Adventurer Fossett's plane goes missing

Steve Fossett

MINDEN, Nev. -- Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who has cheated death time and again in his successful pursuit of aviation records, was missing Tuesday after taking off in a single-engine plane the day before to scout locations for a land-speed record, officials said.

Teams searched a broad swath of rugged terrain in western Nevada near the ranch where he took off, but searchers had little to go on because he apparently didn't file a flight plan, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.

"They are working on some leads, but they don't know where he is right now," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Fossett, the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon, was seeking places for an upcoming attempt to break the land speed record in a car, said Sir Richard Branson, the U.K. billionaire who has helped finance many of Fossett's adventures.

The 63-year-old took off alone at 8:45 a.m. Monday from an airstrip at hotel magnate Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch, about 70 miles southeast of Reno. A friend reported him missing when he didn't return, authorities said.

Thirteen aircraft were searching for Fossett in addition to ground crews, said Maj. Cynthia S. Ryan of the Civil Air Patrol.

"We are committing maximum resources to this effort," she said. "As far as we know now, it is still a rescue mission."

The search area is varied, ranging from high desert terrain with dry lake beds and sagebrush, but also some rugged mountain peaks, she said. Gusty winds were hampering the search and could end up suspending the air search effort, Ryan said.

It is not uncommon for pilots flying out of a remote, private airstrip to do so without filing a flight plan, Ryan said. Fossett had "full radio capability" but did not make radio contact with anyone at the ranch after his takeoff.

In 2002, Fossett became the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon. The record came after five previous attempts -- some of them spectacular and frightening failures. Fossett's mission control was in St. Louis.

It is among dozens of firsts claimed by Fossett in his life as an adventurer, which he embarked on after a successful career in securities. He set marks for speed or distance in balloons, airplanes, gliders, sailboats -- even cross-country skis and an airship, according to his Web site.

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