I-Team: Did Steve Fossett Fake His Own Death? - 8 News NOW

Colleen McCarty, Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Did Steve Fossett Fake His Own Death?

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"There was nothing to lead us to believe this was anything but a tragic accident," said Under Sheriff Joe Sanford, Lyon County Sheriff's Department "There was nothing to lead us to believe this was anything but a tragic accident," said Under Sheriff Joe Sanford, Lyon County Sheriff's Department
The search for Fossett was suspended after 17 days. The search for Fossett was suspended after 17 days.

Did Steve Fossett fake his own death? A spokeswoman for the Nevada Civil Air Patrol apparently thinks he did -- according to a British tabloid. But the idea, once the realm of conspiracy theorists, is being explored here at home.

The I-Team has learned the Nevada Department of Public Safety has recently assigned a team of investigators to probe Fossett's disappearance.

We're told they're examining new theories and allegations about what may have happened to the famed aviator and whether his disappearance may be a hoax and a fraud on the state of Nevada.

As the loss of adventurer Steve Fossett becomes the stuff of legend, the line between fact and fiction is inevitably blurred. 

"Well, if it were true, I'd be the happiest man ever," said his friend, Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic Airways. 

The British News of the World reports Fossett may have faked his own death. Its evidence? In part -- an interview with the face of the Fossett search -- Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Ryan of the Nevada Civil Air Patrol.

In a quote to the tab, Ryan explains --"I've been doing this search and rescue for 14 years. Fossett should have been found."

Fossett was last seen leaving Barron Hilton's Minden Ranch in a single engine plane. The man best known as the first to circle the globe in a hot air balloon was said to be out for a short pleasure cruise.

Seventeen days later, Nevada officials suspended the largest search effort in U.S. history, finding no sign of the famed aviator.

"There was an extensive investigation done into Mr. Fossett's background, his finances and job ventures and there was nothing to lead us to believe this was anything but a tragic accident," said Under Sheriff Joe Sanford, Lyon County Sheriff's Department.

Sanford admits the probe had limitations, including -- he says -- Fossett's wife's refusal to meet with his investigators. Sanford tells the I-Team the department maintains two open cases -- one for the aircraft and one for Fossett.

"Those cases will stay open until this event comes to some type of conclusion," said Sanford.

Though Lyon County has no new leads, the I-Team has learned the Nevada Department of Public Safety has assigned two investigators to explore the latest rumblings, including information provided by an adjustor claiming to represent insurance giant Lloyds of London.

Lloyds denies affiliation with the adjustor.

In a written statement, the department stresses it has no solid evidence suggesting anything other than Fossett's plane crashed somewhere in Nevada.

"I would love to see Steve Fossett alive. I would love to see him living somewhere with a beautiful woman. I'm absolutely sure that it's absolutely bullocks," said Branson.

The on-going investigations are not criminal in nature. But if Fossett were to surface, he could be accused of defrauding the state of Nevada.

The search and rescue operation to find him cost more than $1.6 million. Some $400,000 of that went to the Nevada National Guard primarily for the use of its Blackhawk helicopters.

In the months following the search, some in state government have questioned whether resources were spent wisely.

"What was clear was that they didn't have effective leadership in place and that there was really no detailed cost analysis as to whether or not the resources that were used were appropriate at the time," said Ross Miller, Secretary of State.

So did the lack of leadership result in a less than thorough investigation? Who is this "adjustor" suggesting Fossett faked his death -- and is he even credible? And if it is a hoax, why would a man of Fossett's stature drop out of society?

These are just some of the issues state investigators are exploring. Let's hope they find some answers.

Email your comments to Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty.
  • Online Poll

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    Yes, if anyone could it's him.
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