Facebook Twitter

Up, up and away - just one balloonist left in global flight

SHARE Up, up and away - just one balloonist left in global flight

While a competitor was left wondering what went wrong over northern Indiana, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett drifted over the Atlantic Thursday in pursuit of one of aviation's last frontiers.

Fossett, seeking to become the first person to fly a hot-air balloon around the world nonstop, was over the ocean near Savannah, Ga., less than 12 hours after taking off from Busch Stadium in St. Louis.He was traveling at 20,000 feet at about 85 mph.

"Everything's going well. It's one of those boring periods that you hope for in one of these things," Alan Blount, mission control director, said of Fossett's fourth attempt. "It's one of those times when everything's going right."

Very little apparently went right for Kevin Uliassi, who took off from a 300-foot-deep quarry near Rockford, Ill., Wednesday night. Three hours later, a burst helium container aboard Uliassi's balloon forced him to abort what he hoped would be a 20,000-mile journey for the record books.

Uliassi, 34, landed safely in Starke County, Ind., less than 100 miles southeast of Chicago just before midnight, spokesman Mark Rosati said. It was his first global flight attempt.

In St. Louis, nearly 300 people clapped and cheered as Fossett's balloon rose into the air. Fossett left nearly an hour earlier than expected, saying the conditions were right.

"I'm very worried about the competition," Fossett said just before liftoff. "I'm hoping my prior experience in dealing with problems with the flight will give me the advantage."

Fossett soon may have more competition. Dick Rutan, who helped fly the experimental lightweight plane Voyager around the world nonstop 11 years ago, was to take off from Albuquerque, N.M., as soon as the weather is right.

British millionaire Richard Branson planned to lift off earlier this month from Morocco, but the balloon tore away from its moorings and sailed away without him over North Africa. Branson vows to try again. And Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard is preparing for a launch from the Swiss Alps, though no launch date has been set.

Anheuser-Busch is sponsoring the Budweiser Cup, offering $500,000 to the first person or team to circle the globe in a balloon, along with $500,000 to the charity of the winner's choice. The deadline is Dec. 31, 1999.

Fossett, 53, has tried three times before. His best effort was in January, when his balloon stayed aloft six days and traveled 10,377 miles - about twice as far as anyone had previously flown in 213 years of ballooning - before running out of fuel. He landed safely in a mustard field in India.

Fossett is flying a bigger balloon - a shiny silver contraption named Solo Spirit - with more fuel on this attempt.