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Page last updated at 23:07 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 00:07 UK

Wreck confirmed as Fossett plane

Wreckage of the Fossett plane. Madera County Sheriff's Department handout
Officials doubted someone could have walked away from the crash

The wreckage of a plane found near the town of Mammoth Lakes in California does belong to missing US adventurer Steve Fossett, officials say.

A number plate confirmed the plane as the Bellanca Super Decathlon piloted by the 63-year-old millionaire. Body parts are reported to have been found inside.

The search began after a hiker found items thought to belong to Mr Fossett.

He vanished in September last year on a solo flight that took off 90 miles (145km) away in neighbouring Nevada.

A wide-ranging search operation conducted since then had failed to find any trace of Mr Fossett or his plane and he was officially declared dead in February.

Fuselage shattered

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said the wreckage had been spotted late on Wednesday during an aerial search of a stretch of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Mammoth Lakes.

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Madera County Sheriff John Anderson and hiker Preston Morrow on the find

A ground team later confirmed the identity of the plane, which seemed to have struck the mountain head-on, Mr Anderson said.

"The crash looked so severe I doubt if someone would have walked away from it," he said.

Most of the fuselage had disintegrated, with engine parts scattered several hundred feet away.

Mr Anderson initially said no human remains had been found at the crash site.

"It's quite often if you don't find remains within a few days, because of animals, you'll find nothing at all," he said.

SOME OF FOSSETT'S RECORDS
Steve Fossett climbs out of his cockpit after his record-breaking flight around the world in 2005
1998/2002: Long-distance for solo ballooning
2001/2002: Duration for solo ballooning
2002: First solo round-the-world balloon flight
First balloon crossings of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian Oceans
Seven fastest speed sailing titles
13 World Sailing Speed Record Council titles
2001: Fastest transatlantic sailing
2004: Fastest round-the-world sailing
Round-the-world titles for medium airplanes
US transcontinental titles for non-military aircraft

But reports later said that some remains had been found in the aircraft and would be sent for DNA analysis.

Fifty people and five dog teams would carry out an extensive search of the site for Mr Fossett's remains, he added.

On Thursday British entrepreneur Richard Branson paid tribute to his friend and fellow adventurer.

"The most important thing is that the family know what's happened," he said. "He led an extraordinary, absolutely remarkable life, and now we can remember him for what he was and move on."

The National Transportation Safety Board will be responsible for examining the wreckage.

But a local official said snow was expected over the weekend, potentially hampering the investigation.

The wreckage was located two days after identity documents bearing Mr Fossett's name - including a pilot's licence - as well as cash and a sweatshirt were found by hiker Preston Morrow.

Mr Morrow had been returning from a mountain walk when he spotted the items in dirt and pine needles west of Mammoth Lakes.

An employee at a sporting goods store, Mr Morrow said he handed them over to police after unsuccessful attempts to contact the Fossett family.

The BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani, in Los Angeles, says the items were found outside the vast area searched after Mr Fossett went missing - and also in a different direction to that in which he was thought to have flown.

Mr Fossett took off from the ranch of hotel magnate Barron Hilton, south of Yerington, Nevada, on 3 September 2007 on a flight that was expected to last three hours.

In 2002, he became the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon and had about 100 other world records to his name.

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SEE ALSO
Found items may be Fossett clue
01 Oct 08 |  Americas
Elite team renews Fossett search
14 Jul 08 |  Americas
Adventurer Fossett declared dead
16 Feb 08 |  Americas
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
The difficult search for Fossett
05 Sep 07 |  Americas

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