3 July 2002

Sixth time lucky for balloonist

By Barbie Dutter in Sydney

Steve Fossett, the American adventurer, cruised into aviation record books last night when he crossed a mid-air "finishing line" off Australia's southern coast to complete the first solo round-the-world balloon flight.

It was Fossett's sixth attempt to conquer one of flying's few unaccomplished feats - a record he coveted so badly it almost cost him his life.

The Spirit of Freedom balloon carries Steve Fossett into the record books

He covered 19,428.6 miles in two weeks, sweeping at up to 200mph over Australia and the South Pacific, across the tip of South America and below South Africa, before crossing the Indian Ocean back to his starting point.

The act of becoming the first balloonist single-handedly to circumnavigate the globe was finally accomplished when Fossett, a former stockbroker from Chicago, passed 117 degrees longitude, the line where his adventure had begun. "I am just so happy right now," said Fossett, 58, by satellite phone as his balloon hovered over the Outback. "Finally after six flights, I have succeeded."

Fossett was due to land the colossal silver Spirit of Freedom craft today in Western Australia. His record becomes official when he touches down.