On September 3, 2007 adventurer Steve Fossett took off in a small plane from Minden, Nevada and has not been seen since. Details about his flight have been sketchy at best. Some reports say he was carrying enough food and water for two weeks, others say only a single bottle of water. It is hard to know the exact truth, or whether the authorities themselves know for sure.
In any event, he is still missing. The fixed-wing search has been scaled back, although volunteers in their own aircraft continue to look for Fossett daily, along with helicopters using special imaging gear. The search is now in its third week. Thousands of folks across the internet try to assist using the Google Earth images at Amazon Mechanical Turk.
There are SOME similarities between Fossett and the great Amelia Earhart. Both of them had hard-working sponsors. Fossett had Sir Richard Branson. Amelia had her George Putnam.
It's been theorized that Putnam and Earhart only married to make Amelia more appealing to the public and possible sponsors. They traveled a lot, meeting people and attending speaking engagements. Always, there was George at her side, collecting the checks from donors and making the deals with sponsors and advertisers. In those days, a woman like Earhart would have needed a man to help her open doors - and checkbooks.
Fossett had Sir Richard Branson behind him to help finance and launch many of Fossett's adventures. They had a more straightforward relationship. Sir Richard enjoys the spotlight, and he is a visionary of sorts. He saw in Fossett a friend, and a man who was not afraid to stretch the envelope and take risks.
Amelia Earhart and Steve Fossett both made critical errors in judgment at the wrong moment. In the case of Amelia, it was twofold. She trusted her life to Fred Noonan, a man known for heavy drinking. She also abandoned both her rubber boat and the trailing wire antenna before the fateful flight to Howland Island. Rumors persist about problems with Noonan's drinking during their round-the-world attempt. These supposedly happened on the ground, during their stops for fuel, repairs, and rest.
Amelia, perhaps not trusting Noonan's abilities to navigate to a tiny spot on the ocean 2,200 miles out, opted for additional fuel and left behind the only two things that could have saved her life.
Fossett has not been found because after all his adventures, he also made a key error. He didn't file a flight plan, and he left vague hints about where he was going. This hampered the search severely. When searchers have a flight plan, they only have to look on the actual line of the flight plan. In other words, they search between A (start point) B (destination) and C (line between destination and start point). This makes things much easier, and it usually isn't long before they find you.
Unlike Amelia, it is only a matter of time before someone either finds Fossett or stumbles upon the wreckage. The land will always give up its secrets if you look hard enough.
The ocean is a harsh mistress, however. Amelia will remain a mystery for now.
CLICK HERE to go to the next article in this series. It includes an interview with the Nevada search director.