SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Crash site investigators found human remains amid the wreckage of Steve Fossett’s small plane on a remote California mountain, the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday.
Parts of the small plane lost more than a year ago were scattered over a large debris field at around 10,000 feet on a mountain near the Nevada border, and search crews found a “very small” amount of human remains, Mark Rosenker, acting NTSB chairman, told Reuters by telephone.
“Did we find some? Yes, a very, very small amount,” Rosenker said.
Fossett, 63, vanished after taking off in a single-engine Bellanca Citabria Super Decathlon on September 3, 2007, from the airstrip of hotel magnate Barron Hilton’s ranch in Nevada, sparking a long but fruitless search.
The finding of human remains may close months of debate over whether the millionaire adventurer actually died, although Rosenker said local officials would be responsible for examining the remains.
“It will be taken by the sheriff and the coroner and they will do the work,” Rosenker said.
A local sheriff’s official said a bone had been found at the crash site but declined to say if it was human or animal.
Rosenker at an earlier news conference noted that a judge had declared Fossett dead.
“Our job is to determine what happened on the mountain,” he said. “Given the length of time that wreckage has been there it is not surprising to come into a debris field and not find a lot of human remains.”
Clues to Fossett’s disappearance came suddenly this week when a hiker not far from Yosemite National Park found identification cards and cash, prompting a full-on search that uncovered the crash site.
Investigators confirmed on Thursday the small plane was the one in which Fossett took off a year ago.
Parts of the aircraft were scattered over a swath of mountain 150 feet wide by almost 400 feet long. A helicopter ferried investigators close to the site and will be used to haul away pieces of the plane on Friday — before a snow storm sweeps in.
Despite weeks of extensive land and air searches after Fossett disappeared last year, no wreckage was found, and he was declared legally dead in February after investigators concluded his plane was destroyed in a fatal accident.
Even before Thursday, family and friends took the week’s events as an end to the saga.
“The uncertainty surrounding my husband’s death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me,” said his widow, Peggy Fossett. “I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life.”
“Now that the plane has been found we can finally bring closure to Steve’s wonderful life,” Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder and Fossett’s friend, said in London.
“The frivolous stories can also be put to rest and family, friends and the rest of the world can now pay tribute to a truly great and extraordinary man,” Branson said.
(Reporting by Jim Christie, Jackie Frank, John Crawley and Peter Henderson; editing by Patricia Zengerle)
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