Skip to main content /transcript




Steve Fossett Discusses Decision to Abort Around-the-World Balloon Trip

Aired August 17, 2001 - 11:20   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's go right out now to the conference call. Steve Fossett is calling in now from somewhere in Uruguay.


STEVE FOSSETT, BALLOONIST: Well, we had a really bad day yesterday. We thought it was going to be just some isolated thunderstorms and it turned out to be a mine field of thunderstorms. And I felt my life was at risk all day long. And then this morning we were looking at the weather pat. Bob Rice reported the weather pattern for the Atlantic and it just wasn't solid. And my team, well, you know Tim Cole was project director and Joe Ritchie is mission control director and you know got -- you got a hold of me and, well, and Bob Rice as meteorologist, and said that they thought I should land. And I had nothing to argue with. We were in a bad you know with a -- with a bad outlook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so your landing, sounds like you had quite a ride there. Would you care to talk about that?

FOSSETT: Well, this decision was made at the last moment. I was only less than 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and we were worried about getting the balloon down and landing it. Now fortunately they do have cattle fields here and a lot of open space, but this is a very big balloon and landing it -- one key element of the balloon system didn't work and that's the red line to deflate the balloon. Couldn't break open the panel with the red line and so I was just dragging. I dragged for about a mile, bouncing along and then finally I used the cable cutters to cut away the balloon away from the capsule and then the balloon dragged along for another mile and caught on a line of trees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very good. How were the locals as far as assisting you as in, you know, helping out with the landing and recovery and your well being at this time?

FOSSETT: This is very much village people here in the southern most part of Brazil right on the Uruguay border, and they came out and were willing to do anything to help me. And one couple is putting me up for the night here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any English speaking persons there? FOSSETT: No, so this is really a problem because not only do I not speak Portuguese, which is their language, I don't even speak Spanish. So there's really a communication problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were advised that they were going to be sending out a helicopter from the air base I think up near Bage. Has there been any signs of that at all?

FOSSETT: No, there's the situation that came and over flew the balloon site and there's a twin engine propeller plane that's flying circles right now. I haven't seen a helicopter.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we open it up to questions in the room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, would you like to answer some questions from the reporters that are here?

FOSSETT: Oh sure.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Steve, hi, Jeff Flock from CNN.

Did you ever have any doubt at any point about your decision? Did you have any thoughts that perhaps you could have continued? And what would have enabled you to continue?

FOSSETT: Well, when I was by my -- key team members -- when I was presented with the proposal to land, I hadn't even been considering it and there was a new idea. And you know, I didn't know what to think about that because I did have a chance to make it to the end. But you have to assess the risk and the weather pattern was just plain shaky across the Atlantic. And then if I were to miss South Africa, I'd just be left out, you know, in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, next question.

QUESTION: You sound pretty good, Steve, what is your attitude? How do you feel in your gut?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question was do you think...

FOSSETT: Your question didn't come through real well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question was is how do you feel? What is your attitude? And what do you feel in your gut?

FOSSETT: Well, I think my initial reaction was that this is the greatest disappointment of my life because we'd made all the proper preparations for this balloon flight. I had the team backing me up, I had the right equipment and the personal experience to do this and so it's a huge disappointment. But then I suppose I've had many disappointments so it doesn't loom quite as heavy on me anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, then any other questions? QUESTION: Everyone wants to ask, Steve, and this may not be a good time to ask it, but what about another try? Are you ready to give up yet?

FOSSETT: I couldn't venture a guess on that. It's really tough when my team has spent their entire summer preparing this balloon system for me in Australia. It would just be really tough to put together a 100 percent effort like that again and it's a difficult flight. I mean the conditions up there were really difficult, and I wouldn't speculate as to whether or not I'd be willing to make another try.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any more questions?

QUESTION: Is this an impossibility, Steve, in your view, after what you've been through now?

FOSSETT: Oh no. The around-the-world solo can be done and we just had some misfortunes with our weather pattern. And once we got behind the eight ball, once the weather changed on us soon after the launch, we never could get in step. We had hoped to do this flight in about the same amount of time that I've just spent to get a little over halfway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other questions?

QUESTION: Steve, you did set a record in the sense that you were -- you are the only balloonist to have flown over all but one ocean. Does that give you any comfort or make you feel any more special about yourself with this trip?

FOSSETT: Well, I've had a lot of achievements in ballooning that I'm personally very proud of that I needed that capstone achievement of an around-the-world flight, particularly the round-the-world solo I think would have been the greatest satisfaction in my life. And so it's -- even though I'm proud of the other achievements of flying over a number of the oceans, and today I did make the first flight -- balloon flight across the continent of South America, my fourth continent that I made the first balloon flight across. So there's a lot of achievements behind me, but I've -- but I've failed to get that capstone achievement.


QUESTION: Tell us what was the most dangerous situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is what did you feel was the most dangerous point of the flight or the most dangerous situation that you got into on this flight?

FOSSETT: It was yesterday. I'd had a very difficult time crossing the Andes where there was some wave and turbulence action. I was afraid it might tear the balloon and was looking forward to some -- an easy day flying through some isolated -- you know between some isolated thunderstorms. Instead it was a huge mine field of thunderstorms everywhere, and I think there was a very significant risk yesterday that I would be taken down by a thunderstorm.


QUESTION: Steve, you already went in the water once, did that play any more of an impact on your decision now? Obviously if you got over the Atlantic, you would have been without a lot of margin for error.

FOSSETT: I only heard part of your question.

Ken, could you give me the question again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, basically the question was what were your concerns flying over the water? And having gone in the water once before, if that had affected how your decision was made today?

FOSSETT: Water landings are extraordinarily dangerous. The one I made into the Coral Sea, of course where the balloon ruptured, was the most dangerous one could imagine. But I really didn't want to expose myself of a, you know, a 50/50 chance that I would make it to land when I left South American. You just can't take odds like that. You have to believe that you're going to succeed when you head out across the water.


QUESTION: Can you ask him how he feels physically?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question was how do you feel physically?

FOSSETT: I feel fine now. I shouldn't. I haven't been eating very much and I only got, well, one hour last night, 15 minutes of sleep the night before and about 30 minutes the night before that so I was getting extremely rundown, but interestingly, you know, I feel pretty good right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, very good.

HARRIS: All right. That was the first chance to hear directly from millionaire Steve Fossett who had been trying to float around the world in a balloon and that attempt has now come crashing to a halt, literally, this morning. It came down -- the order to abort the commission came at around 7:30 this morning. And we got Steve here to describe exactly what was happening at the moment they decided to go ahead and do it.

And he says that he had gotten around a big thunderstorm that was a big problem and when he discovered that he was in a mine field of thunderstorms. And he says that he realized he was only about a hundred miles away from the Atlantic and he was very close to actually getting a chance to cross it. But when they made that decision to come down, he found a field and fortunately he found some people there who found him and he says he's a little bit rundown physically.

He is disappointed because he had -- this was a 100 percent effort, as he says. Every single thing that needed to be in place was in place to make this happen so now he won't even venture a guess as to whether or not he's going to try this again.

He still has not seen any of his rescuers, the folks who were actually were going to pick him up and take him out of there. They do have a plane that is circling the area right now looking for him or actually trying to provide some direction for the helicopter that's on its way in to pick him up. In the meantime, he is going to get a chance to rest up because a local couple has decided to take him in the for night. They just won't have much to talk about because they speak Portuguese and he does not.

We'll continue to follow his adventure and we'll bring you more as we learn it right here.



Back to the top