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THE WORLD

Balloonist's Voyage Ends in Outback

July 04, 2002|From Associated Press

DURHAM DOWNS, Australia — Steve Fossett landed his Spirit of Freedom balloon early today in the Australian outback, finally ending his record-setting trip around the world.

Associated Press photographer Rob Griffith, who was flying overhead, saw Fossett touch down on a remote cattle ranch about 725 miles northwest of Sydney.

The capsule bumped along the ground for about 15 minutes before it stopped. Fossett clambered out and waved to members of his recovery crew, said Griffith, who was in a small plane circling the landing site.

At least three members of the crew were briefly dragged as they clung to ropes to help Fossett deflate the balloon. None appeared to be hurt.

Officials at mission control in St. Louis confirmed that Fossett had landed safely and spoke with him via satellite phone.

Fossett said that he had some problems deflating the balloon but that the ground crew helped him.

"The problem of not being able to deploy the deflation system meant I could be dragged forever," Fossett said. He said he braced himself inside the capsule ahead of the landing and was not injured.

"I don't plan to make any more major balloon flights," he said.

Just hours earlier, the American adventurer had to climb out of his capsule in the freezing Australian night to put out a fire caused by a loose burner hose.

The 58-year-old Chicago multimillionaire sailed into the record books Tuesday night as he crossed east of 117 degrees longitude to become the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon.

But gusty winds in Australia meant that he had to wait until early today to touch down.

Fossett said the fire started immediately after a hose fitting came loose.

He was able to put out the fire by shutting off a ball valve joint, which is used to attach the hose to propane fuel tanks and the balloon's burner.

The trip began June 18 in western Australia and took 13 days, 12 hours, 16 minutes and 13 seconds. By the time he landed, Fossett had spent nearly 15 days aloft.

After being checked by a doctor, he flew to Sydney. He was expected to head back to the United States on Friday.

Fossett said his cramped capsule would be put next to Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane at the Smithsonian Institution.

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