Fossett in home stretch
ST. LOUIS – Part-time Beaver Creek resident Steve Fossett is oh-so-close to finally flying his balloon around the world all by himself.
After years of spectacular crash landings, the Chicago investment tycoon was expected to reach western Australia within a day and claim the record of being the first solo balloonist to circumnavigate the globe.
Fossett, 58, has failed in five previous attempts to knock down one of aviation’s last barriers and he was still hundred of miles away from the finish line Monday. But already he had received a congratulatory call from Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Brian Jones of England, who became the first and only balloonists ever to succeed in a round-the-world quest when they traveled over the Northern Hemisphere as a team in 1999.
“”We are very excited that this time seems to be the good one,” Piccard told Fossett. “”And we hope the next 24 hours will allow you to fulfill your dream.”
Fossett raced toward the Australian coast early Monday, flying well above 30,000 feet at speeds approaching 200 mph. He later slowed to about 90 mph over the Indian Ocean with about 1,200 miles to go.
“”We’re all talking about the finish, but we’re trying our hardest to stay focused,” said Barry Tobias, an assistant air traffic control coordinator at Fossett’s mission control in St. Louis.
Fossett will finish when he crosses 117 degrees longitude, expected sometime early Wednesday local time (late Tuesday morning EDT), but won’t land until several hours later in southwest Australia.
Fossett launched his Spirit of Freedom balloon from the western Australian town of Northam on June 18. His flight for more than 18,000 miles was smooth, without any of the problems that doomed past attempts.
“”There is a bit of luck involved in this,” Tobias said.
While Fossett is still flying high, his thoughts have become a bit more grounded. Now that he’s three-quarters of the way around the world, he has begun to think about the final part of his journey – landing.
While most of the balloon’s journey is determined by weather, Fossett will have some control regarding when and where he lands. With the balloon 1,100 nautical miles off the Australian coast, Project Manager Tim Cole has begun the work to find a place for Fossett to land. To help inform the pilot of his choices, Cole will seek out prospective landing sites via helicopter, considering such factors as ground wind speed and direction, and the area’s accessibility for the recovery crew.
Cole said he’ll be looking for a vast spread of land with trees. One would think landing among trees would be dangerous, but actually they reduce the risk of dragging.
“Trees help slow the balloon down, reducing drag,” he said.
There is little chance of a water landing this time, which Fossett has done only twice in the past. That can be done safely, but accessibility to Fossett is limited and the capsule would be destroyed.
On the Net:
Mission control: http://www.spiritoffreedom.com.
Editor’s Note: This is an update assembled from wire reports and a Web site, http://www.spiritoffreedom.com, dedicated to the progress of part-time Beaver Creek resident Steve Fossett and his sixth try to become the first solo balloonist to circle the globe. In five earlier solo attempts, Fossett has plummeted into the Coral Sea and, last summer, was forced to ditch the balloon on a Brazilian cattle ranch after 12 days in flight, making it the longest-ever solo balloon flight. Fossett holds world records in ballooning, as well as sailing and flying airplanes.