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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Balloonist crosses international dateline
Balloonist Steve Fossett was on course to cross the international dateline shortly after noon GMT on Wednesday, according to his mission control team.

The American adventurer has travelled some 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) in the first four days of his historic attempt to become the first person to single-handedly fly a balloon around the world.

He is expected to be over the south Pacific for several more days before crossing over Chile and Argentina.

We spoke to Steve and he sounded healthy and seemed to be doing real well

Mission control's Barry Tobias
His mission control team is looking for ways for him to conserve oxygen after Mr Fossett had to use more than expected in early stages of the flight.

There is a possibility he could save oxygen by flying below 16,000 feet, but whether or not he can fly so low will depend on weather, mission control said on a statement on Fossett's web site.

'Doing real well'

The adventurer is in good spirits, his team said.

"We spoke to Steve by phone around 6 pm (1100GMT) on Tuesday and he sounded healthy and seemed to be doing real well," Barry Tobias, science director for Solo Spirit Mission Control said on the web site.

Steve Fossett speaking to spectators on Saturday night before lift-off
Steve Fossett tells spectators he is nervous about the first night
The former stockbroker took off in his 50-metre (164-foot) high silver balloon, called Solo Spirit, from Northam in Western Australia on Sunday.

Mr Fossett, 57, who is making his sixth attempt at the journey, said: "Although I'm pretty much on track in terms of direction, the course is slow... [and] I'm quite concerned that we don't have enough oxygen on board.

"It's such a long flight there's so many things that could go wrong from here."

Mr Fossett encountered problems early on in his journey when he was forced to dump two propane tanks on Monday after his balloon began veering off course.

Stormy weather cleared

Mission controllers in St Louis, Missouri, however, said the slow start to the journey had given time for stormy weather over the Coral Sea off north-east Australia to clear.

Steve Fossett ditches into the Pacific
Mr Fossett's last attempt ended in failure
It was there that Mr Fossett nearly died three years ago when thunderstorms tore the canopy of his balloon, sending him plunging 9,000 metres (29,000 feet) into the ocean where he was rescued by the New Zealand navy.

Mr Fossett's latest attempt took him past New Zealand and south of Fiji.

After four or five days over the Pacific, he should reach Chile, where he will drift over the Andes.

He then heads across the south Atlantic, around the tip of South Africa and out across the Indian Ocean before landing back in Australia.

If successful, it will take between 14 and 20 days to complete.

A round-the-world balloon flight has only ever been successfully completed once, by Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and his English co-pilot Brian Jones, in 1999.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"On track but behind schedule"
See also:

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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