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Monday, January 5, 1998 Published at 04:04 GMT


Balloon record bid runs into trouble
image: [ The flight path so far: but Solo Spirit's journey appears to be heading for a premature end ]
The flight path so far: but Solo Spirit's journey appears to be heading for a premature end

Steve Fossett's ground crew are admitting that the millionaire adventurer will probably be forced to abandon his current attempt to become the first balloonist to circle the globe non-stop.

Mission Director, Alan Blount told reporters that technical problems aboard the "Solo Spirit" balloon and Fossett's failure to get far enough south to exploit favorable winds could force an end to the quest.

The pilot had "got himself into a trough" where light winds prevented Fossett from reaching the sub-tropical jet stream needed to proceed quickly in an easterly direction, he said.

Mr Blount said it was "relatively unlikely" that Fossett would complete his round-the-world bid. "It is not clear to us whether he will land in Russia or continue on, possibly making an attempt of another duration record," he said.

"Steve is going to make the ultimate decision. He's a big boy."

Mounting problems

A remote-control device which operates one of the two burners keeping the balloon in the air has malfunctioned.

[ image: Steve Fossett speaks to mission control]
Steve Fossett speaks to mission control
The 53-year-old adventurer is now forced to open a hatch and turn the burner on and off manually.

In addition, the heater inside the gondola is not working and Mr Fossett has reported feeling cold.

The pace of his solo flight slowed markedly as he drifted eastward in extremely light winds at 34 mph (55 kph) about 20,000 ft (6,100 metres) over Bulgaria on Sunday.

[ image: Mission control at St Louis]
Mission control at St Louis
On Saturday, Fossett changed course to avoid Libya, which had initially refused him permission to fly through its airspace.

Libya's leader, Colonel Gaddafi, intervened in the case and relented - but by then the balloon, Solo Spirit, was heading towards the Black Sea.

The balloon soared over England early on Saturday morning after a record time for crossing the Atlantic.

Second time unlucky

Last year, Fossett was forced to land in India after he wasted precious fuel waiting for Libya to finally give its permission for him to cross its airspace.

[ image: Fuel ran out last time]
Fuel ran out last time
Since taking off on Wednesday evening from Busch Stadium in St Louis, Fossett drifted over the south-east US and then east-northeast over the Atlantic before flying over Europe.

Fossett has come closer than anyone to the elusive round-the-world ballooning goal by setting records for time and distance in a balloon last January with a six-day, 10,000 mile (16,000 km) trip from St Louis to India.

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