Fossett begins sixth solo balloon flight

June 18, 2002 at 10:29 PM
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NORTHAM, Australia, June 19 (UPI) -- Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett early Wednesday began his sixth solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon.

Fossett's Bud Light Spirit of Freedom lifted off at 1:37 a.m. UTC as some 2,500 observers looked on at the Northam air strip.

Fossett's flight plan called for a 300 feet per minute climb to 20,000 feet within the first two hours, with the balloon expected to be traveling at 15 mph.

The 58-year-old millionaire former securities trader hopes to complete the voyage in 12 days.

Bad weather delayed launch last weekend and Fossett's ground team waited for windy, rainy conditions to abate to catch a launch window that would take the 140-foot balloon straight over Sydney; Auckland, New Zealand; and out over the South Pacific -- the same 18,000- to 21,000-mile route Fossett attempted last summer. Only this time the Spirit of Freedom will be carrying twice as much oxygen as the Solo Spirit did and have an improved communications system.

The new balloon has 39 7-foot tanks of liquid propane and ethane fuel.

"If there is a slow flight, I can deal with it," a relaxed Fossett said on his Web site, spiritoffreedom.com.

He said he keeps trying to accomplish one of aviation's most difficult challenges, circumnavigating the globe alone in a balloon, because he thinks he can.

"I believe we have the team, the background and the equipment, and I believe we have the capability to do it," Fossett told reporters.

He said he was more optimistic than confident after five failed missions.

"I feel this is the best chance we've ever had," he said.

Fossett has attempted to circle the Earth solo five times previously, between 1996 and 2001. His last flight ended in Bage, Brazil, last August after violent storms forced him to land after traveling 14,235 miles over 12 1/2 days, the longest solo balloon flight on record.

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