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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Nevada authorities ended daily air patrols searching for U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett on Wednesday but insisted they had not given up hope and would still fly to possible crash sites if warranted.
Chuck Allen of the Nevada Department of Public Safety said that state authorities still consider the hunt for Fossett after 17 days a "search and rescue" mission, but that the effort would be scaled back.
Nevada Civil Air Patrol aircraft that had been used for daily searches will be flown on an "as-needed, on-call basis" and Nevada National Guard helicopters will return to Stead Airport north of Reno, Nevada, ready to respond to future search requests, authorities said in a statement.
Rescuers would continue to research all credible leads based on satellite images posted on Google Earth, which volunteers are examining.
In the most extensive search ever mounted in the Western U.S. state of Nevada, air crews have found no sign of Fossett, the first person to pilot a balloon solo around the world in 2002.
Fossett took off alone in a single-engine air plane on September 3 from a private air strip in Nevada. He was reported to be scouting locations for a planned attempt to set a land-speed record.
"Nobody is giving up on this man," Allen said. "The search is going to continue. It's just going to be scaled back."
Search crews have scoured 98 percent of Nevada during more than 1,300 hours of flight time seeking clues to what happened to Fossett, a millionaire financial trader and record-breaking pilot.
After becoming the first person to fly solo around the world by balloon, he became in 2005 the first person to fly an airplane solo and nonstop around the world.
He also has climbed more than 400 mountain peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, swam the English Channel, raced in the Le Mans auto race and competed in Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Fossett, born in California in 1944, holds 116 records in balloons, airplanes, sailboats, gliders and airships -- which all rely upon the wind, hence the title of his autobiography, "Chasing the Wind."