Winds hinder Fossett search

RENO — Authorities investigating the disappearance of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett said Thursday that they’ve ruled out some of the more unlikely explanations for why they haven’t found his plane.

The fact that a small air force has been scouring the canyons and hillsides along the Sierra’s eastern front for 11 days with no trace of the single-engine plane raises the prospect that he’s just not there. Most experts believe he should have been able to land the plane even if the aircraft malfunctioned or was slammed by a big wind gust.

Those fierce Nevada winds kept many search planes grounded Thursday, but ground crews continued to check out fresh leads.

Investigators dismiss the notion that Fossett might have met with foul play, such as being kidnapped to be held for a ransom.

"If we find a wreck area, we will need to treat that like a crime scene before we rule out foul play," Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen said. "But there’s no reason to think about that now."

Another possibility is that Fossett strayed much farther afield than the search area, which already covers 17,000 square miles. The plane he was flying could have taken him deep into California, Oregon or Arizona, all states with vast areas of wilderness.

"We may never find it, that’s an absolute fact," said Civil Air Patrol Maj. Ed Locke. "But we’ve got to continue as long as we’ve got leads."

As reported, officials also have looked at the possibility that Fossett fled to start a new life elsewhere.

"With his notoriety, we believe he couldn’t walk away from this type of event," Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford said. "People would recognize him."

Gusty winds kept most of the search planes out of the air Thursday, but pilots hoped to return to action this morning, with an emphasis on the Pinenut Mountains.

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