The search for the aviation adventurer Steve Fossett over a vast area of desert and mountain terrain on the border between Nevada and California entered a second day yesterday with no word on his whereabouts nor clue as to what may have become of him.
Fossett failed to return from a flying mission on Monday. Friends and supporters continued to express optimism that the adventurer, who has got through countless scrapes before on his record-breaking ventures, has a better chance than anyone to survive if, as is now assumed, the small plane he was piloting suffered an accident.
"Steve is a tough old boot. I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up," commented Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire who has helped finance many of Fossett's adventures. "Based on his track record, I feel confident we'll get some good news soon."
"He's a very savvy and methodical and determined pilot. I'd give him the highest odds," agreed Cynthia Ryan, a civil air patrol major at Minden, a small Nevada town and airstrip from where rescue efforts are being co-ordinated.
Rescue flight operations resumed at dawn with additional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, amid weather conditions considerably improved from Tuesday, when brisk winds prevented pilots from flying low. "That's going to definitely help us put more aircraft in the air and hopefully make the search more successful," said Gary Derks, operations officer for the Nevada Division of Emergency Management.
Fossett, 63, who in 2002 became the first person to fly around the world solo in a balloon, took off from a Nevada ranch belonging to the hotel magnate William Barron Hilton on Monday to scout out dry lake beds for an attempt at breaking the existing land-speed record of 766.6mph. Authorities were alerted when he failed to return in the evening. The small plane, a Ballanca Citabria Super Decathlon, was fitted with special equipment designed to send out a satellite signal in the event of a rough landing. No such signal has been received. Fossett did not file a flight plan before he departed.
On Tuesday, pilots were scanning an area of about 7,500 square miles - larger than some US states - that includes jagged peaks rising to more than 10,000ft as well as huge expanses of sage-brush desert. Yesterday, the search was concentrated on a smaller area of 6,000 square miles.
Fossett's balloon feat in 2002 cemented his fame, though he has many other such achievements, including a swim across the English Channel more than 20 years ago. A millionaire from his earlier life as a financial trader, he has broken a round-the-world sailing record and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race.
Sir Richard said that he had contacted friends at Google, the web-search giant, about deploying its satellite mapping technology to help locate his friend.