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US Searchers Find Wreckage of Missing Adventurer's Plane

Authorities in California say search teams have found the wreckage of missing U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett's airplane. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board say the aircraft was spotted overnight Wednesday in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. On Thursday Federal officials said they have found body parts in the wreckage. Earlier this week, a hiker in the area found identification documents belonging to Fossett. Authorities confirmed Thursday that the wreckage was that of Fossett's single-engine Bellanca plane. The adventurer disappeared last year after taking off from the neighboring state of Nevada. A judge declared the 63-year-old millionaire legally dead in February. Veronique LaCapra looks back on the extraordinary career of this modern-day adventurer.

Steve Fossett loved a challenge. The legendary aviator spent most of his life making and breaking world records, not just in air travel, but in sailing and ballooning, as well. But Fossett did not see himself as a daredevil. He just thrived on the exhilaration of taking on - and overcoming - the impossible.

As he put it, he wasn't a stubborn man. If he realized that something just couldn't be done, or couldn't be done by him, he was willing to abandon his efforts. "But more often," he said, "I've found out that extremely difficult things, after you get involved in them, you find out that they are possible."

And Fossett wanted his achievements to be more than just record-setting exploits. While the adventure was important to him, he also wanted his projects to advance science. "It's important that we do something that improves the science of aeronautics, or […] the science of weather," he explained during a 2006 appearance on VOA's Talk to America. "We want to make some contribution in that way."

Fossett is probably best known for his accomplishments in aviation. In 2005, he completed the first non-stop, solo flight around the world, without stopping to refuel. One year later, he broke the world record for distance, flying more than 26,000 miles [almost 42,000 km] in 76 hours.

But his proudest achievement may have been his 2002 world record for flying solo around the world in a balloon. When he started out, the longest that anyone had ever flow in a balloon was six days, and the longest distance was 5,200 miles [8,368 km].

"So to fly around the world," Fossett said, "we were going to have to nearly quadruple what had ever been done in a balloon before."

The attempt almost cost Fossett his life. He had made the journey half way around the world, when he flew into some thunderstorms.

"The balloon ruptured," said Fossett. "I was falling faster than what was survivable." But he knew he couldn't bail out, because if he did he would be, as he put it, "just out there floating in the water." In the last 30 seconds before he hit the water, Fossett cut away all the spare fuel tanks, giving what was left of his balloon just enough loft to slow it down, and allow him to survive the impact.

It took Fossett six tries in six years to finally complete the trip. In June of 2002, he flew his balloon more than 20,000 miles [32,000 km], traveling solo around the world in less than 15 days.

On September 3, 2007, at age 63, Steve Fossett took off in a small fixed-wing airplane from an airstrip near Yerington, Nevada, heading toward Bishop, California. He was looking for some good places to test out a modified jet racer, in which he planned to set a new land speed record.