email a friend iconprinter friendly iconSpecial Report: The Search For Steve Fossett
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Dimmick stopped frequently and scanned the surroundings with binoculars. Around midday he steered the Jeep onto a rutted track that showed only the faintest signs of use, and after a while we got out to hike toward a ridgeline. To my right a hundred yards away, I spotted a promising metallic glint. When I got closer, I cursed: The reflection came from two balloons, the foil kind, that had drifted off from some faraway birthday party.

Nobody else was any luckier that day, nor on Sunday. “I really thought that these coordinates were good,” Derks said later. “Obviously I was wrong.” At the end of the afternoon, as the sun tinted the peaks purple, searchers gathered by Bunch’s truck. “Let’s face it,” Dimmick said. “Because this guy is rich and famous, this search has gone on way longer than it would have for anybody else.”

Bunch said that some areas had been checked up to six times. Mark Marshall, Fossett’s staff pilot, had called a couple of days earlier and offered to pay team expenses. “He told me, ‘Don’t stop searching because you don’t have enough money.’ Well, it’s not lack of money that’s stopping us. We have run out of places to search.”

White Noise

No decision in missing-person work is more fundamental than the one that defines the search area. You start by taking a map and placing a pin at the person’s last 100 percent known location. From there you draw concentric circles outward, with the assumption that the POD—probability of detection—diminishes the farther out you go. The final ring constrains the search, and past it you write “ROW,” or rest of world. It’s a quiet acknowledgment that no matter how exhaustive your efforts, the lost person may be somewhere else, unknowably beyond.

As the search for Fossett wore on, the ROW hypothesis gained steam. Dennis Bunch, Glenn’s son and one of the Mineral County searchers, was particularly versed in the unfounded rumors. Fossett had a lover and they ran off to start a new life together. He had financial problems to escape. He was kidnapped in a plot involving the U.S. military, extraterrestrials, and the late John Denver. “Maybe we haven’t found him because he doesn’t want to be found,” Dennis said.

Speculation was understandable in the absence of solid clues. As is common for a small-plane pilot at a private airstrip, Fossett did not file a flight plan with the FAA. Less typically, he didn’t tell anyone on the ground where specifically he was headed. He left behind his “go” bag, which contained a cell phone, satellite phone, and GPS unit. “Fossett wasn’t going anywhere in particular because when he does, he dresses for whatever task he’s looking at. He also takes his equipment with him, and that was left sitting on a bed in his room,” said Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford, one of the lead investigators. “This was a pleasure cruise.” Fossett had a radio but never made a distress call. The Decathlon had an emergency locator device that was supposed to be triggered by a hard landing, but no signals were received. “The only thing we know for certain is that he left the ranch heading south,” Sanford said.

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