Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Search for Fossett may bring solace to lost pilots' families

AP , MINDEN, NEVADA

The small air force combing the Nevada wilderness for Steve Fossett has spotted a half-dozen uncharted crash sites that may bring some solace to the families of fliers who took off into the desert sky decades ago, never to be heard from again.

William Ogle hopes some of the newly discovered wreckage will be from the plane his father was flying when he vanished on a flight from Oakland, California, to Reno. Ogle was just five at the time.

"I knew he had taken off in a plane and never came back," said Ogle, now a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida. "I can remember flying in his plane. He let me hold the controls, and I remember looking out the window."

Like Fossett, Charles "Chazzie" Ogle did not file a flight plan for the business trip, so searchers did not know where to look in the vastness that was the rural West in 1964, Ogle said.

"They did what they could at the time, and they could have done more, but they had no idea he was heading toward Reno," Ogle said. "I used to have a large map of California, and I would look at places and the routes he would fly."

Leaders of the search operation for millionaire adventurer Fossett say they have not had time to investigate the new sites in detail because their top priority is finding the famous adventurer, not recovering old aircraft.

"When all is said and done, they'll send ground crews in to thoroughly investigate what is left," Civil Air Patrol Major Cynthia Ryan said of the old crashes.

Eventually, some of the old crashes should be linked to long-missing aviators, Ryan said.

Even small pieces of wreckage can contain a serial number that can be tracked back to the manufacturer and the owner of the plane.

Nevada's forbidding backcountry is a graveyard for small airplanes and their pilots. Ryan figures more than 100 planes have disappeared in the past 50 years in the state's mountain ranges, which are carved with steep ravines and covered with sagebrush and pinon pine trees.

More than a dozen aircraft scanned the terrain on Wednesday for any sign of Fossett, who took off on Sept. 3 from a private airstrip 129km southeast of Reno, along with thousands of volunteers around the world who are poring over online satellite imagery.

Ground crews were headed to a spot 32km east of Minden where two witnesses reported seeing a plane like Fossett's fly into a canyon but not fly out.

Search planes had flown the area several times, but the second sighting was reported to authorities for the first time on Wednesday, so ground crews were dispatched for a closer look, said Jeff Page, Lyon County's emergency manager.

To the south, just across the California line, search planes flew over an area along US Highway 395 after a woman reported to authorities on Wednesday that she had camped there over Labor Day and remembered hearing a noise that sounded like an airplane, followed by a noise that sounded like an explosion.

Searchers have spent 10 fruitless days scanning for signs of the single-engine Bellanca Citabria Super Decathlon that Fossett took up to look for a dry lake bed suitable for a planned attempt to set a land speed record.

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