Daredevil Steve Fossett declared dead | VailDaily.com

Daredevil Steve Fossett declared dead

Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

CHICAGO ” Self-made business tycoon Steve Fossett, whose thirst for adrenaline drove him to fly around the world solo in a balloon, climb mountains and aim for speed records, has been declared dead, 5 months after his small plane vanished. He was 63.

Fossett, who in 2002 became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon, was known for his methodical pursuit of pushing endurance envelopes, including swimming the English Channel, completing the Ironman Triathlon and competing in the Iditarod dog sled race.

“Steve’s lived his life to the full, and he hasn’t wasted a minute of his life,” his rival-turned-comrade, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, said after Fossett’s single-engine plane disappeared on Sept. 3. “Everything he’s done, he’s taken a calculated risk with.”

Fossett was last seen after taking off in a single-engine plane from an airstrip near Yerington, Nev., heading toward Bishop, Calif.

Dozens of planes and helicopters spent more than a month searching 20,000 square miles of the rugged western Nevada mountains for any trace of Fossett or his plane. The search was suspended as winter approached.

Cook County Judge Jeffrey Malak’s declaration Friday at the request of Fossett’s wife, Peggy V. Fossett, ended the legal limbo of his estate, said her attorney, Michael LoVallo. The judge heard testimony from Peggy Fossett, a family friend and a search-and-rescue expert before deciding there was sufficient evidence to declare him dead.

“It was very sad,” LoVallo said, “and at first she hoped and sort of envisioned him walking down the road the next day with another story to tell. But as the days went on, she realized it wasn’t going to happen as it had on other occasions when he’d had close calls.”

While flight records brought him his greatest fame, Fossett also climbed some of the world’s best-known peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

He was on a pleasure flight when he vanished and not looking for a dry lake bed to use as a surface on which to set the world land speed record, as was initially reported, according to his wife’s petition.

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, about 15 to 20 private planes have vanished in the area since 1950. In 2005, wreckage was found in Kings Canyon National Park from a plane that went down during World War II.

LoVallo said his client would like to recover the remains “and really find out what happened.” Plans are to resume a recovery search in the spring.

A Stanford University graduate with a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Fossett went to Chicago to work in investments and founded his own firm, Marathon Securities. The fortune he amassed allowed him to take his childhood fascination with exploration to extremes.

In 2004, Fossett and his crew broke the round-the-world sailing record by six days. He even set world records for cross-country skis, according to his Web site.

But he was best known for his aerial exploits, first in ballooning, more recently in airplanes.

Beginning in the 1980s, teams led by Fossett, Branson and others used steadily improving technology to try to best each other and their predecessors in a series of ever-longer balloon flights. In January 1997 alone, there were three failed attempts, including a solo attempt by Fossett and a try by a crew led by Branson, the flashy founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways.

In 2002, after years of trying, Fossett became the first person to fly nonstop around the world alone in a balloon, setting the record on his sixth attempt. It took him two weeks to float 19,428.6 miles around the Southern Hemisphere.

Three years later, in March 2005, he was first to fly a plane solo around the world without stopping or refueling, covering 23,000 miles in 67 hours in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer jet.


Associated Press writer Joe Danborn in New York contributed to this report.


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