Fossett Continues Balloon Quest
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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ American balloonist Steve Fossett, a week into his sixth attempt to fly solo around the world, took aim Wednesday at a nighttime crossing of South America’s Patagonia wilds.
The Chicago millionaire hit a low pressure system off Chile’s southern coast that temporarily slowed his silvery Spirit of Freedom balloon.
``He’s going to be halfway around the globe in the next day or so, but right now he’s sitting in a low pressure system, moving at a relatively slow 28 mph,″ said Bryan Maddocks, a team leader at Fossett’s Mission Control in St. Louis.
Earlier, Fossett’s balloon cruised at speeds topping 60 mph. Maddocks predicted the balloonist would regain speed once he crossed the snow-covered Andes and harnessed fast, frigid jet stream winds off Argentina.
``The trouble spot was west of South America and once he gets in jet stream in the South Atlantic he may make speeds of 110 miles per hour only if he hits it dead on,″ he said.
At 3 p.m. EDT, Fossett’s balloon was just off the Chilean coast at 20,000 feet.
After a late-afternoon crossing of the coast 530 miles northwest of Punto Arenas, the balloon was expected to soar across the Andes over Argentina en route to the South Atlantic.
Since launching from western Australia, Fossett has traveled more than 8,200 miles. His first five attempts all ended in crashes.
Maddocks said the balloonist was eating military-style rations and trying as much as possible to keep from using a cumbersome oxygen mask.
``He’s in great spirits, sleeping on and off and checking every hour to see if everything is going well,″ Maddocks said.
Fossett hoped for a smooth ride over Brazil and the Andes, the craggy wall of rock that last year bounced the balloon with swirling winds and downdrafts around some peaks rising as high as 23,000 feet.
He then aborted his fifth attempt on a southern Brazil cattle ranch, just after marking the halfway point. He hopes this time to complete the circuit in 15 days.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Air Force Cmdr. Jorge Reta said forces were ready to respond to an emergency. He said Fossett’s plotted route takes him over uninhabited terrain across the icy and wind-swept Patagonia, now plunged into winter in the South American hemisphere.
``We have our planes on alert at two bases and rescue and medical specialists are standing by,″ Reta said.
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