Judge Crater, Amelia Earhart, — and Steve Fossett

Just over a week ago, millionaire pilot-adventurer Steve Fossett disappeared somewhere over central Nevada while out for a quick flight in his single-engine Bellanca south of Reno. The extensive search that is underway has found multiple historic plane wrecks, but so far at least, no sign of Fossett.

I have little doubt that the searchers will find the crash site, but after all this time, one cannot help but think that when the find comes, it will not be happy news. Which is why I hope against hope that this time, technology will let us down and Fossett’s disappearance will remain a mystery.

Fossett cheated death on many occasions and skated through hazards that would give an angel goosebumps. He soloed the world in a balloon, then soloed again in a nonstop unrefueled aircraft. His crashes included a 9,000 meter plunge into the Coral Sea, and his near-misses are too numerous to recount. After all that, spanging-in somewhere in Nevada would be as anti-climatic as Lawrence of Arabia cheating death in the desert only to be hit by a car on anEnglish countryside lane.

No, it is better if Fossett is never found. The only appropriate capstone for his myriad adventures would be for him to disappear in a cloud of mystery, joining the likes of Ambrose Bierce, Judge Crater, and Amelia Earhart in that most elite of clubs, that of the famous disappeared. Author and journalist Bierce — the “old Gringo”- disappeared somewhere in Mexico in the midst of a revolution. New York Supreme Court Judge Crater, the “Missingist man in New York” walked out of a restaurant, bid his friends adieu, and disappeared like a puff of smoke into the night. And explorers are still searching for Earhart’s plane lost in the Pacific on the eve of World War II, while conspiracy theorists and UFO-buffs have concluded that she was either kidnapped by the Japanese and became Tokyo Rose or was carried off by aliens.

Fossett deserves to join this most exclusive of clubs. But it is a club that keeps shrinking. Jet-hijacker D.B. Cooper (not even his real name!) is still out there somewhere, but author-pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s decades long sleep was disturbed by sonar-wielding explorers who found his plane off the French Riviera. Jimmy Hoffa is remains missing, but mountaineer George Mallory, who disappeared on Everest in 1924 has been found thawing out of a snow field high on the slopes of the mountain.

So, Steve, wherever you are, stay there. If the aliens in Area 51 didn’t transport you to a parallel universe, I at least hope you are tucked away deep in a canyon where Google’s software can’t peer and pilots dare not fly. Fame may come from knowing, but immortality only comes for adventurers when it is wrapped in the shroud of mystery.