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Steve Fossett Crosses Atlantic Ocean, Flying at 150 MPH at Altitude of 27,000 Feet in Bid To

January 3, 1998

Steve Fossett Crosses Atlantic Ocean, Flying at 150 MPH at Altitude of 27,000 Feet in Bid To Become First Balloonist To Travel Nonstop Around the WorldBy NATALIE GOTT

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Millionaire balloonist Steve Fossett hit some rough air Friday that may force him in a direction he doesn’t want to go _ right over Libya.

Fossett’s team in St. Louis said the development poses a serious threat to his quest to become the first balloonist to travel nonstop around the world. He made it halfway around last year, but was forced to land in India after Libya delayed granting him permission to fly over the country until he had already wasted precious fuel.

By 9:30 p.m. EST, Fossett had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was 200 miles west of London, flying at 150 mph at an altitude of 27,000 feet.

Strong winds, rain and thunderstorms over Ireland and northern Spain will force him to change his course, said Tim Cole, chief engineer for Fossett’s flight team. If those weather patterns continue, Fossett’s flight will take him over Italy and the Mediterranean Sea and through Libya by 7 p.m. EST Saturday, Cole said.

The flight team in St. Louis is seeking permission from the Libyan government for Fossett to fly over the country. If Libya denies the request, Fossett would be forced to land before he gets to Libya, or in Libya itself.

``Without passage through Libya, the trip is over,″ Cole said.

Fossett, a 53-year-old commodities trader from Chicago, is making his fourth try to circle the globe.

Last year, Libya granted Fossett permission to fly-over but not until Fossett had spent valuable fuel, forcing him to land in a mustard field in India. His 10,377-mile trip halfway around the world was the longest ever for a balloonist.

The Libyan government is aware of the special nature of the flight, said Victor Le Vine, a Washington University political science professor and an expert in international affairs.

``They are in the process of deliberating,″ Le Vine said. ``They are hardheaded people and pretty smart with decisions like these.″

Alan Blount, director of the Solo Spirit Mission Control, said obtaining fly-over permission from the Libyan government has been an ongoing process. The team renewed its request for permission today.

The team does not have a chase plane following Fossett’s balloon like it did last year, Cole said.

``We are going on the basis that we are going to succeed, that we are going to get Libya’s permission,″ Blount said, his voice quivering. ``Steve is taking it matter-of-factly ... He’s realistic.″

Fossett set out Dec. 31 from St. Louis. His trip around the world is expected to last 15-20 days.

He left with more than 800 gallons of propane fuel, about 100 less than he had with him last year, said Marie Metzer-Finkelman, a member of the team. So far, Fossett’s fuel consumption is on track, with him using about 45 gallons.

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