Libya denies U.S. balloonist permission
January 3, 1998
Web posted at: 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT)
ST. LOUIS (CNN) -- U.S. balloonist Steve Fossett made it across the Atlantic in what may be record time, but plans for the rest of the trip remained uncertain early Saturday with the Libyan government denying the American permission to fly over its territory.
Alan Blount, Fossett's mission director, told CNN just after 2 a.m. that Fossett had passed southeast of Dusseldorf, Germany, and was dropping in altitude to reduce speed.
The maneuver is an attempt to avoid Libyan air space. "The purpose of this is to make an attempt at going further east, so we don't have to deal with going into Libya," Blount said. "I would say that the chances are we'll still do that, but we're making every attempt we can to avoid it."
"If this plan succeeds, we'll be crossing into Egypt," Blount said.
A L S O :
Weather delays launch of Rutan's balloon
Map of Fossett's flight from Solo Spirit Web site
Permission to fly over Libya has been requested through formal diplomatic channels and through two other avenues that Fossett's camp declined to reveal. But Libyan authorities rejected the request.
Jet stream above, storms below
Fossett rode an Atlantic jet stream -- a fast-moving wind current in the upper atmosphere -- that took him across the Atlantic at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph).
He has since been dodging winter storms in Europe that could force him to land. If he went to a higher altitude to avoid the storms, the jet stream could sweep the balloon "right into the middle" of Libya, Blount said Friday.
Last year when Fossett made a similar round-the-world attempt, Libya gave Fossett permission at the last minute, after Fossett had already descended and shifted his course. His trip ended a few days later in a mustard field in India, far short of his effort to circle the globe.
But Tim Cole, another member of Fossett's team, said Friday that Libya's belated approval was not the reason the last attempt failed. He said there were other problems that caused its premature ending.
Fossett is trying to win a contest sponsored by the Anheuser-Busch Co. for the first uninterrupted balloon flight around the world. The brewery is offering $500,000 to the first team to complete the flight and $500,000 to the charity of the team's choice. The flight must be completed by December 31, 1999.
Fossett set out December 31 from St. Louis. His third attempt to fly around the world is expected to last 15-20 days.
Le Vine said that the Libyans "are obviously sensitive about the overflight and obviously they understand that he can't maneuver ... I'm sure they've been apprised for some time...."
As for Fossett, Blount said he "is taking it matter-of-factly. He's saying we have to go for this. He knows what the options are."
Blount added, "If the weather patterns change, it is possible that we could maybe land in Europe."
Otherwise, Fossett's voyage has been proceeding flawlessly.
"It's been a classic transatlantic crossing -- the balloonist's dream," Cole said.