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Fossett's Plane Found A Year After Crashing

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

We have an update now on the mysterious disappearance of the adventurer Steve Fossett. This morning investigators said they found the wreckage of his plane in a remote mountainous region in eastern California. Fossett was known for setting world flying records. He vanished more than a year ago while he was flying solo over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. NPR's Richard Gonzales is covering the story and joins us now. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD GONZALES: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How was the wreckage of the plane found?

GONZALES: Well, an aerial search team last night spotted what they believed was a wreckage near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, just as the sun was going down. They sent in a ground team to confirm that. They arrived there late last night. Madera County Sheriff John Anderson made the announcement this morning. So let's listen here.

Sheriff JOHN ANDERSON (Madera County, California) The search team got the GPS coordinates. They went in, and they did locate an aircraft which we have now confirmed is the one that Steve Fossett was flying when it disappeared last Labor Day.

GONZALES: Now, this search had started on Wednesday after authorities had learned that documents that possibly belonged to Fossett had been found by a local hiker. Now, among the documents were his pilot's ID with his name and his birth date. The hiker, Preston Morrow, took those documents to the police, and this morning Sheriff Anderson confirmed that those documents do belong to Steve Fossett.

SHAPIRO: What are authorities saying about his remains?

GONZALES: Well, there's no sign of them yet. In fact, the apparent circumstances of this wreckage indicate that his remains may never be found. Here's Sheriff Anderson. He's describing the scene of the wreckage.

Sheriff ANDERSON: It appeared to me that it was a head-on crash into the side of a mountain, into a rock. The plane moved in an upward direction for 100 feet or so and disintegrated. The engine was found about 300 feet farther than the fuselage and the wings.

GONZALES: And the crash site is at about 10,000 feet in elevation. A snowstorm is coming in soon, so snow could severely hamper the search if Fossett's remains are not found very soon, like within the next day or so.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, there was a massive search for him just over a year ago when he first disappeared. Did the search team ever get close to this site?

GONZALES: Well, they're saying that the plane was found in an area that had been scanned by fixed wing planes that flew over about 19 times. But those planes were flying at elevations that would make it very difficult to spot the wreckage of a small plane on the ground in a mountainous region. There are still many unanswered questions such as did Fossett run out of fuel? Did his engines fail? Did cloud cover prevent him from seeing the mountain he crashed into? Investigators are hoping that they can get to the crash site to find answers to those questions.

SHAPIRO: Thank you. That's NPR's Richard Gonzales on news today that search teams have found the wreckage of the plane belonging to missing adventurer Steve Fossett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.