'Human bones' near Fossett crash site

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Searchers have found what appear to be two large human bones near the crash site of Steve Fossett's plane in California's Sierra Nevada, along with the adventurer's tennis shoes and driving licence.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said the bones were found on Wednesday about half a mile east of the crash site. Investigators have sent them to a Department of Justice testing lab and should know in about a week whether they are Mr Fossett's.

Sheriff Anderson said searchers also found Mr Fossett's tennis shoes, his Illinois driving licence and credit cards. The shoes and licence had animal bite marks on them.

"This reinforces our theory that animals dragged him away," Sheriff Anderson said.

Previous bone fragments discovered near the wreckage were either found to be not human or too small for DNA tests. Investigators have completed their work on the ground and do not plan to resume search efforts.

Mr Fossett's widow, Peggy, said in a statement yesterday that the discovery of bones was "another step in the process of completing the investigation into the tragic accident that took Steve's life".

Mr Fossett, 63, vanished in September 2007 after taking off from a Nevada ranch owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton during what was supposed to be a short pleasure flight.

His disappearance spurred a huge search that covered 20,000 square miles, cost millions of dollars and included the use of infrared technology.

For a while, many of Mr Fossett's friends held out hope he survived, given his many close scrapes with death over the years. But a judge declared him legally dead in February, and his plane wreckage was found this month after a hiker came across his pilot identification cards amid a pile of weathered 100-dollar bills west of Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra.

Authorities have said Mr Fossett slammed into a mountainside at about 10,000 feet and probably died instantly.

Mr Fossett made a fortune in the Chicago commodities market and gained worldwide fame for setting records in high-tech balloons, gliders, jets and boats. In 2002, he became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon.