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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Balloonist Fossett crosses Andes
American adventurer Steve Fossett is crossing the Andes on the latest stage of his attempt to become the first person to balloon solo non-stop around the world.

Mr Fossett is about to reach the half way mark in his journey after floating across the Chilean-Argentinean border.

The distance to go is daunting, but we are on our way

Steve Fossett
The former commodities broker from Chicago has already broken the endurance record for a solo balloonist set last year.

If successful, Fossett, who took off from Western Australia 12 days ago, is expected to complete his flight in another 10 or 11 days.

"The distance to go is daunting, but we are on our way," he told the St Louis-based Mission Control.

Fossett's balloon, Solo Spirit, has picked up speed since entering Chilean airspace and is now travelling at 60kph (37 mph).

Pilots in the area were warned to look out for the pear-shaped balloon, which flew over the mountain range at an altitude of 28,000 feet (8,534 metres).

Oxygen fears

Since launching from Northam in Australia on 4 August, Fossett has travelled more than 18,500 kilometres (11,500 miles).

The Mission Control team say his oxygen supply has diminished to just four or five days' worth and he will fly Solo Spirit at lower altitudes than originally planned from hereon.

He has enough food and water to last another 25 days and fuel supplies for even longer.

Solo Spirit balloon
Fossett has broken the previous record for a solo balloonist
After leaving South America, Fossett's journey will take him across the tip of South Africa and then over the Indian Ocean and back to Australia.

On Wednesday, he surpassed the previous record of 243 hours and 28 minutes for a solo balloonist staying aloft, set by fellow American Kevin Uliassi, who congratulated Fossett via satellite email.

Replying to Uliassi, Fossett said: "Thanks for the good wishes. This is the most difficult flight I have made."

Mr Fossett's latest record-setting attempt is his fifth solo balloon flight since February, 1995, when he became the first balloonist to fly single-handedly across the Pacific.

His previous attempt to fly solo around the world ended in disaster when he was forced to ditch in the South Pacific in August, 1998.

See also:

10 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Balloonist passes quarter-way mark
08 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Balloonist crosses international dateline
05 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Solo balloonist soars away
17 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Solo balloonist grounded
16 Aug 98 | Americas
Balloonist ditches into sea
03 Mar 00 | Americas
World balloon record attempt fails
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