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Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who risked his life seeking to set records in high-tech balloons, gliders and jets, was declared dead Friday, five months after he vanished while flying in an ordinary small plane.

The self-made business tycoon, who in 2002 became the first person to circle the world solo in a balloon, was last seen on Sept. 3 after taking off in a single-engine plane from an airstrip near Yerington, Nev., heading toward Bishop, Calif. He was 63.

His wife, Peggy Fossett, had him declared legally dead as a step toward resolving the legal status of his estate. Cook County Judge Jeffrey Malak heard testimony Friday from Peggy Fossett, a family friend and a search-and-rescue expert before deciding there was sufficient evidence to declare him dead.

While flight records brought him his greatest fame, Mr. Fossett also climbed some of the world's best-known peaks, including the Matterhorn and Mount Kilimanjaro. He swam the English Channel and completed the Boston Marathon, the Ironman Triathlon, the Iditarod dog sled race and, as part of a team, the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race.

"Steve's lived his life to the full, and he hasn't wasted a minute of his life," Mr. Fossett's rival-turned-comrade, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, said as the search went on.

Mr. Fossett was on a pleasure flight when he vanished and not looking for a dry lake bed to use as a surface on which to set the world land speed record, as was initially reported, according to his wife's petition.

Dozens of planes and helicopters spent more than a month searching the rugged western Nevada mountains before the effort was called off as winter approached. The search area covered 20,000 square miles. About 15 to 20 private planes have vanished in the area since 1950, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

A Stanford University graduate with a master's degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Mr. Fossett went to Chicago to work in investments and founded his own firm, Marathon Securities.