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Balloonist Fossett: 'My life was at risk'

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Steve Fossett's balloon landed Friday in southern Brazil after a harrowing day of storms during his crossing of the Andes.  


ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Balloonist Steve Fossett said Friday that he still believed one person could pilot a balloon around the world, but he "couldn't venture a guess" as to whether he would make another try.

Fossett ended his fifth attempt at the historic flight just hours after he crossed the halfway point, setting down his balloon in southern Brazil after a harrowing day of thunderstorms during his crossing of the Andes Mountains.

"I felt my life was at risk all day long," Fossett said via a telephone linkup between his landing site and reporters at mission control at Washington University in St. Louis.

But when mission controllers suggested that he land, Fossett said he "hadn't even been considering it."

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CNN's Jeff Flock is at mission control in St. Louis as Steve Fossett lands in Brazil (August 17)

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In focus: Joe Ritchie: Mission control for Fossett's flight  
 
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"It was a new idea, and I hadn't even considered it," he said. "But the weather pattern was just plain shaky across the Atlantic, and then if I were to miss South Africa, I'd be left out there over the water."

Mission controllers said that Fossett faced another three days of battling storms -- an effort that would slow the balloon's journey too much to continue.

"My team ... said that they thought I should land, and I had nothing to argue with," Fossett said. "We had a bad outlook."

Fossett played cat and mouse with thunderstorms over Argentina for about 11 hours Thursday night and Friday morning, according to mission control. With the help of the Argentine air force, Fossett dodged the storm, but the effort was exhausting.

"As they say in mountaineering, the mountain will be there tomorrow. The main thing is to make sure the mountaineer is," said Joe Ritchie, Fossett's mission director. "You've got to look reality square in the face and do what you gotta do."

Weather troubles

Fossett's attempt to fly around the world got off to a slow start. Shortly after his August 4 launch from Australia, weather slowed his progress. By the time he reached the halfway point over Argentina, he had surpassed the record for longest time aloft -- Kevin Uliassi's 10 days, three hours and 28 minutes in flight in March 2000.

"We just had some misfortunes with our weather patterns," he said. "Once the weather changed on us soon after the launch, we never could get in step. We had hoped to do this flight in about the same amount of time that I've just spent to get a little over halfway."

The storms over the Andes spelled the end of the adventure. The decision to come down was made less than 100 miles from the Atlantic coast -- meaning Fossett had to bring the balloon, Solo Spirit, down quickly.

"Fortunately they do have cattle fields here and a lot of open space," he said. "But the balloon is a really big thing."

Fossett was unable to trigger a mechanism to deflate the balloon once he touched down, and the massive balloon envelope dragged for a mile before he used cable cutters to sever the connection with his capsule.

Despite a language problem with the villagers living near his landing site -- Fossett doesn't speak Portuguese -- the balloonist said the people "were willing to do anything to help me."

"One couple is putting me up for the night here," he said.

Fossett said he was disappointed, but that it was not his first disappointment and this one wasn't "looming on me as heavily anymore."

As for another try, Fossett said he just didn't know.

"It's really tough when my team spends the entire summer putting this flight together," he said. "It would be really tough to put together an effort like that again. And it's a difficult flight. I wouldn't speculate whether or not I'd be willing to make another try."






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• Fossett's Mission Control Center

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