The Fossett mystery

Will we ever know what happened to Steve Fossett? The man who so successfully managed risks to become one of the key adventurers and record-breakers of our time, simply disappeared in the Nevada desert flying a rather normal plane last September. A few days ago, a Chicago judge declared him legally dead, even though he has not been found.

And so the mystery remains.

Fossett was such an experienced flyer, navigator and survivalist that it seems impossible that he would merely vanish. Despite an extensive search by the Civil Air Patrol, the Nevada Air National Guard, naval helicopter pilots and dozens of private pilots over five states not a single sign of Fossett's aircraft was found. He was flying a very common, propeller-driven, two-seater Bellanca Super Decathlon, a plane designed for light training that he probably could have flown with his eyes closed.

His disappearance without a trace is so unusual given all of his previous achievements. Fossett set 116 records. He swam the English Channel and completed the World Loppet cross-country skiing marathon. He climbed the highest mountain on every continent, except Mount Everest. He took part in the Le Mans 24-hour car race. He recorded the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by sail and the fastest transatlantic crossing. He was best known, of course, for becoming the first person to fly alone, non-stop, around the world in the GlobalFlyer aircraft in 2005. He was also the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe by balloon in 2002.

He survived several crash landings with balloons on various continents and in the Coral Sea.

Through all of these endeavours he was known for one thing: managing risks.

So where is he?

If you'd like to learn more, the Economist magazine has an appreciation, photograph and obituary that you can read here.

Smithsonian Air and Space magazine marks his passing with an article aptly subtitled: His adventurous spirit was a throwback to aviation’s Golden Age.

The photograph of the Nevada desert is courtesy of Justin Taylor, who made it available at

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