Search for Fossett to resume

Monday, July 14, 2008

BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -- The search for multimillionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who vanished in September after taking off by plane from a remote Nevada ranch, is set to resume today in rugged mountains on the California-Nevada line where he may have crashed.

The 10-member team of elite athletes and expert mountaineers is headed by Simon Donato, a Canadian geologist whose avocation is adventure racing through wilderness areas around the world. He's focusing on remote, wooded areas near where the 63-year-old Fossett was last seen -- areas that could have concealed wreckage from the crews of the many private and military planes that searched 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 ranging from 10,000 to more than 11,000 feet in elevation, is just east of the even higher Sierra Nevada and about 110 miles south of Reno, Nev. Because the area is close to the ranch of hotel magnate Baron Hilton, where Fossett was staying, Donato believes it's the best place to search.

Search team members, who are paying their own way, began arriving Friday to set up camp. The team will continue its efforts through Friday and possibly Saturday, covering 15 to 20 miles a day depending on the terrain, Donato said.

Previous searchers provided maps and other detailed information on the harsh landscape. With planes and high-tech equipment, about 20,000 square miles was covered from the air. Some ground searches also were conducted.

Donato considers Fossett, declared legally dead Feb., 15 by an Illinois judge, a hero to many people and 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."

Fossett's widow, Peggy, issued a statement saying she's not involved in the latest search activity and has "no further plans for additional searching."

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