A Blackpool welcome for explorer who became first to cross Atlantic in open basket balloon

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The Independent Online

Having endured sleep deprivation, sub-zero temperatures and the shock of two sonic booms, David Hempleman-Adams became the first person to cross the Atlantic in an open wicker basket balloon yesterday.

Seventy-four hours after setting off from New Brunswick in Canada, the British adventurer arrived over Shannon on the west coast of Ireland at 9.30am, setting the record at his third attempt.

He finally landed in Hambleton, north of Blackpool, shortly before 6pm last night, after poor weather forced him to abandon attempts to extend his record by flying on to Scandinavia.

"He has basically been tripped up by the good old British weather. He hit some rather nasty rain and snow over the Irish Sea which meant he had to burn a lot of fuel trying to rise above it" said a spokesman for the Uniq Atlantic Challenge flight control in Bath, in contact with the balloonist via satellite phone.

"But when he landed, he was in very good spirits and obviously delighted with the way things went. He spoke to his wife and three daughters on the phone straight away."

Hempleman-Adams, who has conquered the North and South geographical and magnetic poles and scaled the highest mountain in each of the seven continents, saw his latest record as an entirely different challenge.

His aim was to cross the ocean in a low-budget, low-tech old-world spirit of the Jules Verne era, which he said was a much greater challenge than making the crossing in a modern Kevlar gondola.

After waiting for three weeks for optimum weather conditions, Hempleman-Adams took offon Friday, travelling east at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet.

The basket, measuring 5ft by 7ft, has been kept in the air by an AM-08 Rozier balloon, containing 90,000 litres of helium boosted by hot-air burners when the air temperature drops at night. The balloon's hybrid principle was devised by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier in an attempt to cross the English Channel in 1785.

Steady progress at speeds up to 30 knots was interrupted on Sunday afternoon by two sonic booms from Concorde breaking the sound barrier as it flew 30,000 feet above.

The resulting rapid compression of the balloon's air and helium caused the basket to spring upwards by about 7ft, to the accompaniment of a loud bang. "You can imagine what a shock that is when you are up there, on your own, freezing and without sleep for days" said the Uniq spokesman. "It is a glorified picnic hamper you usually see hanging out of a hot air balloon. There is no space in which to sit down."

During the three-day flight Hempleman-Adams, 46, has had no more than one hour's sleep a day and has endured temperatures as low as minus 10C. He has survived on a diet of hot drinks and soup heated on a small stove on top of the basket.

Last year Hempleman-Adams, from Swindon, Wiltshire, failed in his first crossing attempt when technical problems caused him to crash land in Connecticut. Last June his second attempt was aborted due to poor weather.