Third balloonist comes to grief

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The Independent Online
A third attempt to go around the world non-stop by hot-air balloon has ended in failure.

The American millionaire balloonist, Steve Fossett, was expected to come down to earth in India or Bangladesh at around 7am this morning suffering from cold and tiredness.

Mr Fossett, who began his adventure from St Louis on Monday, had hoped to become the first balloonist to travel around the world non-stop.

Last night, however, Mr Fossett's ground crew in Chicago said that the balloon did not have enough fuel to complete the trip. They blamed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya for undermining the record attempt by forcing the balloon to change course.

Bruce Comstock, the project's technical co-director, said: "We plan to land along the east coast of India, south of Calcutta. Although we are not sure he is going to be able to do that. The wind may blow him in a different direction that may take him near Delhi."

The area in India where Mr Fossett could land is thickly populated and he should be prepared for a noisy reception if and when he lands.

The forced landing follows the failure of two other round-the-world balloon attempts, including that led by the businessman Richard Branson. One consolation for Mr Fossett, a commodity broker-turned-adventurer, was that he was hoping to break the six days and 16 minutes endurance record for a balloon flight late last night while finding somewhere safe to put down.

He was expected to land between Calcutta and Bangladesh, which would enable him to beat the endurance record set in 1981 by the Americans Ben Abruzzo and Troy Bradley.

"That would take him nearly half-way around the world," said Doug Blount, another member of the tracking team at mission control headquarters at Chicago's Loyola University. "He could go several more days and put down in the middle of the Pacific, but I don't think that's on the cards."

Mr Fossett, 52, broke his own record for balloon distance travel when he exceeded 5,435 miles while over Algeria.

Earlier in the journey, political turbulence over the use of Libyan air space cost Mr Fossett his around-the-world bid.

Although Libya later relented and Mr Fossett's Solo Spirit cut across the south-eastern tip of the country, his forced change of route cost him fuel he planned on using to cross the Pacific back to the United States.