Search teams in California looking for the remains of adventurer Steve Fossett said today they had spotted what appeared to be wreckage.
Madera County sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart said he was not revealing the exact location of the reported aerial sighting and would not provide any more information.
A hiker said he found three identification cards with Mr Fossett’s name and about €708 in cash tangled in a bush just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, in eastern California’s Inyo National Foreston, on Monday. He handed them to police yesterday.
The Federal Aviation Administration is trying to determine whether the ID cards are authentic.
Mr Fossett, whose exploits included circumnavigating the globe in a balloon, disappeared on September 3 2007, after taking off in a single-engine plane borrowed from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton. A judge declared him legally dead in February following a search for the aviator that covered 20,000 square miles.
Hiker Preston Morrow said he found an FAA identity card, a pilot’s licence, a third ID and the cash.
He said he turned the items over to police after unsuccessful attempts to contact Mr Fossett’s family.
Mammoth Lakes police investigator Crystal Schafer said the department had the items, including the ones bearing Mr Fossett’s name.
But Mr Morrow said he found no sign of a plane or any human remains.
Mr Fossett’s widow Peggy said in a statement yesterday: “I am hopeful that this search will locate the crash site and my husband’s remains. I am grateful to all of those involved in this effort.”
Aviators had flown over Mammoth Lakes, about 90 miles south of the ranch, in the search for Mr Fossett, but it had not been considered a likely place to find the plane. The most intense searching was concentrated to the north of the town, given what searchers knew about sightings of Mr Fossett’s plane, his plans for when he had intended to return and the amount of fuel he had.
Mr Morrow, 43, who works in a Mammoth Lakes sporting goods store, said he initially did not know who Mr Fossett was. It was not until he showed the items to co-workers on Tuesday that one of them recognised Mr Fossett’s name.
“It was just weird to find that much money in the back country, and the IDs,” he said. “My immediate thought was it was a hiker or backpacker’s stuff, and a bear got to the stuff and took it away to look for food or whatever.”
Mr Morrow said he returned to the scene with his wife and three friends on Tuesday to search further and did not find any plane wreckage or human remains. They did find a black Nautica pullover fleece in the same area, but he said he was not sure if the items were related.