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Fossett's balloon quest in jeopardy

Fossett's balloon
Fossett flies over Eastern Europe  

Faulty heaters, slow winds hamper round-the-world trip

January 4, 1998
Web posted at: 7:51 p.m. EST (0051 GMT)

ST. LOUIS (CNN) -- Hampered by faulty heaters and slow winds, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett is "very unlikely" to complete his quest to be the first person to pilot a balloon around the world nonstop, according to his mission control director.

But speaking Sunday afternoon at mission headquarters in St. Louis, Alan Blount said the final decision on whether to abandon the flight will be left to Fossett, currently drifting over Turkey on his way to southern Russia.

"I'm not going to conjecture," Blount said. "He's a big boy, and he's going to make the decision himself."

Fossett's problems were twofold:

  • A burner and heaters in the passenger cabin beneath his balloon, Solo Spirit, were malfunctioning. At an altitude of 23,000 feet (6970 meters), without the heater, "Steve is very cold," Blount said. Also, the malfunctions left Fossett with diminished control over his aircraft, which is partially maneuvered using hot air.
  • Slow winds -- "the slowest on the globe," complained Blount -- have stymied the balloon's progress. It was reported to be traveling just 26 mph (42 kph) on its path over Turkey.
Alan Blount, mission control director  

Indeed, for a time Sunday, there were fears that because of the weak winds, the balloon would drift off course to the north, toward Moscow, and Blount said there was "serious discussion" about ending the mission. But winds picked up somewhat and the craft kept to its desired eastward trajectory.

While Fossett's attempt to circumnavigate the globe may be in peril, he could still break his own records for longest distance traveled in a balloon and the longest duration for a balloon flight, Blount said.

To set the duration record, Fossett would need to stay in the air for about 72 more hours. By that time, he would have traveled over southern Russia and proceeded into Kazakhstan. He would need to travel a total of more than 10,361 miles to break the distance record.

Fossett speaks with air traffic controllers in Romania Sunday
icon 249K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Fossett, making his third attempt to go around the world in a balloon, set those records last January, when he got as far as India before running out of fuel and landing in a mustard field.

"If you set a record, that's great. It's a milestone," Blount said. "If you get all the way around the world, that's the pot of gold."

Fossett's troubles come two days before another balloon, piloted by Dick Rutan and Dave Melton, is scheduled to be launched from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in pursuit of the first around-the-world flight.

Anheuser-Busch Company, an American brewer, has offered $500,000 to the first balloon team that makes it around the world before December 31, 1999. The company will donate another $500,000 to the charity of the winning team's choice.


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