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Fossett breaks record; makes emergency landing

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Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett said he was "lucky" to land safely after some electrical problems.

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Steve Fossett

(CNN) -- After surviving a major fuel loss, some turbulence that nearly ripped his plane apart, and blowing out two tires on the landing, American adventurer Steve Fossett Saturday broke the world's flight distance record after traveling more than 26,000 miles (about 42,000 km) in 76 hours.

And he did it all on less than two hours' sleep.

"Well, that was an exciting finish," said a low-key but smiling Fossett at a news conference at Kent International Airport in Manston, England where he was originally scheduled to land.

Minutes after officially setting the new world record over Shannon, Ireland, Fossett lost electricity aboard the single-engine turbofan aircraft and had to perform an emergency landing in Bournemouth, on the coast of southern England.

"As I was making my descent, the generator light came on and, as pilots, we know that's really serious," the 61-year-old millionaire said, noting the aircraft's back-up- battery lasts only about 25 minutes.

"I had to get the plane on the ground."

Because of the ice that accumulated on the aircraft's canopy during the 76-hour and 45-minute trip, Fossett said he had "no visibility."

He said he was given a choice of landing in Cardiff, Wales or Bournemouth, and he chose the latter because he was familiar with the airport and it was downwind.

A grand reception had been planned at Kent airport. Instead, Fossett was greeted by Branson and about a dozen members of the fire brigade, who were present on the Bournemouth runway just as a precaution.

Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Steve Ridgway said they "could not risk him ditching the aircraft."

Fossett landed at 5:07 p.m. (12:07 p.m. ET) in Bournemouth, about 100 miles west of Manston, where he took a short flight for the news conference.

He had taken off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Wednesday around 2:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. ET).

"The takeoff was only supposed to take 8,000 feet of runway ... and I used a lot more than that," Fossett said, detailing all the close calls during his "difficult flight."

"I had to really pull with all my might on the stick to get the nose up, to get it off the ground, so I might have easily run off the end of the runway."

Turbulence over Bhopal, India "came close to breaking the airplane apart," he said.

During the first four hours of the flight, Fossett lost 750 pounds of fuel and had "barely enough fuel to complete the trip."

Virgin Atlantic CEO and fellow adventurer Richard Branson was in a "chase plane" planning to escort Fossett into Kent Airport, when Fossett declared the mayday after the generator failed, the company's chief executive Steve Ridgway said.

'In one piece'

"He's alive in one piece and he's broken the record," Branson declared at the news conference, after a champagne toast with Fossett.

"I was really lucky to make it here today, there was a lot going on," Fossett told reporters. (Watch as Fossett is greeted on the tarmac -- 3:32)

Because he was traveling eastbound around the world, Fossett said the trip lasted four days, for him.

He said he was only able get about two hours of sleep.

"I really wasn't trying to stay awake, I would have preferred to get sleep," he said, noting that the aircraft has an autopilot rigged to alarms to alert him if anything changes with the engine or other components.

"But there was just so much going on though that I was never able to put together more than 10 minutes of sleep (at a time)."

Immediately after his landing in Bournemouth, medical personnel checked him out and declared that he was in good health, even though he was exhausted, said Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman Brooke Lawer.

All told, he traveled 26,389 miles in what was dubbed by Virgin Atlantic as "The Ultimate Flight." He shattered the previous records of 25,361 miles set by a balloon in 1999 and 24,987 miles set by a small aircraft in 1986.

At the news conference at Kent Airport, he was presented with a Guinness Book of World Records award, less then a year after receiving an award for setting the world record for the first solo, non-stop, non-refuelled trip around the world.

He made that trip in 67 hours and one minute in the same aircraft, the "Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer," which is specifically designed for non-stop global circumnavigation by a solo pilot with no passengers

In 2002, Fossett became the first person to achieve a solo balloon flight around the world after working towards the record for seven years.

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