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Steve Fossett Missing 317

Posted by kdawson
from the high-flier dept.
jd writes "Steve Fossett, the first person to fly a plane around the world without refueling, the first person to fly around the world in a balloon, and possibly the record-holder for the highest-altitude glider flight, is missing in Nevada. He is reported to have taken off in a light aircraft last night and has not been seen since. As he had filed no flight plan, would-be rescuers have no idea where to even begin looking. The plane took off from a private airstrip on a ranch at the south end of Smith Valley in western Nevada."
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Steve Fossett Missing

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  • by TibbonZero (571809) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <nobbiT>> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:14PM (#20468165) Homepage Journal
    Did he fly over Area 51 or somewhere he shouldn't have?
  • The obvious (Score:2, Funny)

    by Verteiron (224042)
    Aliens. Probably the same ones that took Earhart.
  • by hax0r_this (1073148) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:15PM (#20468187)
    The US Military denied claims that a UFO had been shot down last night over Area 51.
  • by Red_Foreman (877991) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:15PM (#20468189)
    Find anything yet?

    Nothing yet, sir.

    Find anything yet?

    Nothing yet, sir.

    How about you?

    We ain't found shit!
  • Has anybody tried looking here [google.com]? Of course, if he was shot down for wandering into restricted airspace, he's (a) dead by now and (b) the government will say nothing about it ever happening.

  • by rickst29 (553930) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:20PM (#20468263)
    Although the upcoming cold front is expected to create high winds this afternoon, conditions this morning were quite good. I hope that he was able to ditch in a survivable place, and pray for his safety.
    • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:46PM (#20468593) Homepage Journal
      On the other hand, we can assume that his aircraft had a very respectable two-way radio. Whatever the misfortune was, it must have been fast enough that he was not able to send any kind of message. Well, yes, that assumes that there was no significant obstruction and there was anyone listening - neither of which can be guaranteed in a remote area - but it seems most likely that disaster struck fast.

      Light aircraft parachutes have been around for some time now, and emergency beacons are practically a throw-away item. At this point in the light aircraft/experimental aircraft game, fatal crashes involving the ground (as opposed to buildings, mountains, seagulls, etc) should be relatively rare and rescuers should never be stumped.

      Yes, I most definitely hope Steve Fossett is safe, but whether he is safe or not, I think that given the current state of technology, it would be good if questions were being asked as to why we don't even know. Are the parachutes so overpriced or unavailable that even someone like Mr. Fossett could not afford one? Are the laws on transmitters so onerous that only idiots would fly with a distress beacon of adequate power?

      (Yes, people should be entitled to take whatever risks they like with their own lives, provided they understand what those are, but implicit in the concept of entitlement is that it is practical and lawful to mitigate those risks as much as possible when doing exactly the same thing. Otherwise, it is not the risk that has the entitlement, it's the activity. The risk is mandatory.)

      • by cmowire (254489) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:03PM (#20468821) Homepage
        Actually, things are the other way around.

        Sufficient requirements for design and inspection make even single-engined aircraft astonishingly reliable.

        Most accidents are caused by operator error -- either fuel starvation, controlled-flight-into-terrain, or unsafe flying.

        Also, ballistic parachutes are not available for all aircraft. There needs to be an appropriate structural member for them to be attached to and the correct parachute characteristics need to be set. Only with ultralights can you buy one off the rack.

        Likewise, an emergency locater beacon generally needs to survive the accident and be triggered, either automatically or manually. These aren't built like airliner black-boxes.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by poleydee (816950)
        Also hope they find Steve...

        Steve also often wears a Breitling 'Emergency' watch that transmits on an emergency waveband when you pull the crown out. That obviously requires him to be conscious enough to do it.

        It's particularly amazing that something like this can happen to Steve, given his unbelievable amount of experience under extreme avaiation conditions including several emergencies.

        Steve is the most thorough, and conscientious of flyers who leaves nothing to chance, and is actually very risk-averse.

        Ri
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Alioth (221270)
        He took off from a private airstrip, in the middle of nowhere. The radio was likely of little help, and disaster needn't have struck particularly fast. If his engine quit, and he made a forced landing - well, his radio may have only been set to the local airstrip's frequency. Even if he tuned to 121.5 (the emergency frequency) there is no guarantee that he would have had line of sight to an FSS antenna. That's assuming the aircraft even had a radio. Quite a few small planes don't. Quite a few small planes h
  • Check Ireland (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maniakes (216039) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:20PM (#20468267) Journal
    That's where Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan [wikipedia.org] ended up when he tried to fly from New York to California.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:22PM (#20468285)
    Perhaps he's in a secret valley somewhere, protected by a holographic screen, with other adventurers and industrialists, plotting a takeover of the world?
  • by Bluesman (104513) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:22PM (#20468293) Homepage
    I'd start looking on the ground.
  • by Skiron (735617) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:25PM (#20468331) Homepage
    Maybe he is trying to break the world record for the longest search party?
  • by reality-bytes (119275) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:26PM (#20468341) Homepage
    He's out in a single engine piston aircraft so if the motor went quiet, the only option would be to land.

    In theory and from what I know of Nevada's geography, finding somewhere reasonable to put the plane down shouldn't be a big issue.

    However, once down, he may be right up the middle of nowhere. You'd assume he'd just get on the radio but if it's an old Bellanca, there may be no battery power available, in a new Bellanca the fault that stopped the engine may also prevent the radio from working. Nevada's geography with raised ranges may block a radio signal in places and it may even be the case that he went out 'non-radio' as some pilots still do.

    I do rather hope he's okay but the moral here is never go x-country without 'booking-out' first even if that means just telling your friend where you're going.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jsight (8987)
      There aren't exactly a lot of "new bellancas", but if it were one, I don't really understand how that would make a difference. They still use mags, so there's nothing that would kill the engine that would also kill the radio.

      Unless you count post-crash fire. :(
      • by Nimey (114278)
        Correct me if I'm wrong, but unless the Bellanca needs to be hand-propped to start it, it will have a battery and alternator aboard for the electric starter. If you've got that, you might as well have the alternator power radios and instruments.

        I'd be surprised if any Bellanca's old or big enough to have a windmill generator aboard.
        • Correct me if I'm wrong, but unless the Bellanca needs to be hand-propped to start it, it will have a battery and alternator aboard for the electric starter. If you've got that, you might as well have the alternator power radios and instruments.

          I'd be surprised if any Bellanca's old or big enough to have a windmill generator aboard.

          Even assuming a complete electrical failure, GPP is correct in that the mags would keep the prop turning and I think a windmill generator is an unusual bit of kit for most small birds. Most of the aviators I know (including myself) carry a back-up handheld radio for basic communications if the radios go down. Losing radios is hardly an emergency, however, and a pilot of Fossett's experience would doubtless have seen the alternator fail on his gauges long before his battery was exhausted.

          Here's hoping

    • by Nimey (114278)
      You'd think that he'd have an emergency transmitter aboard with its own battery.

      Assuming that he checked the battery recently.
      • You'd also think he'd file a flight plan...
        • Why? What could possibly go wrong?
        • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:59PM (#20468761) Homepage
          For VFR [wikipedia.org] flights, flight plans [wikipedia.org] are optional and very often not filed for (what are expected to be) routine flights.


          I don't know anything about this particular case, but his plane is probably equipped with an ELT [wikipedia.org] which would probably be going off if he crashed. Unless he crashed really hard and broke the ELT too. (Crashing in water is another popular way of stopping them from working ...)

          Hopefully it's all much ado about nothing and he's just landed somewhere (normally) and is enjoying the local scenery, unaware that he's lost ... though I guess that's unlikely at this point.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            For VFR [wikipedia.org] flights, flight plans [wikipedia.org] are optional and very often not filed for (what are expected to be) routine flights.

            I've taken enough flying classes to call BS on that. There is no such thing as a "routine flight". Hell, he could have at least phoned a friend, or one of the guys in the tower and given them a rough idea idea of where he'd be headed.
            • by dougmc (70836)

              There is no such thing as a "routine flight".

              Well, OK ... perhaps routine means something different to you, or perhaps your instructor drilled it into your head to expect trouble in every flight. Sounds like a good policy.

              But you do have to be aware that 99+% of all flights end up being uneventful, and were expected to be that way (even if the pilot always plans for the worst.) I'll bet he filed flight plans for his world-record attempts, but like many other pilots, if he's just flying down to the next city to get some lunch, he might not. Sur

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Alioth (221270)
              I've done around 1200 hours of single engine flying, and I call BS on your BS. He was on a local flight to look for places for a land speed record, apparently. Not a cross country. For an experienced pilot, this is a "routine VFR flight". He likely wasn't planning on going more than about 50 nautical miles from the airfield. Pilots doing flights like that very often just preflight the aircraft, have a look at the chart to get an idea of what they are looking for, and take off. Pilots who are intimiately fam
    • Geography? (Score:5, Informative)

      by asphaltjesus (978804) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:50PM (#20468645)
      Nevada is not a giant dry lake bed.

      As someone who has traversed just a tiny bit of the variety of off-highway terrain Nevada/Arizona/Utah/East California has to offer, I find it doubtful he could put it down safely. If he went due north, then it doesn't get any easier to land it.

      Let's imagine for a minute he gets insanely lucky and lands without killing himself. He's exposed to some of the hottest, driest weather in the US. How much drinking water is in single-engine plane? How much water could he carry if he were crazy enough to consider walking out?
    • I do rather hope he's okay but the moral here is never go x-country without 'booking-out' first even if that means just telling your friend where you're going.

      And even if you tell a friend - carry an EPIRB/PLT/ELT [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ptbarnett (159784)
      I do rather hope he's okay but the moral here is never go x-country without 'booking-out' first even if that means just telling your friend where you're going.

      He did, at least to the extent possible. According to Yahoo's latest article:

      "We understand that Steve Fossett was flying solo and he was carrying four full tanks of gas on board. He was searching for dry and empty lake beds which might be suitable for his plan to break the land speed record." [yahoo.com]

      He didn't file a flight plan, because he didn't ha

  • Misleading summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by rossdee (243626) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:28PM (#20468377)
    Fossett may have been the first to fly SOLO around the world, but Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew round the world non stop without refueling in 1986.
    • by Surt (22457) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:41PM (#20468527) Homepage Journal
      Thank you. I also encourage people to think hard about which is really the more interesting and challenging accomplishment.
      • by Some_Llama (763766) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @04:00PM (#20469707) Homepage Journal
        "I also encourage people to think hard about which is really the more interesting and challenging accomplishment."

        Obviously it's spending 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds listening to a woman nag about headwinds, proper wing tilt and hygiene.
      • Ok, I've thought about it hard.

        The greater engineering challenge is the first one. Once you know how it can be done, and apply the lessons learned from the first flight, adding one more element of difficulty is much easier. I think an average pilot with a plane built by Scaled Composites and supervised by the last person to do this same flight would have had the same chance to make the second flight solo.

        Is that the right answer? Do tell.

        • by Surt (22457)
          My opinion is that in addition to your argument, the difficulty of this task is reduced by carrying fewer passengers. The passenger weight is not at all insignificant, so doing this with one person rather than two is actually a significantly simpler proposition. Having a single pilot retain sufficient alertness over the flight period is a long solved problem.

          So there are actually a number of reasons to believe that doing this solo was not nearly as great an accomplishment as doing it with two people.
    • Fossett may have been the first to fly SOLO around the world, but Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew round the world non stop without refueling in 1986.

      Rutan and Yeager flew in a plane (the Voyager [si.edu]). The first ones to do it with a balloon were Bertrand Piccard and Steve Fosset onboard the Breitling Orbiter III [wikipedia.org].

  • by maynard (3337) <`j.maynard.gelinas' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:31PM (#20468413) Journal
    Which gives him a good shot at safely landing the plane in an emergency. Unfortunately, if he lands in the middle of the desert, he might have a very hard time getting back to civilization before his water runs out. Also: it doesn't matter how good a pilot he is, if there was serious mechanical failure on that plane during flight he would have had to bring it down. There is no option.

    His biggest mistake: not filing that flight plan. Huge *huge* fuckup.
    • by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:37PM (#20468487) Homepage Journal

      His biggest mistake: not filing that flight plan. Huge *huge* fuckup.


      Quoted for truth. Private pilots, for the love of your friends and relatives, PLEASE file a flight plan whenever and wherever you fly. It's fucking hard to find a crash site if you don't know where to look and have to guess based on the aircraft's range. It's also a major waste of rescue time and resources, and you have an excellent chance of dying from exposure or injuries before you're found.

      IOW, just crash the damn airplane into a cornfield somewhere if you want to commit suicide. Leave a note first.
    • He flew out of a strip near Reno. Reno is fairly far from Arizona. It's more likely that he's in Nevada, California, or perhaps even Utah.
    • So is Oklahoma. Unfortunately, he's lost in Nevada.
    • by phliar (87116)

      Nonsense. Whatever the biggest mistake was that led to his now being missing, failure to file a flight plan was not it.

      A VFR flight plan is is basically useless. If I'm going to flying over hostile territory (hostile here means if I have an engine failure there will not be a safe place to land and get fuel, maintenance, etc.) I'd rather tell my loved ones and friends rather than the FAA. I leave my route of flight with said loved one with instructions that if he doesn't hear from me by time X, call the FA

  • Be terribly ironic to see him die on a milkrun after surviving all the records he's set doing some very dangerous flying. It's as bad as Steve Irwin getting killed by a critter known for docility.
    • by afidel (530433)
      There's few things in the world more dangerous than a GA aircraft, it has most of the complexity of a commercial plane with little of the maintenance. Even the experimental craft he flew were maintained and checked out MUCH more thoroughly then most GA aircraft.
      • by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:45PM (#20469445) Homepage Journal
        That's a loaded statement. There are plenty of things in the world more dangerous than a GA aircraft. For example: a motorcycle, a chainsaw, a lawnmower. GA aircraft have a slightly poorer record than cars in terms of fatalities per hour, and a much better record in terms of accidents per hour. The vast majority of GA accidents have little to do with the mechanical condition of the plane, and much more to do with stupid things done by the user (imagine that).
    • by cmowire (254489)
      It's actually fairly common for famous fliers to die in a milkrun, because they figure that it is a milkrun compared to one of their more famous flights.

      I mean, Scott Crossfield anybody?
  • Doesnt look good... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tgatliff (311583) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:46PM (#20468583)
    One of the other article says he took off flying a Citaborea, which means he was going up to do aerobatics because this is a quite slow airplane for anything else.... (NOTE: Citaborea means aerobatic spelled backwards). I do not remember him being an experienced aerobatic pilot, which is a considerably different skill than just being a pilot. Meaning, I feel I am a great pilot, but a not so good aerobatic pilot other than weather related recovery type turns. I would guess he probably got in a little over his head while doing aerobatics, and went down.

    I hope this is not the case, but this type of thing is fairly common in the aerobatic world. Hence, the reason why they require the use of parachute(s)...
    • by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:55PM (#20468719) Homepage Journal
      ITYM "Citabria" (airbatic backwards). You can use them for just buzzing around; they're about the same speed as a Piper Cub and people do make (short) trips in those.
      • by tgatliff (311583)
        Thanks for correcting the error... I was way off... :-)

        Also, I agree with you that he might have been just going up for a slow flight, as this aircraft would be very good at doing this. I have a couple hours in a Piper Cub, and I also very much enjoyed it just buzzing around... Seeing how slow the stall on this airplane, though, I could not see any reason for loosing it other than a structural failure. Meaning he could have even pancaked this little bird in trees if he had engine trouble...
    • by jd (1658)
      An acrobatic plane, at night/early morning (when visibility is not good), without proper acrobatic experience - that's not a good combination. I really do hope that he had some other reason for that type of aircraft. If it can travel very slowly, then it might be good for aerial photography, which would be relatively risk-free and might indeed require an unpredictable - and therefore unfileable - flight plan. At this point, though, we can only really guess. If he's not found alive - or not found at all - we
    • by RockyMountain (12635) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:14PM (#20469011) Homepage
      Sorry to nitpick, but it's not a Citaborea, it's a Citabria. It's "airbatic" spelt backwards, not "aerobatic".

      And I _very_ much doubt your claim that Steve Fossett is inexperienced in Aerobatics. On the contrary, 5 minutes browsing his biography will convince you that this man's aeronautical experience is immensely broad. It's inconceivable that someone with his tremendous breadth of flying experience and appetite for adventure never bothered to train in aerobatics.

      Just consider the number of experimental/prototype/one-of-a-kind planes he has test flown and then set records in. You don't test-fly these things without a substantial background in aerobatics.

      And I doubt that his intent for the Citabria flight involved aerobatics. Despite the name, those planes are barely capable of aerobatics at all. A Citabria is about the last choice someone of Steve's wealth and experience is likely to choose for aerobatics. Much more likely, he chose to fly a Citarbria because of the things it's _good_ for: Slow, low, relaxed, sightseeing flight, short-field takeoff and landing, etc.

      (PS I'm speaking as an aerobatic pilot myself, and also a former Citabria owner).

    • That's "Citabria" (Score:3, Informative)

      by StressGuy (472374)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citabria [wikipedia.org]

      First I heard it was "aerobatic" backwards.

      I only read the linked article, it didn't say which Bellanca. Super Viking would have been a decent choice, but I'll check again for the linked articles.

      • This aircraft is "capable" of aerobatics - even inverted flight (it's main edge over the Decathalon), but it's really just an extremely rugged hi-wing tandem.

        A great Bush plane actually, I wouldn't assume he was going up to do aerobatics based upon that.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          A great Bush plane actually, I wouldn't assume he was going up to do aerobatics based upon that.


          In the sense that it gets lost in the desert and has no exit strategy?
      • by tgatliff (311583)
        Now here is something I do know... Are you sure you do not know me already?? :-)

        I used to own a Turbo Viking (Super Viking with Rajay Turbos), and I can tell you that it is terrible as an aerobatic airplane.. It is just way too heavy for anything other than gentle 1G rolls...
    • by phliar (87116)

      He was not flying a Citabria, but a Super Decathlon. The Decathlon is like a souped-up Citabria that can do "outside" manouevres -- things like inverted flight and outside loops. The Citabria doesn't like to fly upside down, but the Decathlon is perfectly at home either way up. (Ordinary engines don't run upside-down, you need some special features.) The Decathlon also has a symmetric wing, for that same outside stuff.

      (Yes, I have a lot of time flying Citabrias and Decathlons. Acro, even. The Citabria is

  • no flight plan

    Please explain to me why a pilot as experienced as Fossett does not file a flight plan - does not carry a beacon.

    • Please explain to me why a pilot as experienced as Fossett does not file a flight plan - does not carry a beacon.


      Because experience can often generate a sort of arrogance. "I'm Steve Fossett, I can fly anything anywhere anytime, and thus possess superhuman aeronautic capabilities."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lpangelrob (714473)
      I am not an aviator, so I consulted Wikipedia and recalled the thing about flight plans.

      They are required in IFR (i.e., bad weather). They are not required in VFR, but are a good idea, in case this sort of thing happens.

      After taking 5 different small-craft flights in the last week (vacation), I noted that a flight plan was filed only once - in heavy traffic around Denali. Weather the rest of the time was good enough, and the flights short enough, to not require a flight plan. Plus there weren't any ATC towe
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by delcielo (217760)
      As mentioned by others, a flight plan is not required for VFR flight. There are reasons for this (and yes, they are debatable); but it is generally considered that even if they aren't required, they are wise. Statistically, you are found faster if you have one on file. The authorities are pretty good about tracking the overdue planes and initiating search and rescue. As somebody else mentioned, it is a good idea to at least check in with a family member before leaving and again when arriving. I call it
    • by blitz487 (606553)

      Please explain to me why a pilot as experienced as Fossett does not file a flight plan - does not carry a beacon.
      Experienced pilots can easily get into trouble because they're so experienced they tend to overlook or dismiss the routine boring safety stuff. It's overconfidence.
    • by dougmc (70836)

      does not carry a beacon.

      I believe the ELT is required by law for most GA airplanes. His plane probably has one.

      Of course, if the crash is bad enough, it might be destroyed rather than automatically go off. Or if he crashes into a lake ...

      Or maybe he just landed at his destination and is enjoying some coffee at a local cafe, and turns on the news to find that he's missing ...

      It's too early to tell.

  • Uh Oh (Score:4, Funny)

    by Atmchicago (555403) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:32PM (#20469265) Homepage

    It looks like Fossett may have gone down the drain. Water we going to do about it!? If we want to find him we may have to tap all our resources.

  • If you are going to get lost in the middle of nowhere, you need one of these [wickedlasers.com].

  • Analysis (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stoicio (710327)
    Depending on the type of single engine aircraft he would have
    2 to 5 hours of duration.

    An article suggests that he told a friend that he would return by noon.
    He left at 9 A.M.

    If he only took enough fuel to get to his waypoint and return then
    his total expected duration would be 3 hours.

    This means his expected outbound waypoint should be within 1.5 hours
    of departure.

    If he's flying something like a cessna 170, his top speed is ~140 MPH.

    If we calculate for 160 MPH to take into account either foolhardiness
    or mass
  • He probably stopped in at burning man , took some happy pills and is just chillin' on the playa.

  • 3830'40.67"N
    11912'59.09"W

    is this the airstrip?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @05:47PM (#20471343)
    Bearing in mind the guy might be dead, I find it a bit distasteful we're laughing about it.
    He may or may not have been stupid or suicidal or whatever, but for the sake of his family, friends etc, can we stop making cheap fucking jokes about it.

Dead? No excuse for laying off work.

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