Status Update August 16, 1998 17:30 CDT (August 16 22:30 UTC)

Randy Mays
Sun, 16 Aug 1998 19:41:41 -0400

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Status Update August 16, 1998 17:30 CDT (August 16 22:30 UTC)

Solo Spirit Status Update

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August 16 1998 17:30 CDT (August 16 22:30 UTC)

Fossett Found in Raft, Condition Unknown

Mission Control at Washington University in St. Louis reports that a French rescue aircraft from New Caledonia has located Steve Fossett floating in a raft in the Pacific Ocean. The aircraft has dropped supplies to him, and rescue ships are expected to reach him within 10 hours. His condition is unknown at this time.

All reports are based on transmissions from the French rescue plane, which searched the area for approximately an hour before locating Fossett. There are at least eight more hours of daylight at Fossett's location, and aircraft are expected to monitor his status, contingent upon fuel supplies.

The announcement was made by Joe Ritchie, mission recovery director. He said, "We've been sweating bullets for about eight hours, so we're feeling pretty good."

Rescue ships include a New Zealand naval vessel, a merchant ship, and a ketch. The weather is reported to be warm, partly cloudy, with no threat of inclement weather over the next few hours. Seas are reported to be moderate but not threatening. No other details are known at this time.

Fossett was located by tracking an emergency EPIRB rescue beacon signal, indicating his location some 500 nautical miles off the coast of Australia.

At an 11:45 CDT news conference at Mission Control, team members discussed the events that surrounded Fossett's lost contact, and speculated on what might have happened. Fossett's balloon, Solo Spirit, stopped reporting its position and its emergency locator beacon sounded twice, first at 9:23 a.m. CDT, and then a second signal an hour and a half later at 11:02 a.m. The locator beacon, called an EPIRB, is either activated manually or by immersion. Those are the only clues the team had to go on to try to figure out what might have happened to the balloonist.

As early as five hours before the locator beacon sounded, meteorologist Bob Rice cautioned Fossett that he would be approaching some strong thunderstorms, and that they were virtually impossible to avoid. "It's hard to say how strong they were," said Rice. "There is a good chance that there might have been a lightning hit on the capsule. But these balloons are very strong. It's just too early to know what happened."

Fossett was equipped with a parachute and survival gear. His capsule is seaworthy and he has a small raft that could keep him afloat for days. "A lot depends on how fast he came down," Mission Control Director Alan Blount added, suggesting that time would have been a factor in how fast Fossett could have prepared for the entry into the ocean.

For more detailed descriptions of the weather, read the meteorologist's report. (Note: This report may not be updated on a daily basis.)

See the Mission Log for previous updates.

Washington University

This page was updated August 16, 1998 23:09 UTC