I have been flying now for about 10 hours over two days from the upper peninsula of Michigan to Minden, Nevada. I was in Michigan with my small airplane shooting a story on the Great Lakes when I got word that Steve Fossett had gone missing.
I could have flown commercially on this long journey, but I wanted to help join the search if I could. Along the way, I encountered some thunderstorms over the Rockies, which made me think long and hard about the risks. I am a novice mountain pilot -- brought an oxygen bottle along the way so that I can fly high enough to clear the "cumulous-granite" -- and as such decided the better part of valor was to overnight in Casper, Wyoming.
Back in 1998, Steve Fossett flew his balloon into a hellacious thunderstorm over the Coral Sea and wound up in the drink. He toyed with the notion of quitting his effort to circle the globe alone in a balloon. But of course his hesitation faded and he eventually succeeded.
Fossett is not a daredevil. He takes carefully calculated, thoroughly-planned risks. But taking big risks and living to tell the tale can be an insidious trap for humans. The mind plays tricks on us if we let it -- falsely telling us our previous good fortune is proof the odds are better than they really are. It is the same mental trap that led NASA to doom two space shuttle crews. Fossett is not the kind of guy to fall into this trap, so it seems likely whatever happened to him was beyond his control. But sometimes the odds catch up with us.
Flying over this big desert west of the Rockies (much less this big beautiful country of ours) reminds me how hard the task is for those searching for Fossett. His plane was equipped with a radio locator beacon and he wears a Breitling watch with similar capability. But so far nothing. I am listening now to the frequency that it broadcasts on -- with a whooping noise -- and it is silent. So the search continues.
-- By Miles O'Brien, CNN Correspondent