Location of Plane Wreck of Steve Fossett

[UPDATE October 31: See the new post today which includes the location of all items found including the crash site, and today’s location where they believe they found Fossett’s remains.]

[UPDATE 2-Oct 2010 ET: According to AP, some human remains were found at the crash site today by the NTSB. It’s a sad day in the story of a great adventurer. But, its good to know that evidence points to a quick end with little chance of suffering.]

Steve Fossett Items Found New Here - Google Earth ViewI’ve been tracking the developing story of the discovery of Steve Fossett’s plane wreck, and personal items belonging to him. See earlier GEB story with notations. Now, one GEB reader pointed out the FAA has posted coordinates for a no-fly zone to keep planes from flying over the wreckage area. The coordinates of the no-fly zone are most likely the coordinates of the wreck – they match other details released in previous news reports. See this KML file which shows the location of the Minaret Lake (location near initial reports of where the items were found), one reported location of the wreck site, and the location of the no-fly zone coordinates. You can clearly see that the terrain is very rough and matches descriptions of the crash site. The news reports of the wreckage site describe that the plane apparently flew into the side of a mountain at about 10,000 feet a few miles west of Mammoth Mountain.

I will update the KML file when even more official coordinates of the wreck site are released.

[UPDATE 1426: A photo from the LA Times of a rescuer near the crash site confirms the “no-fly zone” coordinates I included above is the approximate crash site location. The terrain in that area is close to matching the photo. Based on the photo, I estimate the site where the photo was taken as .85 miles NW of the no-fly zone coordinates. I’ve added this to the KML file above. I used the terrain in Google Earth to match the position where the photo was taken.]

[UPDATE 1750 ET: I’ve now added an image overlay of the topographical map provided by the Sheriff at the briefing today showing the location of the items found and the plane wreck. They compare well with the placemarks I located earlier. Apparently the FAA No-Fly zone coordinates are closer to where the IDs were found.]

[UPDATE 5-Oct 2100 ET: I’ve added a blow-up topo map overlay from the SAR team that went to the site. This shows an even more accurate map of the location of the crash site, and demonstrates that the placemark of the wreck site I put in based on the first photo released is quite accurate. I would guess my placemark was within a few yards of the actual place the photo was taken, and is near the middle of the crash debris path.]

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. The mine site mentioned by the hiker who found the money and ID appears to be 37 40.29 x 119 08.54 I flew it (on google earth) yesterday and its a dead end canyon wit not much room to get a Citabria turned around.

  2. Stuart Goldman says

    So I was wondering is the crash site within the imagery people were poring over trying to find Fossett?

  3. john: u forgot the minus: 37 40.29, -119 08.54

  4. Stuart Goldman: NO!

  5. SFGate has a map posted where the wreckage and items were found:

  6. I found this spot on an interactive weather satellite and matches the pic. Exactly where is the crash site in relation to the 3D picture with the hiker? N-S-E-W? Thanks!

  7. Based on that map, I believe the items were at
    Plastic: 37° 40′ 4.33″N 119° 7′ 20.61″W
    Shirt: 37° 39′ 52.28″N 119° 7′ 19.98″W
    ID: 37° 39′ 44.94″N 119° 7′ 22.66″W
    And the wreckage seems to be where it is already on the KML.

  8. Preston Morrow, the hiker who found the money (hundred dollar bills yet) and I.D., is really to be commended for realizing the importance of his find, and doing the right thing and alerting the authorities. Steve’s widow, Peggy, in a statement released today, also acknowledged Preston’s good deed and the closure that this discovery will now hopefully bring.

  9. Nice Work — Just one question: How do I turn off the map overlay?

  10. Wow, so close to the John Muir trail. You can see the trail marked (but not named) as a dashed line going at approx 45 degrees across the very top right hand corner of the Sheriff’s topo map.

  11. I might be jumping too deep, but my theory is that Steve saw that he was entering the box canyon and tried to make a wide left turn to get out and ended up hitting the terrain on the right side of the canyon while he was trying to take the wide left turn. When I looked at the terrain in GE, it really looks like he wanted to take the counter-clockwise turn as wide as possible and, perhaps the winds were brutal at the time, pushing his plane into the canyon wall.

  12. John, using miniMac, I have a Google Earth screen shot which is pretty close to the photo from the LATimes of the searcher which I saw on GEB. Still couldn’t get GE-Mac to get down to the surface like I wanted. Email me and I’ll send it.
    My honorific for Mr. Fossett: For an airman, not a bad jumping-off place for a higher plane.

  13. here might be something:
    119° 8’3.24″W
    It’s near the peak of the range, on the sheer face, about the right share for a fuselage. It would be a logical crash position of a plane that just failed to have enough life to make it over the ridge.

  14. Any chance there are satellite images after the crash of the area?

  15. Wind direction could have been a critical factor in this accident if it turns out that Steve was trying to climb up through a leeward slope, where the winds coming up and over the ridge would have tended to push his plane down into the ground. The high elevation would have exacerbated this problem- there is less air and winds tend to be stronger. Finally, remember that unless he had oxygen along, there would have been a limit to how high he was able to fly, making the task of getting over a high ridge, especially a ridge bordering a relatively narrow valley, that much more difficult.

  16. Steve Fossett says

    Don’t waste your time. I’m still alive.

  17. It’s just coincidental, I’m sure, but if you plot a straight line down the 1 mile runway at the Hilton ranch and extend that line another 66 miles to the south southwest, it intersects precisely with the reported crash site. In other words, If the plane took off to the south and never turned at all, it would have ended up right where it did.

  18. I’d like to see the original square downloaded by online searchers, if it was in the search area. If not, I’d like to see this actual square at the same resolution-just to see what we should have been looking for.

  19. J. Semones says

    I was also curious to see if the wreckage could be spotted using Google’s imagery. It might not be anything, but this caught my eye:
    There doesn’t appear to be anything else nearby that looks similar in color, and it’s in roughly the right spot.

  20. I used to spend long weeks every summer in a base camp just below Minaret Lake. I’ve hiked over this terrain many times. It is extremely rugged and still relatively pristine. There are no roads into this area. Closest trail head is probably Minaret Meadow. Trail features lots of steep climbs.

  21. Not sure if your site is correct. There are no pine trees on the ridge he placed his marker. All of the images show pine needles mixed in with debris. Nothing up there but sage brush and granite. I think you need to move a bit west right on the edge of your no fly zone map that you placed.
    Check out these coordinates
    37 39’30.41″N 119 08’46.52″W
    Something there looks like a possible crash site and there are pine trees in the area. What do you think?
    The Google Earth Pic is from 08 so it is up to dats. You can clearly see something just below the granit face that appears to be manmade and not natural to the surroundings. There are pine trees there also.

  22. It appears that the current imagery in Google Earth for the crash site area was taken some time in 2005. I think it’s therefore futile to try and find crash debris in light of this. 🙂 There is a site called FlashEarth.com which pools imagery from both Yahoo maps and Microsoft Virtual earth, and perhaps contains more recent photography of the area.

  23. I found the site using the NG topography map courtesy of Madera County Sheriffs last night.
    I thought the satellite image of that area was taken in 2008 as most Google imaging as being re-shot as we speak, but this particular spot was photographed in 2005.
    I’m amazed no hikers found the wreckage sooner?
    A high impact collision would indicate that he either: had a heart attack, or experienced a stuck full-throttle while/if caught in cloud cover.
    In either case, Fossett was going full out when he struck the mountain side. Fortunately, he went quickly -not having to suffer.
    At least his family and friends can now have closure. God bless.

  24. Years ago, I was the USFS ranger at Reds Meadow during the summer. I spent many days hiking and horse back riding in the Minarets area. It appears to me that the location of the crash was in an area called the Volcanic Ridge. There used to be a mine in that area and an old cabin. And there was a primitive road into the mine. The road has long since been recaptured by the trees and vegetation, and now there is a hiking trail that uses part of the old road. Of course, since it is in a wilderness area now, there is no motorized vehicle access at all. It would be easy for a small plane to get trapped in a “box canyon” situation if they were flying towards the Minarets or Mt. Ritter and Banner. The largest of the “minarets” is named after Walter Starr, Jr who was a mountaineer. Starr was killed hiking in the mountains in the 1930’s and was buried where he was found (according to Norman Clyde, famous mountain climber). There is a very curious red stain on the Starr Minarete, which always reminded me of the bloody fall that Mr. Starr, Jr must have taken from the mountain. Curious that Mr. Fossett met his fate so close to this location. You can see the red stain at lat. 37.660779, long. -119.170333

  25. I flew very near the site back in June and took several photos that show various parts of the area. I’ve posted two (plus a crop of one with angle similar to the LA Times recovery worker photo) on my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/
    There still seems to be some lack of clarity as to where the actual impact area is, but once I’m clear on that I plan to take a closer look at all of my photos from that day and see if anything shows up. If so, I’ll of course post the photo(s) to my page.

  26. steve Woods says

    I was camped at Agnew Meadows on Sept 3 2007 and heard the crash , thought it was a rock slide at the time , There was no sound of an engine prior to the crash . I had heard many rock slides in the Sierras but nothing like this one that morning,, heard trees breaking with an explosive crash and what sounded like rocks blasted,, Wow little did we know that just behind the Agnew Meadows Campground was where Mr Fosset ended his flying career,, Hope I am fortunate to go so quickly doing what I love !

  27. Hi Steve Woods,
    May I ask if you remember the time you heard the crash ?
    You may well be an important witness.

  28. the a/c contols/ power and trim stettings could of been set and the a/c departed from the farm strip with no one on board that rick mumm oct 03 07:49 mentioned there have been cases when ac have
    took off unmanned and flown till they ran out fuel or crased

  29. Steve Woods,
    You really should contact the NTSB and have them interview you. The investigating team is particularly interested in isolating the time frame of the crash, as well as the local weather conditions. On the day of Steve’s dissappearance, a California Highway Patrolman at Mammoth Lakes witnessed a very low-flying aircraft matching Steve’s Decathlon veer west from a southbound track along Highway 395 and continuing west over a ridge into the local canyons behind Mammoth Mountain.
    If the NTSB can collaborate the CHP’s sighting with your estimated time of hearing a impact/explosion sound, they might be able to pinpoint a very close crash time. Important stuff as the Feds try and make an accurate as possible determination of cause.
    Please do contact your nearest NTSB regional office via the procedure provided at the following web address:

  30. I’ve just taken some time to superimpose the Madera Sherrif’s map on the SFGate site with Google Maps terrain and satellite, to come up with a crash location of 37.667321, -119.132963. I don’t have Google Earth, so maybe someone here can use those coordinates to come up with more details.
    Meanwhile I made an animated GIF of the three images that shows where the different sherrif markers are on the terrain and sat images. I’ll try posting that to my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/
    but I don’t know if/how animations work there. Hopefully anyone interested can at least click their way to the full-size image to download and run it.

  31. I’m wondering if any of you are aware of a sighting of a small plane flying south up Lyell Canyon on Sept 3.07. A guy named David K. posted this comment on the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate) story about the search for Fossett. Here is his comment.
    David K. ’s recalIs: I was camping near Vogelsang Pass [at 10,000feet] in yosemite park, about 25 miles northwest of Mammoth Lakes, on Sept 3rd 2007 with my wife, and I heard and saw a light plane flying low, which is very unusual in that part of the Park in my experience. So much so, that when I heard of Fossett’s disappearance I thought it might be connected. I believe It’s engine was faltering which is why I think I connected it. But all the reports said he was in a different area, so I dismissed it. You can call me at (phone # removed for privacy) if interested. David K
    If this was Fossett’s plane then a real possibility is that he flew up Lyell Canyon,south toward Mt. Ritter,
    crossed the ridge directly south of and above Lake Ediza, and crashed right after he
    flew through the saddle in this ridge. Coordinates for the saddle are:
    37 deg. 40 min, 37.11 sec. North by 119 deg. 09 min. 10.29 min West.
    If a pilot was looking for a spectacular sightseeing route this would be the top pick…
    They should look for a radar track from Lyell canyon to the crash site…
    I located the crash site via the Topo provided by the sheriff showing crash site, I.D. discovery location, and the sweatshirt location. Another google earther had overlayed this onto
    google earth. Locate the crash site and “fly back” to Lyell Canyon and you can clearly see the path he probably took assuming the plane spotted in Lyell Canyon was Fossett.
    I find it amazing that no one saw the plane in the minarets on LABOR DAY… the place is usually crawling with climbers, hikers, backpackers.

  32. Good point about nobody noticing such an intense event in peak holiday season. As for the flying, a pilot as skilled as he would have not the slightest difficulty making a safe(r) landing in that area. There’s plenty of downslope spots where a forced landing or even controlled crash would have been easy and relatively safe. That plane N240R was a Bellanca 8KCAB-180 with excellent power/weight ratio, stunt capability, and other impressive specs:
    # Stall speed: 53 mph (85.3 km/h)
    # Range: 563 mi (906 km)
    # Service ceiling 15,800 ft (4,815.9 m)
    # Rate of climb: 1,280 ft/min (6.5 m/s)
    From photos of the terrain and recovery, it looks to me like controlled flight into terrain – probably the most common type of fatal crash. Maybe couldn’t pull out of a maneuver or more likely was surprised by downdraft or microburst while climbing over the ridge. Speaking of photos, there are updates and an exceptional link on my photo page http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/

  33. I was visiting Mammoth over Labor Day 2007 and was in the close vicinity on 9/3/07 to where the wreckage was discovered. Two friends and I hiked that day from Agnew Meadows to Shadow Lake and Lake Ediza. From the map posted here, Shadow Lake appears 1-2 mi. from the crash site. We set out around 9:30 am and returned about 5:00 pm although my recollection of the time is imprecise. The weather was mostly clear in the morning and partly cloudy in the afternoon, but the clouds were high and did not obscure the Minarets or other mountains we could see. I don’t remember high winds. The trail was relatively uncrowded although there were a number of people on the shuttle bus to/from Devil’s Postpile and Reds Meadow.
    We didn’t see or hear anything unusual and only heard of the Fossett disappearance on the news later on. I’m surprised that we didn’t witness anything given the apparent destructiveness of the crash and would be interested in what time Steve Woods heard the sound that he describes.
    I’ve posted numerous pics from the hike that day here:

  34. Pilot and former Citabria/Decathlon driver here! Based upon the pictures and maps posted by SAR member Rockwellb on Flickr… See:
    The center of the debris field is close to: 30d 40m 8.0s and -119d 08m 2.9s
    In sparse trees… lots of pics posted by the SAR guy. I checked with Flash Earth, but Yahoo Maps appears to be same as Google Maps… must be 2005 date. No sign of the impact/debris/fire. SAR guy says paint streaks on rocks indicate slight climb attitude, tending to mean E to NE heading. 180 HP non-turbo does not make a rocket at 10,000 ft !

  35. Nice work!! I thought of the Bell Chopper that has gone missing and wondered if you might be able to help the families locate their loved ones in the same manner as you were able to google earth Steve Fossett’s crash site. Help seems desperately needed.

  36. It’s great to see photos of the region on that day, and hopefully over time many more people will share theirs. From the terrain maps it looks to me like Darrin’s photo locations were all at least one ridge or mountain range away from the crash site, so hearing the crash seems unlikely. Anyone in Johnston Meadow or along Minaret Creek surely would have heard it, and others would hear it echoing off the many facing slopes.
    What more people would likely have heard or even seen, is the plane flying in. My guess is he was low, since that would account for why he was flying up-slope to clear the ridge. Seems to me that type of plane could easily have turned inside the valley assuming a pilot familiar with mountain flying (he certainly was). Flying low would reduce the numbers of people who’d have heard or seen him but greatly increase the chance that people who could – would. I’m imagining that peaceful wilderness suddenly interrupted by a colorful loud and low airplane, and it seems like something notable. If enough people share photos and memories, it might help a lot with guessing a route that would account for who saw/heard and who didn’t.

  37. Ooops ! seems I didn’t proof read my preview well enough ! The Lat/long of the debris field should read:
    37d 40m 8.0s and -119d 08m 2.9s
    some how 30 degrees lat sneaked into my original post, Sorry !

  38. Steve Woods:
    How could you hear that crash when Agnew Meadows is 2.5 miles from the crash site? Are you sure that is what you heard? I’m no physics professor, but 2.5 miles is a long distance to hear “trees breaking”, especially over a ridge. I calculated distance by overlaying the Madera County Sheriff’s map over Google maps. I’m just saying you should be sure before you call the authorities.

  39. John,
    thanks for posting your exceptional collection of photos, especially the aerials of the terrain around the crash site.. It really provides a reality check that google earth can’t. Do you know if there are radar tracings of mountainous regions like the minarets? I see what you mean about him flying low… he was counting on the climb rate of the plane to take him up and over that ridge… could have been have been hit by a downdraft and had nowhere to go. Seems like a guy of his caliber would take downdraft possibilities into into consideration.
    My gut tells me that the plane failed mechanically.

  40. Ron: Thanks for letting me know the photos were of interest to you, because this whole episode has been intriguing for me since it began last year and it’s great finding others to share it. The photos convey an extra level of clarity for me too, as of course did flying there. I always find even my few “good” aerial photos (#2938 not among them) to be pale in comparison to the actual 3D thrill of flight.
    There are probably partial radar tracks of his entry over the mountains (my guess is Minaret Summit, the same entry route I used off Hwy.395 but then continuing West descending into the valley toward the Minarets). Descending in he could have pulled power off and thus been relatively quiet, so maybe nobody outside the valley would notice because he’d only have full power trying to climb out. Radar would almost certainly show nothing while he was down in the valley. Our best chance of ever guessing his maneuvers in there is anyone who saw or at least heard him.
    It does indeed seem he was counting on climb rate, and as BBell pointed out the performance margins were compromised. That high, presumably on a hot (and perhaps humid) day that further degrades climb, there wouldn’t be as much ability to overcome a sudden tailwind, downdraft, microburst, or misjudgement. The other major possibility to me is clouds, which can sometimes be deceptive in seeming to allow “scud running” below them but once you’re committed it turns out there’s a blind spot. Such scud issues would be worse in that area because they’d blow fast enough to obscure what was clear when he began the climb out, combining unfavorable wind and unseen terrain with no performance margin. Poor visibility could explain his choice to cross there rather than at a safer angle to the slope and toward lower terrain in a more northeasterly direction.
    Mechanically, to me the straight and level track upslope and the prop blade bent forward speak of no attempt to turn into the relative safety of the valley rather than fly uphill at speed headed into rocks and trees. Even if he somehow had no aileron control, he clearly had elevator and could have stalled it in even on that uphill track. I read that as either he couldn’t see obstacles or thought he could climb over them. If the engine -had- been rough but cleared and then lost some power at the worst moment, with even 50′ over terrain he could easily have turned downslope. Even if unable to circle and climb out (unlikely, seems to me) or facing engine failure, his skill would make a safe forced landing likely and a survivable crash on the valley floor the worst case.
    He was clearly an outstanding pilot, but also known for risky decisions like flying low in that terrain. He’d probably done it many times before, though perhaps in a plane he was more familiar with. The 6/29/08 conditions when I took those photos were perhaps similar to his with >30kt gusty winds, scattered clouds/t-storms and summer temperatures, yet my heavier (2 + luggage aboard, 1/2 fuel) and lower-powered Cessna 172 was still capable of a meager climb at 10,500.
    I’m sure glad those recovery photos are online, because to me they make it quite clear the media descriptions of flight straight into a granite wall are false. It looks like a glancing impact off that rock and then disintegration into a fuel explosion in the trees. The fuselage frame is basically intact, and not mangled as from fast impact directly into granite. It does seem he enjoyed the thrill of flying low in that magical terrain and was in control trying to stay alive right to the end. I believe the most common fatal crash cause reported by the NTSB is “controlled flight into terrain.”
    My thanks to Frank and everyone here for helping us glean the details we all wanted, about the sudden and probably painless end to the last flight of a great adventurer and pilot.

  41. I enjoyed the posts for the information,I ordered his book,chasing the wind,too.I found his adventures of a mythical sort of fashion because his ballons went down near my birthday twice.

  42. Bob Carney says

    On 9/3/2007 I was backpacking near Banner Peak, about 4 miles from the crash site. Three time-stamped photographs that show cloud conditions are posted on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rlcarney/. A shot of Banner Peak in late morning, the probable time of the crash, shows a completely clear sky. A mid-afternoon shot shows some cloud build-up, but not storm conditions. A late afternoon shot shows scattered high clouds. Lake surface rippling in the latter two shots is consistent with a light breeze. While there may have been clear air turbulence over the Minarets, there were no storm conditions. Just a pleasant late summer day.

  43. His book Chasing the Wind is the greatest adventure, every page is another wild moment ,I ordered this autobiography on-line at Barnes and Noble ,a used book for a few dollars.A really exceptional experience to remember his heroism in detail. Wow!

  44. HELP! how would a peson start a GE search for a missing jet skier in BAlI? Jeremy Hollan has gone missing while on a jet ski trip. He is a seasoned rider and not prone to panic and it is believed he had a mechanical issue and his fellow riders did not notice him falling behind. How would we get new photos (imiges of the area) We have the Indonesian SAR maps of the search area in the 7th page of the post. Any ideas would be very appreciated!

  45. dont waste your time hes still alive proof:in the newest sattlite pictures i found a a sos and a red daneger flag.(if i zoomed in alot)

  46. The Fossett crash site is very near the site (Michael Minaret) where the famous SF lawyer and rock climber Walter S “Pete” Starr Jr fell and died in 1933. See the book Missing in the Minarets for more on that.

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