The Fossett Files: In Search of Lost Airplanes in the Sierra Nevadas
[ July 18-26, 2015 ]
Synopsis: The Sierra Nevadas is a formidable mountain range running north - south for over 400 miles (primarily) through the state of California. It’s natural beauty and rugged terrain has drawn visitors - both by land and air for decades. It is home to three national parks (including Yosemite), Mount Whitney (tallest peak in the lower 48), and Lake Tahoe (largest alpine lake in North America). It is also a veritable graveyard for airplanes.
Due to its proximity to major urban centres, the Pacific Ocean, and it’s scenery, both civilian and military pilots have been drawn to this area. The high Sierras are no place for inexperienced pilots though, as bad weather, and the infamous “mountain wave” have led to this region earning the nickname of the “airplane graveyard”, with hundreds of wrecks littering the peaks and valleys.
When famed aviator Steve Fossett disappeared while on a routine pleasure flight in Sept. 2007, it set off the largest public-private search effort in US history. During the search, Civil Air Patrol and private searchers spotted dozens of wrecks from the air. Most were verified as known crashes by cross-referencing crash records kept by the National Transportation Safety Board, or the US Air Force. Several of the crash sites, however, were never ground truthed to positively identify the wreckage.
This July, a team of experienced Adventure Science mountain athletes will return to the Sierra Nevadas to find, and identify several of these wrecks - hopefully providing closure for the families of missing, but not forgotten pilots such as San Francisco businessman Charles Ogle, missing since 1964.
In order to reach these wrecks though, the Adventure Science team will have to deal with high altitude (these are all located above 9000 feet), vertical terrain, and arduous off-trail hikes. The team will focus on three primary targets - a blue and white wreck spotted in rugged alpine terrain near Lake Tahoe, a white airplane wrecked high above treeline, and a metallic object with glass wedged high in a cliff above a canyon in Yosemite National Park. These objects have remained a mystery due to their inaccessibility. Over the course of one week, the athletes will use their mountaineering skills, and ropes when necessary, to locate these wrecks.
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