ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Two pilots who completed a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon returned to New Mexico on Sunday to the sounds of mariachi music and an enthusiastic and emotional welcome.
A large crowd greeted Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia at the Albuquerque International Sunport after they finished the historic journey a day earlier.
Bradley had been planning the trans-Pacific flight for 15 years, and his wife said he was driven by a goal of doing something better than anyone else in the world.
“Our flight was absolutely amazing,” Bradley told reporters and supporters.
The accomplished Albuquerque pilot had set his sights long ago on flying farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history. The Two Eagle pilots staked their claim to those records during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon.
Their adventure ended just after sunrise Saturday when they touched down in the water a few miles off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California, about 300 miles north of the popular beach destination of Cabo San Lucas.
Initial plans called for a picture-perfect landing on the beach, but winds pushing parallel to the coast forced the pilots to drop their trailing ropes into the ocean to help slow the balloon for a controlled water landing.
“That was the hardest part of the trip,” Bradley said.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev lifted off from Japan last Sunday. By Friday, they beat what’s considered the “holy grail” of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew of Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman in the first balloon flight across the Atlantic. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 5,209 miles set by the Double Eagle V team during the first trans-Pacific flight in 1981.
By the time they landed, the pilots had traveled 6,646 miles over six days, 16 hours and 38 minutes.
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