Experts remain optimistic Fossett will be found

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MINDEN - A search of the Pine Nut Mountains in Douglas and Lyon counties for missing aviator Steve Fossett is expected to be complete today, according to Col. Ed Locke of the Nevada National Guard.

Searchers from Douglas, Washoe, Churchill and Mineral counties will be searching two ridges near Sweetwater on Saturday.

Friday's searches of Sonoma Pass and the Pine Nuts did not reveal any sign of Fossett, who took off in a borrowed aircraft on Labor Day morning and has been missing since.

Civil Air Patrol Maj. Cynthia Ryan said searchers have covered 20,000 square miles in the search for Fossett. She said the aircraft have put in 508 hours as of Friday with 200 sorties.

On Friday, the patrol had 11 aircraft searching for Fossett.

New technology is leading the way, but commanders and rescue experts say old-fashioned doggedness and a slow, methodical scouring of the harsh landscape by trained observers provides the best hope for finding the millionaire adventurer, dead or alive.

Maj. Bill Schroeder has only been a member of Nevada's Civil Air Patrol for 12 years but was involved in search and rescue many years before that and doesn't ever recall failing to find the target.

"Because we keep the search up until we find it," he said.

Granted, sometimes they don't. Hunters, hikers or backcountry day-trippers sometimes stumble upon the wreckage months or even years later.

But Ryan remains confident Fossett's plane eventually will be found, and most likely, the old-fashioned way.

"Experience has shown us, if we just keep going back, looking at areas at different times of the day, in different lighting conditions" the plane eventually turns up, Ryan said.

"We have about an 87 percent success rate," she said. "We may look like a bunch of yokels, but we're about the best trained volunteers anywhere."

Despite turning up no sign of Fossett or his plane, searchers remain optimistic.

"I would like to believe the odds are as good today as they were on day one," Lyon County Undersheriff Joe Sanford said. "This is not out of the realm of possibility."

So far, search organizers estimate the effort has cost more than $500,000.

Search coordinators have even encouraged public participation at daily briefings.

"It's going to take one set of eyes to find this plane and Mr. Fossett," said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen, a spokesman for the search effort.

Tips - most of them false alarms - have poured in from far and wide - the Netherlands, Belize, Australia.

All are reviewed by military imagery analysts, operating from a tent in the parking lot of Minden-Tahoe Airport, from where the search effort is based.


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