- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

BIRDSVILLE, Australia (AP) Steve Fossett, 58, landed his Spirit of Freedom balloon early today near a dried-up lake in the Australian outback, ending his record-breaking around-the-world trip.
Associated Press photographer Rob Griffith, who was flying overhead, saw Mr. Fossett touch down safely in the remote Australian desert about 870 miles northwest of Sydney early today, Australian time.
The capsule bumped along the ground for about 15 minutes before it stopped and Mr. Fossett clambered out, Mr. Griffith said.
Officials at mission control in St. Louis said they had heard Mr. Fossett had touched down, but had not yet been in contact with him to confirm it.
Hours earlier, the American adventurer had to leave his capsule in the freezing Australian night to extinguish a fire caused by a loose burner hose.
"Even though the [round-the-world trip] is completed, I am really nervous until I can get this balloon on the ground," Mr. Fossett wrote earlier in an e-mail to his mission control staff.
The Chicago millionaire sailed into the record books Tuesday 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 he had to wait until early today to touch down.
Mr. 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, used to attach the hose to propane fuel tanks and burner.
The shock of hearing about the fire the first emergency of Mr. Fossett's sixth attempt to circumnavigate the globe came with relief at the mission control, because Mr. Fossett reported the fire in the same note in which he said it was out.
"When it happened, it was a big deal," said Joe Ritchie, Mr. Fossett's mission control director. "Even though the flight is over and you're flying low, you can still get killed.
"Balloon landings are messy," Mr. Ritchie said. "Unless you have no wind, you're going to get dragged."
When his cramped capsule touched the ground, Mr. Fossett was to release a panel to let helium and hot air escape from the balloon. If the balloon had stayed partially inflated, it could have acted as a sail and dragged Mr. Fossett's closet-size capsule for miles.
Breaking the record, Mr. Fossett spent nearly two weeks living on militarylike rations, breathing from oxygen cylinders and using a bucket as a toilet.
British tycoon Richard Branson who had tried and failed to accomplish what Mr. Fossett did said his achievement was greater than that of Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic.
The voyage around the world began June 18 in western Australia and took him exactly 13 days, 12 hours, 16 minutes and 13 seconds. By the time Mr. Fossett landed, he had spent nearly 15 days aloft.
As well as becoming the first to circumnavigate the globe solo, Mr. Fossett also smashed two of his own previous records for the longest duration solo flight and the farthest solo flight.


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