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Profile: Steve Fossett

2 October 08 09:45 GMT

Steve Fossett was a multi-millionaire American adventurer who cheated death time and again in pursuit of world records by air, sea and land.

The daredevil notched up more than 116 records in balloons, airplanes, sailboats, gliders and airships. At least 60 of them remain unbroken.

He disappeared on 3 September 2007, shortly after taking off for what was expected to be a brief flight in his single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon plane from a private ranch in Yerington, Nevada.

On his flight, he was believed to have been scouting locations for a planned assault on the world land-speed record.

He never returned, and the largest air and ground search in US history, involving dozens of aircraft and hundreds of people over an area of 44,000 sq km (17,000 sq miles), failed to find him.

Mr Fossett was declared legally dead by a court in Chicago on 15 February. He was 63.

There has been no trace of Mr Fossett's body since then, although a hiker recently unearthed items that appear to belong to him in eastern California.

Identity documents bearing his name, some cash and a sweatshirt were handed into police in the town of Mammoth Lakes on Wednesday.

Later, search teams said they had also spotted what they believed to be wreckage of a plane. They have not revealed the exact location.

Undaunted

Born in 1944, Mr Fossett grew up in California and got a business degree from Washington University in Missouri.

He became a stockbroker in Chicago and founded a trading firm, Marathon Securities, which made him millions.

Mr Fossett's fortune would fund the record-breaking challenges that were destined to make him an international media star.

And he proved as deft at handling personal risk as he was at managing financial risk.

In 2002 he became the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon, covering 19,428 miles of the Southern Hemisphere in two weeks.

Three years later, he became the first person to fly a plane solo around the world without refuelling, in the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer.

And in February 2006, he completed the ultimate aviation challenge by smashing the record for flying further than anyone in history.

Paying tribute to his friend at the time, fellow tycoon Sir Richard Branson said: "He's only half human, that's all I can say!"

Man bites dog

In 1985, Mr Fossett swam the English Channel. He competed in the Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race in 1992.

In his 2006 autobiography, Chasing the Wind, he recalled biting his lead dog on the right ear to get him going.

He has climbed more than 400 mountain peaks, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

In 1996, he took part in the 24-hour Le Mans motor race.

Last year, he had been planning to break the world land-speed record by reaching 1287km/h (800mph) in a jet vehicle in Nevada.

Mr Fossett was also the world's most accomplished speed sailor, holding the seven fastest official world records, as well as 13 out of 22 outright world records, as recognised by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.

In October 2001, he knocked nearly two days off the previous transatlantic record, accomplishing the crossing in just four days and 17 hours.

In April 2004, in the same multimillion-dollar catamaran, he smashed the round-the-world sailing record by almost six days.

But it was in the air that Mr Fossett had been truly in his element.

In August 2007, Mr Fossett and a co-pilot claimed they had set a world glider altitude record of 15,447m (50,671ft) during a flight over the Andes mountains.

He was the first person to cross the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, and the South Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian Oceans by balloon.

Mr Fossett's determination to set the pace nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion.

His first round-the-world ballooning attempt, in 1997, was cut short when he crash-landed in Russia.

The following year, he nearly died when a storm shredded his balloon at 8,800m (29,000ft) above Australia's north-east coast, sending him plummeting into the Coral Sea.

Mr Fossett's first solo round-the-world balloon attempt, in August 2001, ended prematurely when bad weather forced him to land on a cattle ranch in Brazil.

With characteristic resilience, he immediately began planning his next attempt and met with success the following year.

When he was not trying to set another new benchmark, Mr Fossett divided his time between Colorado and California, where he had three luxurious houses.

In July 2007, Mr Fossett was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Ohio and vowed to carry on breaking records.

"I'm hoping you didn't give me this award because you think my career is complete, because I'm not done," he said.

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