American adventurer Steve Fossett appears to be just a few hours away from becoming the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon. Mr. Fossett's flight crew expects him to land in Australia sometime Tuesday.
Mr. Fossett spent much of Monday, his 13th day in the air, sailing 10,000 meters above the Indian Ocean toward Australia, at times at the speed of 320 kilometers per hour. At the flight's mission control office in St. Louis, Missouri, meteorologist David Dehenauw said there appeared to be nothing blocking the balloon from a successful finish. Mr. Dehenauw said, "He is just on the edge of a depression, a system of bad weather, but he is flying at 35,000 feet. He is above the bad weather. So, there is no problem for him."
This is Mr. Fossett's sixth attempt to fly a balloon around the world alone. Three years ago, the European team of balloonists Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones became the first to circumnavigate the globe. Monday afternoon they sent Mr. Fossett their congratulations on what appears to be the first successful solo trip.
Mr. Fossett's Spirit of Freedom balloon is expected to pass over the Southwest Coast of Australia Tuesday, and begin descending.
Bert Padelt is the mission's balloon systems director. "To get the balloon to descend," Mr. Padelt said, "he will actually have to activate a valve in the top of the balloon. He will open a gas valve, which will release helium, which will create less lift and the balloon will start to descend down."
Mr. Padelt said Mr. Fossett will wait until the winds are calm before landing. "The ideal situation for landing," he continued, "would be light wind and wide-open areas for him to set the balloon down in.
The 58-year-old former Chicago stockbroker lifted off from western Australia on June 18. He broke his own solo distance record Sunday when he approached the 23,000 kilometer mark. He set that previous record in 1998 before crashing into the Coral Sea, off Australia's northeast coast. On Monday, Mr. Fossett also broke his own ballooning duration record of 12-and-a-half days, which he set last year.