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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Fossett search yields clues to mysteries
A dirt road in Smith Valley, northern Nevada

By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Search crews looking for missing pilot Steve Fossett have had their hopes dashed at least six times as they come across wreckage from other small planes that had previously been undiscovered.

But this has rekindled hopes that light may now be shed on the fate of some of those who have disappeared while flying over one of the most barren corners of the United States.

Kim Toulouse, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, described the empty valleys being scoured for the millionaire adventurer as an aviation "graveyard".

Charles and William Ogle
William Ogle with his father before he disappeared
"We're finding them left and right," he said. "The technology we have today is allowing us to find this stuff." These wrecks are years, sometimes decades old.

News of the wrecks has prompted inquiries from people wondering if the pilots or passengers may be long-lost family members.


Florida man William Ogle says he is desperately hoping that one of these wrecks may turn out to be that of his father, who vanished en route to Reno in 1964 amid mysterious circumstances.

Mr Ogle junior contacted the Civil Air Patrol in Nevada and has been assured that all the wrecks will be investigated thoroughly in the coming weeks and months.

"I definitely need closure," Mr Ogle, a 47-year-old scientist from Gainesville, Florida, told the BBC News website.

He says that what has happened to Mr Fossett has revived vivid memories.

"We simply don't know what happened to my father. While I was growing up, I was in a perpetual state of limbo," he said.

Property developer Charles Ogle, then 41, took off from Oakland in his four-seat Cessna 210 on a fine day in August, without filing a flight plan.


Steve Fossett
The search for Steve Fossett has revived vivid memories for William Ogle
"They didn't know where to look for my father, so they had to search in a growing cone right around the airport. As you can see with the Fossett case, it's a difficult proposition," said Mr Ogle.

William was almost five when his father went missing. Not knowing what happened to him has cast a shadow over his life.

He says that when he was young, his teachers would complain to his mother because he would look out of the windows all the time looking for his father's plane.

Charles Ogle learned to fly while serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.

"My father was an experienced pilot but not an expert one," remembers Mr Ogle. "He used to take me up in the plane and let me hold the wheel, it was so exciting for me."

I grew up thinking that my father was still alive
William Ogle
An account of Charles's disappearance in the local Oakland Times at the time described him as a "land investor with a Midas touch" who was involved in million-dollar real estate deals.

But he was also divorcing his wife and the newspaper account reveals the presence of a young woman near Charles's plane on the day he disappeared.

"My mother was going through a very hard time, then my father disappeared and she was left with nothing. His business partner said he ran off with lots of money. I grew up thinking that he was in fact still alive and had just run off."

The search was called off after 60 hours, but the Ogle family hired private investigators to try to establish whether Charles was still alive.

He was only declared legally dead 11 years ago.

Charles's plane crossed a tiny part of Nevada's rugged wilderness that has swallowed more than 130 light aircraft in the past 50 years.

The Florida-based Air Force Rescue Coordination Centre, which is helping coordinate the Fossett search, maintains a registry of known plane wreck sites in Nevada.

There are currently 129 entries in that registry, but members of the Fossett search team say there are likely to be many more out there.


The National Transportation Safety Board told the BBC News website that all newly discovered wrecks would be fully investigated. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also likely to send investigators to the new sites.

FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said investigators would try to identify the pilots. So far, no human remains have been found but Mr Gregor says the planes' owners can be traced through tail and serial numbers as well as personal effects found at the scene.

The Wassuk mountain range in Nevada
Nevada has more than 300 mountain ranges
"An experienced inspector can glean a lot of information even from badly damaged or deteriorated wrecks," he said.

So why have so many planes crashed in Nevada?

Lee Elson, a pilot for 26 years and flying instructor who operates out of Minden airport - where the Fossett search is being coordinated - says the region's topography tells much of the story.

Nevada has more than 300 mountain ranges carved with deep ravines. Some peaks rise to 11,000ft.

"For someone who is used to flat-land flying, the mountains in this area could be dangerous. Some of the planes are unable to clear the peaks so aviators have to fly through the ravines, where the wind picks up," he told the BBC News website.

"The area we are talking about is on the East - the lee side - of the Sierra Nevada range. This is the side of the mountain that is most susceptible to up draughts and down draughts."

Down draughts here can be deadly, forcing a light aircraft 1,000ft down in seconds.

As an experienced glider pilot, Steve Fossett would have been used to such winds.

Charles Ogle, however, was not so experienced.

Map of the region

Fossett sought via Google Earth
10 Sep 07 |  Technology
Fossett search reveals old wrecks
09 Sep 07 |  Americas
Rescuers widen hunt for Fossett
07 Sep 07 |  Americas

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