Fossett has 'clear shot' to Australia, flight director says

Monday, July 1, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- On the final leg of his around-the-globe balloon quest, American adventurer Steve Fossett cruised Sunday over the Indian Ocean after apparently breaking his own record for distance traveled by a solo balloonist.

The Chicago millionaire has completed about 80 percent of his sixth try at circling the globe, with expectations of completing the journey by Tuesday, exactly two weeks after its June 18 launch from western Australia.

"Right now, it looks like a clear shot to Australia," said Joe Ritchie, chief of Fossett's mission control center at Washington University here. "He's kind of gone around the last tackler and he's headed for the end zone, if he doesn't trip over his shoelace."

Hours earlier, Fossett, 58, eclipsed his record of 14,235 miles that he traveled in 1998, when his attempt from Argentina ended with his balloon's harrowing 29,000-foot plunge into the Coral Sea. Fossett in 1998 actually traveled 15,200 miles, but the Switzerland-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale shaved his mileage to account for his zigzags, which don't count toward records.

As of 8 p.m., Fossett's balloon was cruising at 127 mph at 25,300 feet, having traveled 15,605 total miles this trek.

On Monday, Fossett was to fly through heavy clouds and perhaps even snow at 30,000 feet. Hot air inside the balloon should keep snow or ice from collecting on it, and Fossett eventually could descend to allow any ice to melt, his flight center said.

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