10 Jul 2009

Fossett plane downed by turbulence

4:12 pm on 10 July 2009

Safety investigators in the United States say strong winds and downdraughts were the likely cause of the plane crash which killed millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett.

The National Transport Safety Board said Mr Fossett had probably flown through winds that "exceeded the climb capability" of his small plane, a Bellanca Super Decathlon.

Mr Fossett, 63, disappeared in September 2007 while on a solo flight from a Nevada ranch. The BBC reports his remains were found a year later in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Following an investigation, the NTSB determined there was no evidence of any "malfunctions or failures that would have prevented normal operation" of Mr Fossett's Bellanca Super Decathlon plane.

The agency said the likely cause of the crash was an "inadvertent encounter with downdrafts that exceeded the climb capability of the airplane".

Downdraughts, of "at least 400 feet per minute", would have pulled the single-engine plane suddenly downwards, leading to Mr Fossett losing control of the aircraft.

Crash damage

Marks on the ground and the distribution of wreckage over a wide area indicated that the plane was travelling at a high speed when it hit the ground.

The engine was still working when the plane hit the ground and burst into flames, destroying most of the fuselage.

Despite an intensive search after he went missing, no trace of Mr Fossett was found for more than a year and he was legally declared dead in February 2008.

The BBC reports the search resumed in November 2008, after a hiker recovered identification documents from a remote location in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

A search team then found Mr Fossett's shoes and driver's licence along with two large bones which DNA tests showed were his.

Mr Fossett was the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon in 2002. He also held about 100 other world records.