CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A cold and exhausted 65-year-old Russian balloonist came back to Earth safely in the Australian Outback on Saturday after claiming a new world record by flying solo around the world nonstop in 11 days, an official said.
Fedor Konyukhov landed 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of the town of the Northam, where he started his journey on July 12, about three hours after he flew over it on his return, flight coordinator John Wallington said.
“He’s landed, he’s safe, he’s sound, he’s happy,” Wallington said from the landing site. “It’s just amazing.”
“It’s fantastic — the record’s broken, everyone’s safe. It’s all good,” he added.
Konyukhov demonstrated precision navigation of his 56-meter (184-foot) -tall helium and hot-air balloon by returning to Australia directly over the west coast city of Perth, then over the airfield at Northam, 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the east by road.
American businessman Steve Fossett also started from Northam to set a record of 13 days and eight hours for his 33,000-kilometer (20,500-mile) journey in 2002.
Konyukhov, a Russian Orthodox priest, took a longer route and roughly 11 days and 6 hours to complete the circumnavigation.
Crews in six helicopters followed the 1.6-metric-ton (1.8-ton) balloon from Northam inland to help him land.
His journey of more than 34,000 kilometers (21,100 miles) took him through a thunder storm in the Antarctic Circle, where temperatures outside the gondola fell to minus-50 degrees Celsius (minus-58 Fahrenheit).
The gondola heating stopped working on Thursday, so Konyukhov had to thaw his drinking water with the balloon’s main hot air burner, Wallington said.
The journey also took him to speeds up to 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour and heights up to 10,614 meters (34,823 feet) before he released helium to prevent the balloon from continually climbing as its fuel load lightened, his son Oscar Konyukhov said.
Fedor Konyukhov aimed to get four hours of sleep a day in naps of 30 or 40 minutes between hours of checking and maintaining equipment and instruments.
He spent the past 11 days 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.
Konyukhov’s team had said that landing the balloon could be the most challenging and dangerous part of the journey.
Fossett, who was 58 at the time, was forced by strong winds to spend more than a day in the air after setting his own record as the first person to circle the globe in a balloon. His capsuled tumbled along the ground for 15 minutes after he landed on a cattle ranch in southwest Queensland state. He emerged from the capsule with a bloodied mouth from biting his lip during the rough landing, but was otherwise unhurt.
The Swiss-based World Air Sports Federation did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of the new record.
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