[Steve Fossett]

The Final Pieces

Recapping the most extensive aerial search in U.S. history

Adventurer Steve Fossett’s downed plane was found October 1, 2008, in the mountains west of Mammoth Lakes, California.

The final tally on the search, conducted by the state’s Division of Emergency Management, included:

• From the National Guard: One C-130 Hercules, two UH-60 Blackhawks, two OH-58 Kiowa copters (with thermal imaging), one CH-47 Chinook.

• From the Naval Air Station: One Huey with night vision.

• From the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol: 30 Cessna 182s (total 1,538 hours).

• From the Nevada Highway Patrol: One Cessna 210 Centurian out of Carson City, and one 1772 RG Cutlass out of Elko.

The search, believed to be the most extensive aerial search in U.S. history, lasted more than two weeks and covered 20,000 square miles (or about twice the size of Massachusetts). The search cost $1.6 million. Of that, the feds picked up close to a million; hotel heir Barron Hilton, who helped with the search, chipped in another $200,000.

Governor Jim Gibbons floated the idea earlier this year of asking the Fossett family to help pick up the rest of the tab; that offer was rejected, and the state ate the tab.

Lessons learned? “The search really got out of control,” according to an audit released this summer. “Checks have been put in place to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.” Such as? “Search lacked an independent command structure … this resulted in what appeared to be a search area saturated with aircraft but no evidence of a thorough search.”

A bone fragment at the site is still undergoing DNA testing to confirm it is Fossett, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.


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