Sun, 20 Jul 2014

The Crash Of The Great Pilot

One of the most tragic accidents in aeronautical history, the 2007 crash of daredevil Steve Fossett has been a well-documented case. According to the federal report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the probable cause of the accident was an inadvertent encounter with downdrafts above mountainous terrain that exceeded the climb capability of the airplane he was piloting.

Downdrafts, which refer to rapid downward currents of air, can become violently turbulent and generate hazardous flying conditions for pilots even when surrounded by insidiously smooth air. Meteorological studies reveal that the downdrafts where Fossett was flying at in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the day he was killed registered at least 400 fpm (ft/min) whereas investigators determined the climb capability of the plane only to be roughly 300 fpm.

Fossett Was Supposed To Take A Quick Morning Fligh

On September 3, 2007, Fossett headed down early to the Flying M Ranch in Yerington, Nevada for what was supposed to be a quick morning flight. Over breakfast with the chief pilot, Fossett related that he wanted to fly the "Super Decathlon," to which the former readily assented. The chief pilot took the plane out of the hangar and checked its fuel while Fossett oversaw the preflight.

While talking to the chief pilot, Fossett mentioned that he intended to fly along Highway 395 which ran along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains although the former had noticed that he wore no parachute. Occupying the front seat of the single-engine two-seater Bellanca Citabria, Fossett left at approximately 8:30 a.m.

After three hours and the airplane still nowhere in sight, the chief pilot became concerned. A massive search party was immediately dispatched. The chief pilot told the investigators that he had expected Fossett to be back around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., in time for lunch. Similarly, Peggy V. Fossett, Steve's wife, related that it was merely a pleasure flight, calling it "a Sunday drive" for her husband.

Steve Fossett Was Declared Legally Dead

The people search for Fossett's body lasted for nearly a month until the Civil Air Patrol suspended its operations on October 2, 2007.

Four months later, Fossett was declared legally dead in February 2008 by a judge in Chicago as per his wife's request.

On September 29, 2008, more than a year after his disappearance, a hiker named Preston Morrow discovered several of Fossett's personal effects - identification cards, money and a tattered fleece pullover - around the Mammoth Lakes region. Morrow reported his findings to the police the very next day, September 30. The case was reopened and on October 1, a new people search began. The plane wreckage was found half a mile from the location of the personal effects, in a remote area of Inyo National Forest.

In a statement, Peggy Fossett thanked Morrow and the searchers for their findings. "The uncertainty surrounding my husband's death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me," shared the widow. "I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life."

Fosset's Plane Was Scattered In Pieces

The plane was scattered in pieces, with the field of debris spanning 150 feet (46m) across and 400 feet (122m) along. Amidst the wreckage, the emergency release handle of the plane's door was found, with the locking pin still in place. Police coroners in California confirmed that "a California Department of Justice Forensics lab has determined that items containing DNA - discovered last week - match James Stephen Fossett's DNA." In the report prepared by NTSB, Fossett died on impact of multiple traumatic injuries.

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