Balloon voyage ends in India

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The Independent Online
Tired and cold but with two world records to his name, the American balloonist Steve Fossett landed in a tiny Indian town yesterday - and renewed the competition to be the first to fly a balloon around the world.

Mr Fossett touched down yesterday at 7.40am GMT near Prithviganja, about 430 miles south-east of New Delhi, having flown almost 9,500 miles over more than six days - smashing the balloon endurance and distance records in his British-built Solo Spirit by about 4,000 miles and 90 minutes.

"I wish I could have made the biggest achievement and flown around the world," he said. "But this is also successful. It showed we are very close to being able to fly around the world."

He had to fight hard for his records: he spent the final night of his flight at 24,000ft over Iran, being buffeted by 120mph winds. The heaters inside the unpressurised cabin didn't work, the outside temperature was minus 27 Centigrade and the oxygen supply dried out his mouth. He had only about 12 hours sleep since taking off from St Louis, Missouri on January 13.

The former securities trader, now a full-time adventurer, was following the earlier failures of two rival teams - the three-man, pounds 3 million Virgin Challenger, including Richard Branson, and a two-man team sponsored by Breitling.

Mr Fossett, 52, flew in a balloon costing about a tenth of the Virgin balloon, at a lower altitude, and alone. That imposed a drastic physical toll, even for a man who has swum the Channeland climbed the highest mountain in the US.