'Should have been found' says search chief

A lawyer for Peggy Fossett, widow of the maritime and aviation adventurer Steve Fossett, has dismissed claims he may have faked his own death, writes Catherine Elworthy in the Daily Telegraph. Michael LoVallo disputed suggestions from investigators and insurance assessors that the record setting pilot and balloonist, a friend of Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, could still be alive after his mysterious disappearance in the Nevada desert 10 months ago.

Mrs. Fossett petitioned a Chicago court to have her husband declared dead. Her request was granted in February and her husband’s estate of more than $10 million was awarded to her. “The remarks (that Fossett could still be alive) were in disregard of the fact, many facts,” Mr LoVallo told The Daily Telegraph.

Fossett, 63, the first man to fly non-stop round the earth in a hot air balloon, went missing last September after taking off from a remote Nevada airstrip on a short trip to inspect a site for possible use in a land speed record attempt. He never returned. His disappearance sparked the most intensive hunt for a missing aircraft in US history, involving Civil Air Patrol’s Black Hawks, fitted with infra-red technology, as well as 30 private planes and a global internet effort led by Amazon.com and Google. Mrs. Fossett contributed over $1 million to the efforts, her lawyers have said. Neither Fossett’s body nor the plane’s wreckage was ever located.

But Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Ryan, of the US Civil Air Patrol, who briefed the media during the search, has said the adventurer’s body “should have been found”, given the extensive search efforts, suggesting he could still be alive. “It’s not like we didn’t have our eyes open. We found six other planes while we were looking for him. We’re pretty good at what we do.” Lt Col Ryan said she believed Fossett may have faked his own death due to personal problems or fears about his business dealings. Fossett made millions trading futures and options on Chicago exchanges.

Risk assessor Robert Davis, who conducted an eight-month investigation for insurers Lloyd’s of London, said he had “discovered that there is absolutely no proof that Steve Fossett is actually dead”. Lloyd’s is said to face a £25 million (approximately US$50 million) payout on Fossett’s death.