Central Valley

Two bones may end Fossett mystery

The mystery of missing millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett may be coming to a conclusion.

Two large bones found Wednesday near a remote mountain site where his wrecked plane was earlier found are believed to be human, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson confirmed Thursday.Searchers discovered the bones at a location more than a half-mile southeast of the aircraft wreckage in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of eastern Madera County."A layperson could probably identify them as human bones," Anderson said. He did not describe the bones found.A search team consisting of three Madera County sheriff's deputies and five volunteers from the Mono County sheriff's search and rescue team found the bones almost immediately after they arrived in the area after a two-hour hike through steep terrain.Before the day was done, they had also found credit cards, Fossett's Illinois driver's license and a pair of tennis shoes believed to be Fossett's, Anderson said.The shoes and driver's license had "chew marks," Anderson said, theorizing that animals possibly moved the bones.Debris from the crash was spread over three-quarters of a mile.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson's news conference on the Steve Fossett investigation

Fossett, 63, took off from Yerington, Nev., on Sept. 3, 2007. He told friends he would be flying over Highway 395 in the Owens Valley, but he never returned.This month, some of Fossett's belongings were found by a Sierra hiker, triggering a search for the missing aviator.Evidence of the plane, a single-engine Super Decathlon borrowed from hotel magnate William Barron Hilton, was discovered seven miles west of Highway 395 in Madera County, near the border with Mono County."Based on my experience, this crash was not survivable," Anderson said Thursday.The NTSB has not stated the cause of the crash, but experienced pilots frequently talk about a downdraft in the area which can push light planes thousands of feet toward the ground under windy conditions.Fossett was an experienced pilot with more than 6,700 flight hours. In 2002, he became the first person to circle the world on a solo balloon flight.Anderson said that the two bones, which weigh less than a pound, were sent to the state Department of Justice laboratory in Richmond, where an identity is expected to be confirmed by Monday.If the bones are confirmed as a DNA match for Fossett, Anderson said he will issue a death certificate. The DNA being used to identify Fossett is from his brother, Anderson said."In the old days [before DNA tests] we would have declared this case closed," Anderson said Thursday.He said he called Fossett's wife, Peggy, to tell her that searchers most likely found Fossett's remains. He said Fossett's brother is traveling abroad."She is hopeful that it's over," Anderson said.The bones were south of all other evidence from the wreckage.No confirmed human remains were found in the initial searches of the area. Bone fragments were discovered, but none was confirmed determined to be human.Anderson said this week's changing weather will preclude any additional searches of the area."Pending DNA results, I believe our coroner's investigation is over and the Fossett family will finally have closure," he said.