SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Hikers in a remote area of California have found clothing and aviation identification cards belonging to millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, presumed dead after his plane went missing a year ago, police said on Wednesday.
Fossett’s family was monitoring developments as authorities in the area where the items were found — the eastern Sierras between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border — rushed to set up a command post to search for wreckage of his plane.
“I am hopeful that this search will locate the crash site and my husband’s remains,” Peggy Fossett, the missing adventurer’s widow, said in a statement.
Local officials provided few details of the personal items recovered by the hikers.
“There was some various paper identification found and some clothing,” said Shannon Kendall, a spokeswoman for the Mono County Sheriff’s Department. “We have a ground team heading out to search the area.”
Kendall told Reuters that wreckage from the small airplane Fossett was piloting when he disappeared was not located with the identification and a sweatshirt discovered by hikers.
They came across the items in a remote part of neighboring Madera County linked by the mountainous area’s only road to Mono County.
“It’s very rugged alpine terrain,” said Lt. Michael Salvador of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office. “You hike in or you fly in (by helicopter).”
Fossett, 63, vanished in his airplane after taking off from a private airstrip in Nevada in September 2007.
Despite weeks of extensive land and air searches, no wreckage was found, and he was declared legally dead in February 2008 after investigators concluded that his airplane was destroyed in a fatal accident.
Hiker Preston Morrow told cable TV’s Fox News Channel that he had found the Federal Aviation Administration ID cards with Fossett’s name on them, along with several $100 bills, while returning from a mountain hike on Monday. There was no sign of any wreckage, he said.
The sweatshirt was found in an area higher up the same mountain ridge by searchers on Tuesday, Morrow said.
“I was coming back down this really steep terrain, and what caught my eye was these little (ID) cards in the dirt and the pine needles, and some $100 bills.”
“I see the ID. I caught the name. I got the ID cards ... and about five or six of the hundred-dollar bills (which) were dirty and muddy,” he said.
“I was wondering, ‘why are there some ID cards and money when there was nothing else?’ No wallet, no bags, nothing nothing, nothing,” Morrow told Fox News.
Fossett held several aviation and sailing records, becoming the first person to fly a balloon solo around the world in 2002.
He disappeared after setting off from western Nevada on September 3 in a single-engine plane for what friends said was a casual pleasure flight.
Reporting by Jim Christie, Editing by Steve Gorman