Record-breaking balloonist Steve Fossett says his epic voyage was the most dangerous thing he has ever done. The wealthy American this week became the first person to singlehandedly fly a balloon around the world. High winds forced him to continue flying across Australia searching for safe place to land.
It was a bumpy conclusion to an extraordinary journey. Thirty-six hours after becoming the first solo balloonist to circle the globe, Steve Fossett finally touched down in a remote corner of Queensland in Australia's north. It was half a continent away from his original destination in Western Australia.
It was, said the adventurer, a troublesome landing.
His giant balloon Spirit of Freedom - dragged along the ground for 15 minutes before stopping. Fifteen days traversing the Southern Hemisphere ended in the heart of the Australian outback near the settlement of Durham Downs, which has a population of less than a dozen.
The 58-year-old said after five failed attempts to circumnavigate the globe, he was determined to succeed this time.
"To me it's the persistence, taking on something that is extraordinarily difficult to start with and then making the six attempts it took to finally succeed," Mr. Fossett said. " Just crossing the finishing line a day ago wasn't really a cause for celebration. I had to get on the ground. Well, I'll never do anything that means as much to other people as the first solo round-the-world by balloon."
Mr. Fossett says the hours leading up to his landing early Thursday were so unpredictable he wore his parachute in case things went wrong. He was running low on fuel and oxygen.
During his final night in the air, he narrowly avoided disaster when a small fire broke out aboard the balloon. It was quickly extinguished, but made the veteran balloonist more nervous.
Hardly surprising, therefore, that the multi-millionaire says it was the most dangerous time of his life. Mr. Fossett returns home to the United States on Friday.
This is not the end of his adventures. Mr. Fossett plans to head to New Zealand in the coming weeks. There, he will try to fly a glider almost 19,000 meters into the stratosphere to claim another aviation record in a joint project with the U.S. space agency.