wilderness areas around the world.
He is focusing on remote, wooded regions near where the 63-year-old Fossett was last seen -- spots where wreckage could have been hidden from the private and military planes that searched for Fossett last year.
"Whether we luck out and find the wreckage or not, at least our tracks will be preserved so that in the future if someone wants to give this a try they'll know where we already were and they can go to the next mountain range over," Donato said in an interview at a base camp between the Bodie Hills and Sweetwater Mountains.
The search area, with peaks as high as 11,000 feet, is east of the even taller Sierra Nevada and about 110 miles south of Reno. Because the area is close to the ranch of hotel magnate Baron Hilton, where Fossett was staying, Donato thinks it is the best place to conduct the search.
Search team members began arriving late last week to set up camp. Donato says team members, who are paying their own expenses, will continue their efforts through Friday and possibly Saturday, covering 15 to 20 miles a day depending on the terrain and staying in touch with Nevada authorities investigating Fossett's disappearance.
Efforts by various local, state and federal agencies to find Fossett were stopped last year. Previous searchers provided Donato with maps and other detailed information. About 20,000 square miles were covered from the air during the last search. Some ground searches also were conducted.
Donato says Fossett, declared legally dead Feb. 15 by an Illinois court, is a hero to many people, and he dismisses speculation that his disappearance might have been staged.
"We're here on the premise that he did crash, unfortunately," he said. "I really respect him. He has done so much."