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Well, Blow Me Over! At 50, Balloonist Becomes First To Cross Pacific Solo

Wed., Feb. 22, 1995

A stockbroker flew his balloon into Canada on Tuesday, becoming the first person to successfully fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.

Steve Fossett, 50, also broke the distance record of 5,208 nautical miles, according to his flight crew.

“He’s very laid-back about it,” flight manager Alan Noble said. “When he crossed the coast, he said, `I’ve flown the Pacific. I’m over Canada.’ No `Whoopee!’ or anything like that.”

Fossett likely was a little too cold and tired for elation. He planned a landing attempt late Tuesday despite a warning from his ground crew of high winds.

“Nothing seems to be gained by staying one more night aloft,” said David Slavsky, a Loyola University of Chicago astronomer and spokesman for the expedition.

Soon after Fossett took off from Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday, the two propane heaters in the balloon’s gondola failed. Fossett pressed on, enduring temperatures between 4 degrees below zero and 10 degrees with only a sleeping bag to keep him warm in the cramped gondola. Fossett could sleep for only three hours at a time because he had to check his position.

The 2.7-ton rig includes a 150-foot-high helium balloon attached to a gondola that is 6 feet, 6 inches long; 4 feet, 6 inches wide; and 5 feet tall.

He originally had planned to land in San Francisco, but the balloon is largely at the mercy of winds.

The Pacific had been crossed by balloon only twice before and never solo.

Fossett, a Chicago native, is an experienced mountain climber who also has raced in Alaska’s Iditarod dogsled race.


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