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Search for Steve Fossett’s civil air patrol’s role limited to search and rescue

July 28, 2008, Maxwell Airforce Base, Ala. - On Oct. 3, 2007, Civil Air Patrol suspended the search for aviator Steve Fossett, following one of the largest and most intensive searches for a missing aircraft in modern history. Despite CAP’s well-coordinated efforts, Fossett and his aircraft remain undetected.


July 28, 2008
By Administrator

July 28, 2008, Maxwell Airforce Base, Ala. – On Oct. 3, 2007, Civil Air Patrol suspended the search for aviator Steve Fossett, following one of the largest and most intensive searches for a missing aircraft in modern history. Despite CAP’s well-coordinated efforts, Fossett and his aircraft remain undetected.

Throughout the search for Fossett, Lt. Col. Cindy Ryan, then Nevada Wing public information officer, served as primary media spokesperson. The search was conducted primarily from Minden-Tahoe Airport in Nevada. With suspension of the search, media inquiries are now handled by CAP National Headquarters Public Affairs at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Recent comments attributed to Ryan regarding the search for Fossett contain errors of fact, appear to be taken out of context and were not released with the knowledge or approval of CAP. Civil Air Patrol’s role in the search for Fossett, as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, was limited to search and rescue in coordination with other emergency service providers. Issues pertaining to Fossett’s personal life and/or rumors surrounding his disappearance are entirely unrelated to CAP’s search efforts and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for CAP to comment.

Over the last decade, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and CAP have been involved in thousands of searches for missing aircraft, and only 18 of those missions are unsolved. CAP members perform 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the AFRCC and were credited by AFRCC with saving 103 lives in 2007.

The search for Fossett ended after a 20,000-square-mile search that included members of CAP’s Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas wings. Initially, more than 60 CAP Nevada Wing members and six aircraft were involved in the search effort. Sophisticated “grid” searches of thousands of square miles of rugged, high-desert terrain were conducted by CAP volunteers who devoted in excess of 17,000 man-hours both on the ground and in the air. CAP flew 629 flights totaling 1,774 flying hours.

From the start of the operation, these areas were searched repeatedly at different times of day and light angles in order for crews to better see into deep mountain ravines. Ground search teams on foot, horseback and all-terrain vehicles simultaneously combed the same target areas.

In addition, nearly a dozen radar analysts reviewed the Fossett radar data, including experts from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Force, Navy, National Transportation Safety Board and CAP, using multiple approaches and software tools, all looking for Fossett’s radar track.

CAP, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Nevada National Guard, Nevada’s Department of Emergency Management, California’s Office of Emergency Services and many other agencies worked under a unified command structure in order to share resources and coordinate efforts. Also, the Hilton Flying M Ranch’s assets worked closely with CAP and these agencies to ensure their efforts were not duplicated and safety was maintained at all times.

“The search for Steve Fossett is a testament to the unforgiving terrain comprising the search area,” said CAP Lt. Col. E.J. Smith. “The combination of high altitude, thick forest and mountainous terrain proved to be unconquerable during this particular search operation.”

The Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, was founded on Dec. 1, 1941, less than a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. CAP is a nonprofit organization with more than 56,000 members nationwide. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 22,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program.