Adventurer Steve Fossett, who has not been seen since last September after flying off into the skies above Nevada, may have faked his own death, investigators have claimed.
Despite a massive search for Fossett and his Bellanca Citabria Super Decathalon, no trace of either has ever been found. Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Ryan of the US Civil Air Patrol, who was involved in the operation from the start, said: "I've been doing this search and rescue for 14 years. Fossett should have been found. It's not like we didn't have our eyes open. We found six other planes while we were looking for him. We're pretty good at what we do."
Ryan believes Fossett "may have faked his own death due to personal problems or fears about his business dealings", the Telegraph explains.
Ryan's suspicions are shared by risk assessor Robert Davis, who did an eight-month probe into the mystery on behalf of Lloyd's of London, which reportedly faces stumping a £25m payout for Fossett's demise. Davis described the choice of aircraft for the supposed reconnaissance of land-speed record sites as "baffling", but noted the Super Decathalon is "constructed from a steel and wood frame, but actually covered in fabric, making it easy to dismantle".
Davis said: "What I've strived to find out is what happened to this man in the run-up to his disappearance, why did he disappear? I spoke to reporters who were on the scene, people who were helping out with the search efforts, anyone whom I thought could shed some light on this.
"I discovered that there is absolutely no proof that Steve Fossett is actually dead. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm a man who deals in facts, and I don't really care if he is alive or dead, it make no difference to me. What I am interested in is the truth - and a proper criminal investigation of this man's disappearance was never undertaken by law enforcement or officials in the state of Nevada."
To add spice to the mystery, the Telegraph cites a couple of "anomalies" in the run-up to Fossett's disappearance. Firstly, the only witness to his departure was a pilot at Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch, southeast of Reno, who "claims Fossett asked him to prepare the plane for take off, even though he had never allowed anyone else to do this before".
Furthermore, no one has ever explained why Fossett "supposedly took off with no emergency equipment".
Fossett was officially declared dead back in February, when a Chicago judge described the evidence for his death as "more than sufficient".
His widow Peggy Fossett always denied claims he faked the whole thing, stating: "None of Steve's wealth was transferred out or withdrawn in any manner that would suggest a planned disappearance. Steve has not accessed any of his assets since his disappearance." ®