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Hiker finds Fossett plane-crash site

A little more than a year after Steve Fossett disappeared while flying over the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, searchers finally found the crumpled wreckage of his light plane on a mountainside near Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

The single-engine Bellanca Super Decathalon had plowed into the mountain at an elevation of 9,700 feet, crushing the fuselage and throwing the engine hundreds of feet away. Two days later, a single bone fragment roughly 2.5 inches by 1 inch was found near the crash site and taken for analysis.

Aerial searchers spotted the wreck of the blue-and-white plane at sundown Oct. 1, 5/8 of a mile from where hiker Preston Morrow two days earlier had stumbled upon Fossett’s pilot’s license, two other identification cards and $1,005 in cash in bushes off a hiking trail, according to Madera County sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart. With snow moving into the area, further searching likely won’t resume until next year.

The 63-year-old Fossett, a multimillionaire Chicago commodities trader-turned- adventurer, set world records in boats, gliders and hot-air balloons. He disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off from hotelier William Barron Hilton’s Nevada resort, about 100 miles northeast of where the wreckage was found. A court declared Fossett legally dead Feb. 2.

Fossett chased sailing speed and distance records for 11 years, setting 23 between 1993 and 2004 — including two single-handed records — on the 60-foot trimaran Lakota, the 60-foot catamaran Stars & Stripes and the 125-foot (formerly 105-foot) maxicat PlayStation, aka Cheyenne.

His widow said through attorneys that she hoped to find Fossett’s remains. “I am grateful for all those involved in this effort,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.