As I speculated in my last blog entry, the evidence found at the wreckage site of a Decathlon light plane near Mammoth Lakes, CA, pointed to it being the one flown by aviation adventurer Steve Fossett when he disappeared in September 2007. Though no remains were found during the original site visit, bones uncovered during a subsequent visit underwent DNA testing which confirmed they belonged to Fossett. The findings this week close the book on what had been a year-long mystery surrounding the disappearance of Fossett. A massive air and ground search failed to find a trace of Fossett after he never returned from what was suppose to be a local pleasure flight in September 2007. The mystery was finally solved when a guy hiking through the Sierra wilderness stumbled upon the wreckage in late September 2008.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash, but has not released any findings yet. As part of their investigation, I’m sure they will be looking first for any mechanical problems with the plane or engine. If nothing mechanically wrong can be found with the plane, the NTSB would then look at environmental factors such as weather and terrain to see if they contributed to the accident. If I had to make an educated guess as to the cause, I would say it was a lethal combination of flying a relatively low-performance plane (compared to the ones Fossett used to set aviation records) at high altitude over very rough terrain. Swirling winds through the Sierra peaks could have easily gotten him into a condition where he just didn’t have enough power (engine horsepower decreases with altitude, and some of those peaks near Mammoth Lakes exceed 14,000 feet.) to out-climb rapidly rising terrain. Sadly, even though a pilot can have thousands of flight hours in high-performance planes, a light plane can kill you just as quickly if you don’t respect its limitations.