CARSON CITY — Efforts to find aviator Steve Fossett have dwindled as have the hopes that his survival skills might have enabled him to endure the rugged desert of Northern Nevada after a plane crash.
More than a month after he left for a short flight, no one has found any trace of him, and authorities have suspended the search. Some private efforts paid for by Fossett’s friends and family continue.
“My gut feeling is that he didn’t survive the impact. It’s so unlikely,” said Maj. Cynthia Ryan of the Nevada Civil Air Patrol. She said that if Fossett were alive but too injured to walk, he would have tried to signal searchers.
“He’s not the kind of guy to just sit and wait for help to show up,” Ryan added.
Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil said Fossett’s disappearance remains under investigation as a missing-person case, and authorities are not prepared to presume the aviator is dead.
“We will try to come to a conclusion, but we’re not there yet,” Veil said.
Fossett, 63, had 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.
Fossett, who made millions as a commodities broker in Chicago, 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.
Fossett’s friends are still looking for him, flying out of hotel mogul Barron Hilton’s ranch, about 80 miles southeast of Reno. That is where Fossett and his wife had been staying on Sept. 3, when he took off alone to scout possible locations for an attempt to break a land speed record in a rocket-propelled car.
The cost of the private search has not been disclosed.
“Only because of Steve’s character do we hold out hope,” Hilton spokesman Pat Barry said.
At the height of the search, more than 40 CAP, military and private planes and helicopters were aloft over an area that covered 20,000 square miles, and scores of searchers went on foot into deep, brushy canyons looking for Fossett.
Now, one helicopter is based at Hilton’s ranch, with a plane carrying high-tech cameras that photograph potential wreck sites for later analysis.
Barry and Fossett spokesman Brian Spaeth said the wealthy adventurer’s family isn’t making any public comment.
“Not until we find him,” Barry said.
Gary Derks, the state Department of Public Safety official in charge of the search, said efforts have been suspended until “additional credible leads become known.”
Derks said costs to government agencies involved in the hunt total nearly $1.4 million.
With snow already falling in higher elevations, not much time is left for searching. A big storm could blanket Fossett’s single-engine plane with snow, making it undetectable until spring.
“Everything’s going to shut down until spring,” said Bill Ogle, whose father disappeared on a flight over Nevada in 1964. “I know that country, and you don’t want to mess around up there in the wintertime.”