Aviation adventurer Steve Fossett missing in Nevada

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The Independent US

Rescuers are searching for world aviation record holder Steve Fossett after his plane went missing.

The 63-year-old was last seen taking off from the Hilton Ranch south of Smith Valley, Nevada, on Monday night in a single-engine Citabria Super Decathlon heading south.

The American millionaire businessman who holds the record for flying further than anyone in history, was the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon, and the first person to fly a plane solo around the world without refuelling.

Teams were searching hundreds of square miles of rugged terrain in western Nevada for the adventurer yesterday.

US federal aviation administration spokesman Ian Gregor said: "The Civil Air Patrol is looking for him. One problem is he doesn't appear to have filed a flight plan. They are working on some leads, but they don't know where he is right now."

It is understood he would have had four to five hours of fuel in the plane and was not wearing a parachute.

Mr Fossett's adventures have been financed by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

Sir Richard said: "Steve is a tough old boot. I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up.

"The ranch he took off from covers a huge area and Steve has had far tougher challenges to overcome in the past. Based on his track record, I feel confident we'll get some good news soon."

A spokesman for Sir Richard added that Mr Fossett was flying solo with four full tanks of gas on the plane. He said Mr Fossett was searching for empty and dry lake beds that may be suitable for a forthcoming world land speed record attempt in a car. That attempt is due to take place next year.

Thirteen airplanes, along with ground crews, are involved in the search.

A Civil Air Patrol spokeswoman said: "We're following up on some electronic data but as yet I can't speak to that."

She said the plane was fitted with an ELT locator system which could be picked up by satellites. She added that there was a "lot of high desert terrain" in the search area, along with mountain peaks.

The spokeswoman also said it was common practice not to file a flight plan when using a private air field, "especially if you don't plan on being gone very long".

Last year, Mr Fossett smashed the record for flying further than anyone in history. His journey was sponsored by Sir Richard, who is also known for his record attempts and followed Mr Fossett in a support plane.

In March 2005, he became the first person to fly a plane solo around the world without refuelling. And in 2002, Mr Fossett was the first person to fly around the world alone in a balloon.