New Team Starts Search For Steve Fossett

While friends and family gathered last week to remember missing aviator Steve Fossett, Carson City resident Mike Larson and a couple of his colleagues quietly were conducting their own private search in remote areas of Nevada.

Fossett was declared dead Feb. 15, five months after his single-engine airplane disappeared over Northern Nevada.

The millionaire adventurer and aviator has been missing since taking off on Labor Day from the Hilton Ranch airstrip in southern Lyon County.

Fossett, 63, a world-record-setting pilot, reportedly took off in a small plane owned by Barron Hilton, who owns the Flying M Ranch and conference center.

Larson, a 30-veteran of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who is skilled in surveying, mapping, planning and civil engineering, started collecting technical data in December. He and two others have since been out in the desert on their ATVs with GPS units in hand, searching possible crash sites.

"We have a good process and method for our approach," Larson said. "If this is a legitimate wreck ... there's a good possibility to find them. We're going to continue searching until we've exhausted all leads."

Larson continues to sift through information provided by a Mechanical Turk site set up by Fossett's friends, who enlisted public help to search computer images of Northern Nevada. The site, visited by thousands of people across the world after Fossett disappeared, provides possible crash site coordinates, Larson said.

So far, the small team has visited and documented

eight sites. They started in the Wellington/Yerington area and are working their way south. They have more than 100 sites to look at, he said.

The team meticulously photographs and documents each site, taking care to preserve it in case they come across the wreck.

"The question is, what if we do find it," he said.

Larson has spent the past

15 years in the bureau's Carson City office and routinely is called to conduct similar searches, he said.

"I have found 'needles in haystacks' for a living as a lands surveyor and am intrigued to offer my past experience for this leisure endeavor," he said.

Larson already has pieced together a timeline of Fossett's flight up until just after 10 a.m. on the day he left on a leisure flight. At 11 a.m., two separate witnesses recalled seeing a plane like Fossett's in the Sunrise Pass area of Douglas County.

"I'd really like to talk to those people," Larson said of the witnesses to the Sunrise Pass sightings.

The group started the ground search in January but have been hampered by snow and weather. They said they hope to continue more rigorously searching this spring.

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