Video: Thursday PM News Conference
Images Of Wreckage, Personal Items
Imaged of foster
October 4, 2008: Three More Bone Fragments Found At Crash Site Of Fossett's Plane
October 2, 2008: NTSB: Remains Found At Fossett Wreckage Site
KNBC Articles about Steve Fossett
KNBC Articles about Mammoth Lakes Relating to Fossett
NTSB: Body Parts Found Among Wreckage Of Fossett's Plane
Fossett's Plane 'Crashed Head-On Into The Side of A Mountain'
POSTED: 10:19 am PDT October 1, 2008
UPDATED: 6:46 am PDT October 3, 2008
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. --
Search teams found body parts among the wreckage of missing adventurer Steve Fossett's airplane in the Inyo National Forest, authorities said Thursday afternoon.
National Transportation Safety Board officials said the oblong piece of bone was discovered by a sheriff's department investigator in a stretch of debris. The bone, described as suitable for DNA testing, is human and is being sent to a California Department of Justice lab for testing.
After an aerial search late Wednesday spotted what appeared to be wreckage near the town of Mammoth Lakes, ground crews were dispatched to the site, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said. They confirmed around 11 p.m. that the tail number matched Fossett's single-engine Bellanca plane.
NTSB acting chairman Mark Rosenker said Thursday that searchers had found "very little" at the scene but enough to provide coroners with DNA. Rosenker said it was not surprising how little they uncovered considering how long it had been since the crash.
"Given the length of time that the wreckage has been there, it is not surprising to come into a debris field and not find a lot of remains," Rosenker said.
The aircraft appeared to have crashed head-on into the side of a mountain, according to the sheriff. Most of the fuselage disintegrated on impact, and the engine was found several hundred feet away.
"It appeared to me, just looking at the pictures, that it was a head-on crash into the side of a mountain," Anderson said. "The plane moved up for 100 feet and disintegrated. The engine was found about 300 feet farther than the fuselage."
Wreckage removal is to start Friday morning with a contractor, who will "probably" remove pieces with a helicopter. The California Guard is assisting the NTSB with Black Hawk helicopters. Five "dog teams" also aided the NTSB.
Authorities said about six months will be needed to complete the investigation.
An NTSB briefing is set for Friday.
The search began earlier in the week, after a hiker stumbled upon three identification cards and cash apparently belonging to Fossett in the area. The IDs provided the first possible clue about Fossett's whereabouts since he disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton.
National Transportation Safety Bureau officials conducted a news conference Thursday afternoon. Authorities said they are doing an initial survey of the debris field, which is about 150 feet wide and nearly 400 feet long.
Aviators had previously flown over Mammoth Lakes, about 90 miles south of the ranch, in the search for Fossett, but it had not been considered a likely place to find the plane. The most intense searching was concentrated to the north of the town, given what searchers knew about sightings of Fossett's plane, his plans for when he had intended to return and the amount of fuel he had in the plane.
KNBC's Patrick Healy said previous aerial searches -- nearly 20 -- were at higher elevations.
The information on the pilot license -- including Fossett's name, address, date of birth and certificate number -- was sent in a photograph to the Federal Aviation Administration, and all matched the agency's records, spokesman Ian Gregor said.
"We're trying to determine the authenticity of the document," Gregor said.
Hiker Describes Discovery
The hiker, Preston Morrow, said he found an FAA identity card, a pilot's license, a third ID and $1,005 in cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes on Monday. He said he turned the items over to local police Wednesday after unsuccessful attempts to contact Fossett's family.
Morrow, 43, told KNBC Wednesday morning that he was "way, way off trail" on Monday when he found the items. Morrow said it appeared the items had been dropped at the location, possibly by an animal.
"It was exactly what you've heard," Morrow said of the items. "An ID with his name on it, and two laminated cards that had his name, but I couldn't tell what they were.
"What also caught my attention in the pine needles and the dirt were some $100 bills. That kind of caught my eye.
"Being honest, his name didn't pop in my head immediately. All that popped into my head was that a bear found somebody's (items) and dragged them away to find food. Why else would you find it there?"
Morrow said he was in rough terrain at about 4 p.m. He said the items were worn, as if they had been in the elements for an extended period.
Morrow said he found no sign of a plane or any human remains.
Morrow, who works in a Mammoth Lakes sporting goods store, said he initially didn't connect the items to the famed Fossett. It wasn't until he showed the items to co-workers Tuesday that one of them recognized Fossett's name.
"It was just weird to find that much money in the backcountry, and the IDs," he said in an interview. "My immediate thought was it was a hiker or backpacker's stuff, and a bear got to the stuff and took it away to look for food or whatever."
Morrow said he returned to the scene Tuesday to search further with his wife and three others, including a videographer who took video and photographs during the trip.
During that search, the group did not find any airplane wreckage or human remains, Morrow said. They did find a black Nautica pullover fleece, size XL, in the same area, but he wasn't sure if the items were related.
Morrow said he consulted local attorney David Baumwohl, and they initially tried to contact the Fossett family but were unable to get through to their lawyers.
"We figured if it was us, we'd want to know first. We wouldn't want to learn from the news," Baumwohl said.
Baumwohl and Morrow tried to contact the law firm that handled the death declaration. When they weren't successful, they decided to turn everything over to the police, the attorney said.
Fossett's Family Reacts
Fossett, whose exploits included circumnavigating the globe in a balloon, disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, after taking off in a single-engine plane borrowed from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton. A judge declared Fossett legally dead in February following a search for the famed aviator that covered 20,000 square miles.
Fossett's widow, Peggy, said in a statement Wednesday that she was aware of Morrow's discovery.
"The uncertainty surrounding my husband's death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me. I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life. I prefer to think about Steve's life rather than his death and celebrate his many extraordinary accomplishments.
"I am grateful to all those on the ground in California who have responded so quickly and effectively since this discovery was made on Monday. I especially want to thank Preston Morrow who made this discovery and turned Steve's belongings over to the authorities. I am anxious to learn of the circumstances and cause of this tragic accident from the official report of the NTSB. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have contacted me over this past year with kind thoughts and well wishes."
Mammoth Lakes is at an elevation of more than 7,800 feet on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, where peaks top 13,000 feet. This year's biggest search for Fossett focused on Nevada's Wassuk Range, more than 50 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. That search ended last month.
The California Civil Air Patrol and private planes from Hilton's ranch previously had flown over the area, but it was "extremely rough country," said Joe Sanford, undersheriff in Lyon County, Nev., which was involved in the initial search.
One of Fossett's friends reacted to Wednesday's news with cautious optimism.
If the belongings turn out to be authentic, then that could help narrow the search area for possible wreckage, said Ray Arvidson, a scientist at Washington University who worked on Fossett's past balloon flights.
"It would be nice to get closure," Arvidson said.
Fossett made a fortune trading futures and options on Chicago markets. He gained worldwide fame for more than 100 attempts and successes in setting records in high-tech balloons, gliders, jets and boats.
In 2002, Fossett became the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon, after five previous attempts.
In March 2005, he became the first person to fly a plane solo around the world without refueling.
He and a co-pilot also claim to have set a world glider altitude record of 50,671 feet during a flight in August 2006 over the Andes Mountains.
Fossett has climbed some of the world's tallest peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He also swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dog sled race in 1992 and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in 1996.
In 1995, Fossett became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon, landing in Leader, Saskatchewan, Canada.
He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in July 2007.
Fossett lived with his wife in a home in Beaver Creek, Colo.