Fossett skirts disaster … again |

Fossett skirts disaster … again

Daily Staff Report

ST. LOUIS – American adventurer Steve Fossett’s around-the-world balloon quest closed in on South America on Monday, a day after his trek was nearly foiled.

Fossett was cruising above the south Pacific by early afternoon at nearly 66 mph and 26,600 feet above sea level. He has traveled more than 6,900 miles since launching June 18 from Australia, and hopes to complete the circuit in 15 days.

Fossett, who has a home in Beaver Creek, planned to swing sharply northward in his Bud Light Spirit of Freedom balloon later Monday, hoping to drift as high as possible to avoid getting sucked out of the jet stream into a low-pressure zone off Chile’s coast.

Fossett’s sixth bid to become the first solo balloonist to circle the globe had been uneventful until this past weekend.

Sunday night, a burner valve froze open, producing a continuous flame that caused the balloon to ascend sharply. The balloon could’ve torn had it risen beyond its limits, sending Fossett plummeting into the sea.

But the 58-year-old Chicago investment tycoon scrambled outside the capsule and defrosted the valve with chemical heating pouches used to heat his meals.

As reported on the mission’s Web site, for the next few days at least, the hurdles appear to have ended. The balloon is already beginning to pick up speed as it enters more favorable winds. The team’s plan is to ride a jetstream to the south with which Fossett will rendezvous, before taking him to the north, where Mission Control will prepare for his entrance to South American air space.

As of early Monday morning, the balloon’s coordinates were 50 degrees south latitude and 126 degrees west longitude. The balloon was flying at a speed of 44.9 miles per hour at an altitude of 22,500 feet. Bud Light Spirit of Freedom so far has flown 6,544.6 miles.

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