Missing adventurer Steve Fossett has the tools and experience to survive a plane wreck in the Nevada desert — assuming that's what happened to him — fellow aviator and adventurer Sir Richard Branson said Wednesday.
“He’s the most resourceful man alive in the world today,” his friend and sometime partner in adventure, Branson told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer during a telephone interview from Spain. “He’s almost superhuman.”
Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, said that if rescuers can find Fossett within another day, he was sure his friend would still be alive. Fossett failed to return to a remote Nevada airstrip on Monday after a trip to scout out potential sites for an attempt on the world land-speed record.
“With Steve, I’m always optimistic,” Branson said. “There’ve been many occasions in the past when people have written him off, and he’s always come bouncing back.”
In 1998, Fossett survived a forced landing at sea off the coast of Australia during an early attempt to become the first person to complete a non-stop, solo circumnavigation of the planet in a balloon. Four years later, Fossett successfully completed that quest, and two years ago he became the first person to fly non-stop and solo around the world in an airplane.
His latest record quest
On Monday, the 63-year-old millionaire adventurer borrowed a single-engine plane and took off from a private airstrip in the southwest Nevada town of Yenington to search for dry lake beds that he could use for his latest record quest. He took off at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to return at noon. As he was flying under visual flight rules, he was not required to file a flight plan.
Fossett did not carry a cell phone with him but did have a signal device he could have used if he were in trouble. That signal was not activated. When he did not return, an aerial search was initiated over a 600-square mile area. After finding nothing on Tuesday, the search resumed Wednesday at first light.
“I think if he can be found in early daylight, he may well be injured, but he may well be okay,” Branson said. “He’s a wonderful glider pilot. If the engine of the plane went down, he could have glided the plane down. I’m still hopeful at this stage.”
A love for testing the limits
Lauer asked Branson what drives his friend to keep pushing the envelope in so many areas, continually trying to do things no one has ever done before.
“He wants to test himself to the limits to prove he’s better than anybody else on the earth,” Branson said. “He loves learning about new challenges, whether it’s swimming across channels, climbing mountains, gliding, sailing, ballooning — you know, he was going to go into space with Virgin Atlantic’s space ship and hopefully still will. He was also going to go to the bottom of the ocean; he was building a craft to go further down than anybody had gone before.”
The quest for the land-speed record, which stands at 763 mph, was totally in character for Fossett. “He loved to challenge himself, and he loved the technology of it, and he loved to see what he was capable of,” said Branson.
Fossett was once asked whether he thinks about death. “I think about it some,” he said. “But each time I have to remind myself I have to prepare properly. I have to do what I can to minimize the risks."