It’s been six weeks since aviator Steve Fossett went missing.
You may remember the story which was all over the news when the 63-year-old adventurer took off in a small plane in northern Nevada on Sept. 3 in search of terrain suitable for an attempt at a world land speed record.
Fossett, who became a millionaire as a Chicago commodities broker, owns several world aviation records. His disappearance sparked a lengthy, intensive air search over 20,000 square miles of rugged terrain. The Civil Air Patrol suspended the official search last week.
Although Fossett and his plane have not been found, three other wrecks were discovered and will be further investigated by the Civil Air Patrol and Nevada Division of Emergency Management. There are a couple of personal history lessons to be learned from the Fossett case.
First, keep an open mind in your family research. You may not find exactly what you start out looking for, but other meaningful discoveries may be made. Although Fossett is still missing, it’s possible that relatives of victims of the other three discovered crashes will finally learn the fate of a long-missing loved one. Remember to share your own serendipitous discoveries with people who may have an interest in them.
Second, deliberate carefully before destroying family historical documents. Nevada investigators had hoped to make use of the “suspended mission files” of failed searches for missing aircraft, but found out that the keeper of the documents, the United States Air Force, created a regulation in 1994 requiring that such documents be destroyed after seven years. Unless any of the discovered planes went missing before October 2000, their records are among the missing, too.
Here’s a link to an early story about the other planes found in the Fossett search. Note that this San Francisco Chronicle story refers to eight missing planes, a number that has since been refined to three. Here’s what the New York Times wrote about the files purge. Another story of interest is this one from the Orange County Register about a man who leads a team of “wreck hunters.” (A disclaimer: newspapers are notoriously fickle about news story links. These will likely disappear soon. Sorry about that.)