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Balloonist Fossett Crosses the Pacific - 2002-06-27

American adventurer Steve Fossett has completed his crossing of the Pacific Ocean on the eighth day of his attempt to circle the earth alone in a balloon.

Mr. Fossett's mission control team in St. Louis says the Spirit of Freedom balloon crossed into Chilean airspace late Wednesday, Universal Time. He was reported floating at an altitude of about 7,600 meters, moving at 117 kilometers per hour. If all goes well, Mr. Fossett is expected to complete his South American crossing sometime Thursday morning.

As he neared the South American coast Tuesday evening, mission control director Joe Ritchie says Mr. Fossett ran into some rough mechanical troubles. "The balloon started an oscillation," he said. "It is like a yo-yo situation that balloons get into now and then. Steve had a devil of a time breaking the oscillation."

To steady the balloon, Mr. Fossett had to fly lower than desired to catch a jet stream that he had hoped would carry the balloon quickly across Chile. Mr. Ritchie says when the balloon missed the jet stream, there were some doubts the balloon would be able to stay on a course needed to complete the round-the-world trip. "By this point, because we are now down low, he figured, we have blown it. We missed the wind. We are probably going to have to abandon the flight."

Mission controllers now say the balloon is close to being back on its intended course. As of Wednesday evening, Mr. Fossett had traveled almost 15,000 kilometers in his attempt to make it back to his starting point in Australia. Mission controllers say he will reach the halfway point of his trip when he passes over the Falkland Islands sometime Thursday.