The wreckage was found at an altitude of 3,200m in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Authorities say it would take some time before the cause of the accident can be determined.

Documents

Search teams found the wreckage after a tip-off from a hiker [GALLO/GETTY]
The search for the wreckage began early this week after Preston Morrow, a hiker, found items thought to belong to Fossett, who disappeared on a solo flight in a remote mountain area in September 2007.

Morrow found documents bearing Fossett's name, including a pilot's licence, money and clothing while on a hiking trip on Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the issuing authority for the discovered documents, said it was trying to confirm their authenticity.

The identification cards discovered by Morrow provided the first possible clue to Fossett's whereabouts since he disappeared on September 3, 2007, after taking off from a Nevada ranch owned by Barron Hilton, a hotel magnate.

Fossett's widow, Peggy, welcomed the discovery of her husband's aircraft.

"I especially want to thank Preston Morrow who made this discovery and turned Steve's belongings over to the authorities.

"The uncertainty surrounding my husband's death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me.

"I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life," she said.

Direct crash

"It looks like a very high impact crash"

Shannon Kendall,
Mono County Sheriff's Department

Local officials said the incident appeared to be a violent and direct crash that destroyed the aircraft.

"It's not intact by any means ... It looks like a very high impact crash," said Shannon Kendall, a spokeswoman for the Mono County Sheriff's Department.

The aircraft's engine was 95 meters away from what remained of its fuselage, she added.

Fossett, 63, had set off from Nevada for a local flight but failed to return.

In February the millionaire businessman was legally declared dead by a court in Chicago after an extensive search to find any trace of him or his plane failed.

Mammoth Lakes, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range, is about 160km from where Fossett began his solo flight, a flight that had been expected to last for three hours.

Record-setting exploits

In 2002, Fossett became the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon and had about 100 other world records to his name.

He told reporters in 2005 that he had no intention of easing up on his record attempts.

"There's no reason to stop," he said.

Fossett's modest manner belied the passion that fuelled his costly and dangerous exploits.

"Frankly, I do them for the satisfaction of those achievements," he had said.

"I have a feeling of contentment and a satisfaction that I've done something faster or farther than anyone before."

Fossett shunned the media spotlight in the early years of his exploits. His motives were personal, he said, and he had no interest in making appearances or going on book tours.

Towards the end of his life, however, he realised that publicising his adventures could be a public service and could help to inspire new generations of adventurers.