Madera Co. sheriff confirms Fossett wreckage

The wreckage of Steve Fossett's plane has been found in the Mammoth Lakes area, 13 months after the adventurer vanished during a solo flight.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said this morning at a news conference in Mammoth Lakes that no remains of a body were discovered near the wreckage. Fifty ground searchers and five K-9 teams are combing the area this morning, he said.

The wreckage was discovered about a quarter-mile from where Fossett’s pilot’s license and other items were found by a hiker Monday.

The hiker, Preston Morrow, said he also found an FAA identity card, a third ID and $1,005 in cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes.

Morrow and others returned to the area Tuesday and also discovered a black Nautica pullover fleece, size XL.

“We don’t know if the sweatshirt is [Fossett’s] or not,” Anderson said.

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. The plane crashed about 90 miles south of the ranch.

The sheriff said the N-number on the the plane confirmed it was Fossett’s.

He said the wreckage appears to indicate the plane crashed head-on into a rock. Most of the fuselage disintegrated on impact, and the engine was found several hundred feet away.

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Authorities were preparing to suspend the search late Wednesday when the plane wreckage was spotted by aircraft, he said.

Anderson said his department’s primary job is to locate Fossett’s remains. Many county and state agencies are assisting in the search, he said.

Weather-worn evidence and the rummaging of animals will make the process more difficult, said Shannon Kendall, public information officer for the Mono County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s going to be a very tedious search,” she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the wreckage site.

G. Pat Macha, author and avid searcher of plane wrecks, said the discovery of Fossett's identification near Mammoth Lakes confirms his theory that the crash was in the Sierra.

Fossett's disappearance is only one of many tragic plane crashes in the 400-mile Sierra over many decades. The Fresno Bee last month explored the mysteries surrounding Sierra plane crashes in the "Lost Flights" series.

In the series, Macha predicted Fossett's wreck would have to be found by Oct. 1 this year, or it wouldn't be found for a "very, very long time."

Macha, who co-authored "Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of California," explained that the Sierra winter would probably destroy evidence, such as the identification papers. The papers had somehow remained intact after last winter.

He and other experts say many plane crashes are discovered by hikers, backpackers, deer hunters, geologists and fishing enthusiasts, who usually are in the backcountry during warmer months.

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 around Mammoth Lakes, but it was "extremely rough country," said Joe Sanford, undersheriff in Lyon County, Nev., which was involved in the initial search.