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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
Balloonist nearing South America
American balloonist Steve Fossett is closing in on South America as he attempts to become the first person to single-handedly fly a balloon around the world.

His mission control team said he was due to make landfall over northern Chile early on Wednesday.

It will take about a day and a half to cross the continent, when Mr Fossett will also pass the half way point of his journey.

His team said he had gained both altitude and speed over the last several hours and is now travelling more than 72km/h (45mph) at 7,315 m (24,000 feet).

Andes barrier

Soon after reaching Chile, he will have to cross the Andes mountains, where some peaks are 6,700 metres (22,000 feet) high.

Solo Spirit
Solo Spirit flying south of Tahiti
The mountains' height is less of a problem than erratic weather conditions.

Jim Mitchell from the mission control team said the air was often disturbed over mountains.

"But it is clear in that area, there aren't clouds ... so we think the balloon should fly on across without incident," he said.

Record

Mr Fossett has now passed the 10,000 mile mark.

He is close to overtaking his second longest ballooning journey, a 16,700 kilometre (10,360 mile) trip in 1997.

His record stands at 22,900 (14,235 miles), made in 1998.

The former stockbroker has now been in the air for more than eight days since he took off in his 50-metre (164-foot) high silver balloon, called Solo Spirit, from Western Australia on Sunday.

His voyage had been expected to take between 14 and 20 days, depending on the weather and the course he takes.

There were concerns that Mr Fossett would not have enough oxygen to complete the course, after he had to use more than expected early on in the flight.

Steve Fossett speaking to spectators on Saturday night before lift-off
So far, so good

But his team said he had now acclimatised and cut his oxygen consumption from five litres a minute to just two.

Problems

Mr Fossett encountered some problems in the early stages of the flight - he was forced to dump two propane tanks after his balloon began veering off course.

And when he lost communications for five hours he had to climb out of the capsule to replace a broken antenna.

It is Mr Fossett's sixth attempt to circumnavigate the globe. He 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.

After passing over South America the balloon is set to head across the south Atlantic, around the tip of South Africa and out across the Indian Ocean before landing back in Australia.

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Audio
"It's about 1200 miles off the coast which will be probably 24 hours before he crosses."
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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