Lacking enough fuel to make it across the Pacific Ocean, balloonist Steve Fossett decided that halfway would have to be good enough in his attempt to fly nonstop around the world.
The 52-year-old Chicago securities trader planned to land his huge silver balloon, Solo Spirit, somewhere in Bangladesh late Sunday or early Monday, U.S. time."It's been a fantastic flight from a lot of different angles," said Doug Blount, one of Fossett's ground crew assigned to tracking the balloon.
The adventurer took off Jan. 13 from St. Louis and has eclipsed by several thousand miles his own world distance ballooning record, 5,435 miles traveled on a 1995 flight from Seoul, Korea, to Canada.
He had hoped to become the first balloonist to fly nonstop around the globe but conceded from the start that it was a long shot.
Floating at 20,000 feet above India on Sunday, Fossett and his supporters back in the Midwest plotted a landing before he began passing over the rugged mountains of Southeast Asia or the Pacific Ocean.
"Right now he's talking about Bangladesh," which would put him half way around the globe, Blout said.
"There's enough fuel for a couple of days, but that would put him out over the Pacific, and I don't think he wants to try a water landing."
Fossett had lifted off with 700 gallons of propane fuel in tanks around his capsule, enough he had hoped to circumnavigate the planet.
His ground crew was unable to explain why he ran short.
"That's a big mystery to everybody here," Blount said from the team's headquarters at
Loyola University in Chicago. "We just don't know. There are a bunch of different theories."The crew has kept in touch with the balloonist by computer, although they lost communications for several hours early Sunday.
Fossett has endured bitterly cold temperatures in his cramped 4-by-6 1/2-foot cabin.
"But he hasn't complained about any particular problems," Blount said.
For long stretches, however, temperatures in the cabin hovered near zero while he was flying too high for his heaters to work properly.
The prolonged cold spells led to fatigue.
"He's been unable to sleep as much as he should have been able to sleep because the capsule's been cold," said Bruce Comstock, another ground crew member.
Fossett failed his first round-the-world attempt one year ago. His current attempt is the third such effort this year.
British businessman Richard Branson's balloon, Global Challenger, was forced down by equipment problems in the North African desert Jan. 8 after lifting off from Marrakech two days earlier.
Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, who took off from his homeland, and his crew ditched in the Mediterranean four days later after kerosene fumes filled their cockpit.