Russian balloonist hopes to circumnavigate globe on Saturday


CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 65-year-old Russian adventurer was on the brink of setting a record for flying solo in a balloon around the world nonstop and was expected to land in Australia on Saturday, his son said on Friday.

Fedor Konyukhov hopes to land in the wheat fields near Northam in Western Australia state, shaving two days off the current record of 13 days and eight hours set by American businessman Steve Fossett in 2002, Oscar Konyukhov said.

Fedor lifted off from Northam at 7:30 a.m. local time on July 12 in a carbon box 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) high, 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) long and 1.8 meters (5 feet 11 inches) wide suspended from a 56-meter (184-foot) -tall helium and hot-air balloon.

His father had another 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) to go before he hoped to cross the southwest tip of Australia somewhere between Cape Leeuwin and Albany after 8 a.m. Saturday (00:00 GMT), Oscar Konyukhov said.

Oscar Konyukhov , who heads the support team based at Northam, said his father had endured the worst of the journey in recent days as he was blown south into the Antarctic Circle in the winter gloom where temperatures outside the gondola dropped to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperatures inside the gondola were uncertain, but the heating system could not cope.

“It is scary to be so far down south and away from civilization,” Fedor Konyukhov wrote on his website.

“This place feels very lonely and remote. No land, no planes, no ships. Just (a) thick layer of cyclonic clouds below me and (a) dark horizon on the east,” he said.

Oscar said the Indian Ocean crossing had been tough on his father physically and mentally as he rode the polar jet stream south, partly to avoid a low pressure system, before tracking northeast toward Australia.

The 1.6-metric ton (1.8-ton) balloon had flown 31,000 kilometers (19,000 miles) by Friday at an average speed of 128 kilometers (80 miles) per hours, Oscar Konyukhov said.