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Record-breaker Fossett touches down safely

Fossett touched down in Australia Thursday morning.
Fossett touched down in Australia Thursday morning.  

BIRDSVILLE, Australia (CNN) -- Tycoon adventurer Steve Fossett has survived a late scare to touch down safely in an Australian desert, successfully completing the world's first solo balloon voyage around the world.

The balloon landed at 7:34 a.m. Thursday local time (5:34 p.m. Wednesday ET) in a dry river bed near Windorah in the far southwestern corner of Australia's Queensland state.

The landing was rocky after a system used to deflate the balloon didn't work as planned and Fossett bounced across a dry desert lake trying to get the balloon stopped.

"This was one of the most difficult landings I've ever had," he said via satellite phone. "I was really dragging and bouncing."

Witnesses to the landing say Fossett's balloon capsule bumped along the ground for about 15 minutes before coming to a rest. Fossett then clambered out of the capsule and looked fit and well.

Though the landing was more dangerous than he had hoped, Fossett said that the impact itself was actually very smooth, even less than one would feel jumping from a tabletop.

Fossett says flying in a balloon is both relaxing and tense.
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CNN's Hugh Williams reports on Steve Fossett's bumpy landing after being dragged along the ground for 15 minutes
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Map: Fossett's flight path 
Fossett' s "Spirit of Freedom" 
Previous aviation records 
Balloonist's background
Steve Fossett holds world records in ballooning, sailing and flying airplanes. He also swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dog sled race in 1992 and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in 1996.

-- Source: The Associated Press

"The impact was really not too serious," said Fossett.

Fossett said he was "enormously relieved" that the flight, his sixth attempt at the solo balloon milestone, was successful, and he doesn't plan any more ballooning adventures.

"This was the most important objective in ballooning that had not been accomplished," he said.

"So I fulfilled my ambition in ballooning. So I might go out and go on a hot air balloon ride and have some fun with my friends, but I actually don't plan to make any more major balloon flights."

Fossett, an American, will now travel to Australia's largest city, Sydney, for a media conference before heading to his home base of St. Louis, Missouri, where he is hoping the city will host "a big party".

While it took Fossett only 14 days to complete his circumnavigation of the globe, he was forced by poor weather conditions in southern Australia to spend another day in the air before he could safely attempt to bring his balloon down.

The landing site was almost a continent away from where Fossett, 58, crossed 117 east latitude over the Southern Ocean.

He has traveled more than 34,000 kilometers (22,100 miles) since taking off from Northam, in Western Australia, on June 19.

The circumference of the earth is approximately 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles).

Fire aboard balloon

A planned landing Wednesday evening, after he crossed the coast at Ceduna in South Australia, had to be scrubbed because winds were too strong. Afterward, as Fossett was sailing through the night, a hose on one of the balloon's propane burners came loose and started a fire.


"A high pressure propane fire onboard is one of my greatest fears. Fortunately, I was awake and I instantly dove for the tank shutoff valves," Fossett said in an e-mail to mission control. Then, as he floated over a natural gas field, turbulence caused by burnoff flares on the ground forced him to climb from 5,000 to 8,000 feet.

Fossett was flying over the ocean off southern Australia when he completed his circumnavigation. His success in reaching one of aviation's most elusive milestones came after five earlier attempts failed.

"It's enormous relief and satisfaction," he said earlier, speaking by phone with reporters at mission control in St. Louis. "I've put everything into this, all of my efforts, all of my skills. I've taken the risks ... and finally after six flights I've succeeded."

Next project

In March 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones became the first people to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon, but a solo balloonist had never accomplished the feat before Fossett.

Fossett has a long history of completing challenging adventures, including swimming the English Channel, piloting a dog sled in the Iditarod race in Alaska, driving in the LeMans auto endurance race in France and finishing the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.

In May, he and his crew of 12 broke the Trans-Mediterranean (Marseille, France to Carthage, Tunisia) sailing record, giving him nine of the 10 fastest "outright" world sailing records, plus the 24-hour record.

Fossett said he already has set another task for himself.

"My next big project is to fly a glider into the stratosphere, and we'll make the first attempts at that around the end of July," he said.

-- CNN Correspondents Jeff Flock and Hugh Williams contributed to this report.


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