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Fossett's ill-fated flight was to be a 'Sunday drive'

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  • NTSB releases facts about the September 3, 2007, accident that killed adventurer
  • Steve Fossett was first to circle the globe solo in a balloon
  • DNA tests confirmed that skeletal remains were Fossett's
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Adventurer Steve Fossett's ill-fated flight was simply going to be a "Sunday drive," but one camper who thinks he saw the plane said the craft was fighting headwinds.

Steve Fossett was the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon and the first to fly a plane around the world solo without refueling.

Steve Fossett was the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon and the first to fly a plane around the world solo without refueling.

Details from a National Transportation Safety Board report released Thursday present facts about the accident that occurred September 3, 2007, after Fossett, 63, took off from the airport of the Flying M Ranch outside Minden, Nevada. These fact-finding reports, which are routine, do not give causes for crashes.

Officials eventually discovered the wreckage at an altitude of about 10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas near Mammoth Lakes, California, after a hiker reported finding Fossett's personal effects, including identification cards, about a half-mile from the wreckage.

DNA tests confirmed that skeletal fragments found near Fossett's personal effects were his.

In 2002 Fossett became the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon. Three years later he became the first to fly a plane around the world solo without refueling. Fossett also set world records in round-the-world sailing and cross-country skiing.

The NTSB said the single-engine Super Decathlon "collided with terrain while maneuvering in remote mountainous terrain approximately eight miles west-northwest of Mammoth Lakes, California, destroying the plane and killing the pilot." The cause of death was "multiple traumatic injuries" and "the airplane was severely fragmented and a severe post crash fire burned most of the structure and surrounding vegetation." The accident site was 65 miles south of the departure point.

A camper thinks he saw the plane about 30 miles north of the accident site. "The airplane was heading into the wind, and it looked like it was standing still due to the wind," the NTSB report said.

The ranch's chief pilot prepared the plane for flight after Fossett told him at breakfast that he wanted to fly the Super Decathlon. The plane was commonly used for spotting cattle. It had hit a barbed wire fence several months earlier during a landing roll, and a new speed propeller was put on the plane. It was returned to service a month later and was flown 10 to 12 hours.

The report noted that the pilot's wife said the "purpose of the flight was pleasure" and that she "characterized it as 'a Sunday drive.' "

"The pilot gave no indication that he planned to perform aerobatic maneuvers, and he was not wearing a parachute, which is required for aerobatics. He was seated in the front seat of the tandem two place airplane," the report said.

It had been previously reported that Fossett was scouting locations for an attempt to break the land speed record in a rocket-propelled car.

Fossett arrived at the airport about 8:15 a.m. and conducted a preflight of the airplane in the presence of the chief pilot. A ranch employee saw the plane around 8:25 or 8:35 a.m. nine miles south of the departure strip and flying south about 150 to 200 feet about the ground.

The airplane, which flew during downdrafts, was expected to return by 10:30 or 11 a.m. When the plane didn't return, a search began.

Pilots in the region were interviewed in the aftermath of the crash.

One pilot said there was no "big turbulence" and he did not have to slow up because of "rough air." Another pilot reported blue skies but remembers "random clear turbulence" in a descent into Reno, Nevada. He remembers a "random rough chop" interrupting a smooth ride, calling it a "weird day." A third pilot reported windiness during takeoff but said there was smooth air and dropped-off winds when he got above 10,000 feet.

The accident area was "about 300 feet below the crest of a ridge" and "the steep terrain was sparsely forested with Ponderosa pines averaging 40 to 60 feet tall. Numerous boulders and rock outcrops surrounded by grassy areas covered the ground."

All About Steve FossettU.S. National Transportation Safety Board

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