Aviation Pioneer Fossett Missing After Flight

Steve Fossett, the aeronautics legend who first circled the globe non-stop in a balloon and then matched that feat by flying an airplane solo around the world without refueling is missing today after a routine Labor Day flight over Nevada. The Associated Press is reporting that a coordinated search for him is underway, led by the U.S. Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center in Langley, Va.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration told the AP that Fossett took off alone in a single-engine Bellanca Monday morning from a private airstrip on a ranch south of Smith Valley in western Nevada and didn't return as scheduled. When informed of the disappearance, local and federal authorities sprang into action.

"The Civil Air Patrol is looking for him," said Ian Gregor, an FAA official. "One problem is he doesn't appear to have filed a flight plan. They are working on some leads, but they don't know where he is right now."

In 2002, Fossett completed a solo circumnavigation of the planet in a balloon, nearly 20 000 miles, across the Southern Hemisphere, entering the record books. In 2005, he topped the mark for non-stop and non-refueled flying of a fixed wing aircraft with a global transit of over 25 000 miles, traveling to and from an airport in Salina, Kan., after three days.

A determined adventurer, the 63-year-old Fossett has also climbed some of the world's tallest peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dogsled race in 1992 and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in 1996, according to the AP.

Earlier this year, Fossett was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. Receiving the honor, Fossett told the aeronautic enthusiasts, "I'm hoping you didn't give me this award because you think my career is complete, because I'm not done."

Aviation authorities will conduct a press conference on the search effort at 4 pm (Eastern Time).

UPDATE: Thirteen aircraft from the Air Force, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), and the Nevada Highway Patrol are currently searching an area near Yerrington, Nev. A spokesperson for the Nevada CAP said Fossett may have been scouting dry lake beds in the area for the staging of a possible upcoming attempt to break the land speed record in a ground vehicle.

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