MINDEN, Nev. - Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett vanished somewhere across a landscape of soaring peaks and sagebrush desert notorious for winds so powerful and tricky they can swirl an airplane like a leaf and even shear off a wing.
As the search for Fossett dragged into a second day Wednesday with no sign of the 63-year-old aviator or his plane, some veteran pilots speculated he may have fallen victim to the treacherous and sometimes deadly Sierra Nevada winds that squeeze through the narrow canyons.
'There's been times when I've been flying in the wind and my blood turns cold,' said Adam Mayberry, a private pilot and former spokesman for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Fossett, who over the years risked his life circling the globe in a hot-air balloon and an experimental lightweight aircraft, disappeared after taking off from a private airstrip Monday in an ordinary twin-engine plane to scout sites for an attempt at a land-speed record in a rocket-propelled car.
Crews from three states searched by air and land over an area the size of Connecticut, marked by rugged mountains jutting to 10,000 feet.
Fossett's plane, a Bellanca Citabria Super Decathlon, had a locator device that sends a satellite signal after a rough landing, but no such signal had been received.
Fossett always wears a Breitling Emergency wristwatch that allows pilots to turn a knob and immediately signal their location, said Granger Whitelaw, a fellow pilot and a co-founder of the Rocket Racing League. But no such signal was activated.
Wind gusts in the area can whip up without warning from any direction, with sudden downdrafts that can drag a plane clear to the ground. Passengers flying even on commercial airliners between Las Vegas and Reno know to keep their seat belts fastened for a ride that is never smooth.