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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Balloon tycoon dodges bad weather
Steve Fossett's Spirit of Freedom balloon
The balloon was driven down over the sea on Monday (AFP)
Adventure balloonist Steve Fossett is en route to Chile following a close shave over the south Pacific.


The margin for error was razor thin

Balloonist Steve Fossett
Mr Fossett, a 58-year-old former stockbroker, is currently attempting to avoid storms around the South American continent after coming "perilously close" to smashing into the ocean as he battled storms in his latest attempt to fly a balloon around the world single-handedly.

The US adventurer had dropped low over the south Pacific on Monday in an attempt to avoid being caught up in thunderstorms, however he was almost driven into the sea.

Mr Fossett, 58, used three gas burners to counter downdrafts during squalls east of New Zealand but the balloon dipped to as low as 120 metres (400 feet) above the waves.

He has since regained an altitude of about 8170m (26,600ft) and is currently travelling at about 112kmph (70mph), his flight centre crew told the AFP news agency.

He is expected to arrive in Chile on Wednesday before preparing to cross the Andes Mountains, a statement on his Spirit of Freedom website said.

Reaction worry

Mr Fossett, making his sixth attempt to be the first solo balloon circumnavigator, had earlier described his "most crucial day so far" in an e-mail to his supporters.

Steve Fossett in his balloon
Mr Fossett has had good luck, but is now suffering from lack of sleep
"You know my chances of a successful flight almost collapsed this morning (Monday) when the weather changed," he said.

"The margin for error was razor thin.

"I couldn't sleep. Although I have warning alarms, I was worried that my reaction time when a rain squall and downdraft hit would not be quick enough."

The balloon left western Australia last Wednesday for a round trip that, if successful, will have covered about 17,000 miles (28,000 km).

The voyage has been beset by fewer problems than Mr Fossett's previous attempts, though lack of sleep is beginning to affect the balloonist.

Fossett's five earlier solo attempts ended with crash-landings in spots such as the Coral Sea off the north-east coast of Australia and a cattle ranch in Brazil.


Map showing projected flight path of the balloon

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See also:

23 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Oct 01 | England
17 Aug 01 | Americas
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