DENVER — Aviation record holders paid tribute Friday to Steve Fossett, the millionaire adventurer who disappeared two months earlier.
The fundraising gala at Wings Over the Rockies and Space Museum was planned months before Fossett, 63, disappeared Sept. 3 after he took off in a single-engine plane from hotel mogul Barron Hilton’s western Nevada ranch. He was on a search for suitable sites to attempt a new land-speed record.
Peggy Fossett, his wife, was to attend the event in her first contact with media since the exhaustive monthlong search was called off without a trace of her husband.
“The true reward for him comes in conquering the obstacles and obtaining the desired goal, sometimes after many attempts,” Fossett said in a statement. “The example he has set and the encouragement he has given to others are my greatest sources of pride in Steve.”
While she hasn’t publicly address her husband’s disappearance, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has said that she’s written him a letter saying the likely fate of her husband was “beginning to sink in.”
She accepted the museum’s Spreading Wings Award for her husband, saying: “Steve would be proud.”
Fossett had previously survived a nearly 30,000-foot plunge in a crippled balloon, a dangerous swim through the frigid English Channel and hours stranded in shark-infested seas.
“How does someone take off on a local pleasure flight and disappear?” said Dick Rutan, who piloted the aircraft Voyager on the first-ever, nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world.
Rutan added that Fossett met the fate of many famous aviators: “He’s not the first person who took off on a routine flight and was never heard from again, and unfortunately he won’t be the last.”
Fossett, who made millions as a commodities broker in Chicago, also completed the Iditarod sled-dog race, scaled some of the world’s best-known peaks, sailed and flew around the world, and set more than 100 aviation and distance records.
Rutan said Fossett wanted to be known as an adventurer.
“He told me that once,” Rutan said.
In a videotaped address played for the black-tie crowd, Branson said: “You never know, he might come walking out of the desert.”