Balloonist soars over Libya en route to India
January 18, 1997
Web posted at: 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT)
(CNN) -- American balloonist Steve Fossett soared over Libya
Saturday and was en route to India after the North African
nation finally gave him clearance to use its airspace. But
his crew said the delayed go-ahead may have jeopardized the
round-the-world balloon flight.
Libya had denied use of its airspace Friday, forcing Fossett
to alter his flight course and decrease his altitude, thereby
wasting fuel and missing powerful jet stream winds. But in a
last-minute decision, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave
Fossett the green light.
"It's like the train is leaving the station without him,"
said Bo Kemper, manager of Fossett's Solo Spirit balloon
project. "The chances of him recovering are negligible."
(261 K / 23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
By early Saturday, the 52-year-old adventurer -- hoping to
become the first balloonist to circle the globe nonstop --
soared above the southeastern tip of Libya for nearly two
hours. He climbed to an altitude of 26,000 feet -- almost 5
miles (8 km) above the Earth -- where he caught a swift
current that carried him at speeds of 148 mph.
50K map of Fossett's travel path
"That's the quickest he's flown so far," Kemper said,
emphasizing that typical speeds have ranged between 80 to 125
mph. "The higher you go, the quicker speed you'll get."
As of 8 a.m. EST (1300 GMT), Fossett was moving across
Egypt in his metallic silver Solo Spirit.
Although Fossett has picked up speed, Kemper said it hasn't
made up for lost time. And while Kemper refused to call the
mission over, he observed, "The chances have diminished
"But you have to remember, we know we can get Steve to India.
And at that time, that means Steve will have traveled half
way around the world -- double the best distance traveled
Fossett broke his own solo-flight record for balloon
travel Friday when he reached 5,435 miles (8,747 km), a
record he had set on a previous flight from South Korea to
The balloonist was forced to reroute his course to the south
after Libya denied use of its airspace. The news of the
denial came in a terse three-line telegram, signed off with
"best regards." Gadhafi told CNN's Cairo bureau that
permission had been denied because of a U.N. embargo that
has limited the operations of Libyan Airlines.
Kemper had said the change in course would use up so much
propane that Solo Spirit would most likely have to put down
in India unless better weather comes along to keep the
The official Libyan news agency, JANA, later reported the
nation's change of heart: "The American balloon will be
allowed in Libyan airspace."
Ever since Fossett lifted off from St. Louis on Monday, the
Solo Spirit expedition team had mounted an international
effort to pressure the Libyan government to allow use of its
The dangers of entering international airspace were
illustrated by two American balloonists who died in 1995 when
they were shot down by Belarus soldiers who claimed they had
no clearance to fly overhead. Organizers said they had been
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