Gale force winds and dangerous terrain in Outback Australia are forcing millionaire and adventurer Steve Fossett to stay airborne and delay his long-awaited return to earth. The 58-year-old American became the first solo balloonist to circumnavigate the globe when he flew over Western Australia Tuesday.
After claiming his place in aviation history, Steve Fossett's adventure goes on. Rough conditions in southern Australia are making the dangerous and delicate business of bringing Mr. Fossett and his giant balloon safely back to earth even more difficult. The American tycoon is the first balloonist to travel solo around the world but just where and when he'll touch down is anyone's guess.
Former Australian balloonist Simon Fisher says landing will be extremely hazardous. "If I was up in a balloon like that, I'd be pretty concerned, I think, because it is far larger than the average balloon - it would have to be to have carried him around the world. It hasn't got wheels and it hasn't got brakes. It is only going to come to a stop once there is enough friction on the ground and not too much wind trying to blow it along," he said.
Inclement weather has made Mr. Fossett abandon plans to land near the town of Kalgoorlie and have forced him to continue flying overnight. His support team has moved from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna on the coast of South Australia. There is speculation here he may pushed into the northern state of Queensland.
Support crew member Brian Allison says Mission Control in the United States is desperately searching for a safe place to touch down. "Not ideal landing conditions for him here in Ceduna so alternatively they can look at going further inland," he said. "They'll want a clear landing area and they want some light winds. Unfortunately I don't think they're even going to get light winds when they get up that way either."
His journey around the Southern Hemisphere aboard 'Spirit of Freedom' began in Australia two weeks ago. He's lived inside a cramped steel capsule, eating military-style rations and breathing through an oxygen mask.
This is the American tycoon's sixth attempt to fly solo around the world in his balloon. It's a dream he's spent years and millions of dollars chasing.
He has failed spectacularly in the past and once crash-landed into the middle of the Coral Sea. He also came down with a bump at a Brazilian cattle station. On another occasion his craft took off without him as it was being prepared for launch and suffered serious damage.
This time around weather conditions during his circumnavigation around the globe were kind and there were no serious technical problems.
Mr. Fossett also holds records in sailing and flying airplanes. His next record breaking challenge will be to fly a glider into the stratosphere. That is scheduled for later this month.