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Around the world in 11 days: Russian hot-air balloonist claims world record

world Updated: Jul 23, 2016 14:19 IST
Russian hot-air balloon

Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov is seen in front of his balloon as it is inflated before the start of his record attempt for a solo hot-air balloon flight around the globe near Perth, Australia.(Reuters)

Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov on Saturday broke the record for the fastest round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon, his crew said.

Flight coordinator John Wallington said Konyukhov, who took off from Western Australia on July 12, had successfully flown the route by Saturday afternoon but had yet to land.

His journey, taking just over 11 days, is faster than the record set by the late American adventurer Steve Fossett who in 2002 became the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon in a feat which took 13 days.

“The record is broken -- no question,” Wallington told AFP, adding that Konyukhov had flown his balloon almost exactly over his starting point.

“He flew over the same field which he took off from.”

The flight route has taken Konyukhov, who is in his 60s, from Australia to above New Zealand, across the Pacific Ocean, South America, the Cape of Good Hope and the Southern Ocean.

During the journey of some 34,823 kilometres, he has been confined to the lightweight gondola which is hung with more than than 30 steel cylinders of propane gas.

Wallington said the last 24 hours of the trip had been uneventful for the experienced Russian explorer but joked that “the previous 10 days have been awful”.

On Konyukhov’s website, which has tracked his progress, he has spoken of the strong polar jet stream which pushed him towards Antarctica as he approached Australia, saying it was “scary to be so down south and away from civilisation”.

“This place feels very lonely and remote. No land, no planes, no ships,” he said at the time.

A hot-air balloon named "Morton", flown by Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, about to take to the skies for a round-the-world trip from Northam in Western Australia. (AFP)

Although equipped with sophisticated instruments, conditions inside the carbon fibre gondola were tough, with Konyukhov using an oxygen mask at higher altitudes.

He was also dealing with extremely cold temperatures -- which at times reached minus 35 degrees Celsius and saw a layer of ice several centimetres thick form on the gondola.

Conditions could also be dangerous, with the balloonist flying blind as he approached the coast of South America as night fell. He encountered snow and ice crystals as he flew through clouds and severe and turbulence caused his propane cylinders to smash into each other.

‘A nice thing to do’

Konyukhov’s son Oscar, among those cheering his father’s achievement, said the chances of completing a round-the-world solo flight on the first attempt were “one chance of a billion”.

“But... we still have to land him safely, so we need to be careful,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The crew hope to get Konyukhov on solid ground before nightfall, but have raised the prospect of keeping the adventurer in the air if no safe place is found to bring him down.

Oscar Konyukhov admitted that landing was a “very dangerous operation”.

“We have some wind now so we’ll wait until the very late afternoon for the wind to drop and then we will guide him to a big field to slow down and descend,” he said.

Konyukhov, who has previously conquered both the north and south poles solo, and sailed a 27-metre-long (89-feet) boat round the world alone was not motivated by breaking the record, Wallington said.

“He just thought it would be a really nice thing to do,” he said of the round-the-world journey.

“Breaking a record is a nice bonus, but the objective was just to fly around the world.”