Remains found at Fossett wreckage site

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. Fossett vanished while on a solo plane flight more than a year ago. He was declared legally dead in February. However, there is now a major clue as to what happened. Searchers found the wreckage of his plane in Mammoth Lakes, California.

The National Transportation Safety Board has wrapped up its initial investigation on the scene of the wreckage. Crews were up on a mountaintop on Thursday, looking at the wreckage and trying to figure out what went wrong.

Crews are also undertaking the very delicate process of finding human remains. The NTSB acting chairman says they see very little human remains. When asked whether there would be enough for DNA evidence, the NTSB says the corner will have some work ahead.

Not much is left of Steve Fossett's single-engine plane. It was missing for more than a year. But Wednesday night, the crew of a low-flying helicopter spotted the wreckage. Ground crews were able to match the tail number and confirm it was Fossett's plane.

Searchers say they may have never found the plane if it wasn't for Preston Morrow. Morrow was a hiker who discovered Fossett's ID cards underneath a bush near Mammoth Lakes.

"If he had not stumbled upon that, I'm sure decades could've gone by without us finding it. No one was looking in that area, you know, based on last year -- the airport he took off from -- the emphasis of the search was in a very different area," said Jutta Schmidt, Search and Rescue.

Now that searchers have found the wreckage, it is up to the NTSB to determine what went wrong.

"The pictures, of course, that we had a chance to see from the Sheriff's department gave us a lot of information," said Mark Resenker, NTSB. "But, clearly, when you go into the debris field, you truly understand the tragedy of this accident."

Meanwhile, more than 50 searchers geared up Thursday morning, along with K-9 units. They also went back to the crash site. However, it may be a race against time to complete the investigation.

"As I understand it, there is a storm moving in. If it, in fact, snows, that's going to obliterate any hope of finding the remains or further evidence," said Anderson.

Searchers walk shoulder-to-shoulder looking at the ground, making sure they don't miss any sign of human remains.

"Quite often, if you don't find the victim within just a very few days, because of the animals, the remains will be very spread. Sometimes we find little, or none at all," said Sheriff John Anderson, Madera County.

The debris field is estimated to be 150 feet wide and 450 feet long. It is also about 10,000 feet above sea level.

Investigators say it is early in the investigation, but they do believe Fossett's plane came in horizontally when it hit the mountain, and that it came in sideways, so it was not a head-on collision.

A contractor is expected to arrive at the debris scene on Friday to help remove the wreckage and move it to a hangar. The hope is that the move will be ahead of any bad weather so investigators may take their time with the wreckage.

The investigation could last at least six months.


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