Russian Balloonist Claims New Round the World Record

Konyukhov has taken a longer route and roughly 11 days and six hours to complete the circumnavigation

A 65 -year-old Russian adventurer was slowly coming back to Earth in the Australian Outback on Saturday after claiming a new world record for flying solo around the world nonstop in 11 days.

Fedor 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 the Australian town of Northam, 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the east by road, where he began his journey on July 12, support team member Steve Griffin said.

American businessman Steve Fossett also started from Northam to set a record of 13 days and eight hours for his 33,000-kilometer (21,000-mile) journey in 2002.

Konyukhov, a Russian Orthodox priest, has taken a longer route and roughly 11 days and six hours to complete the circumnavigation.

Crews in six helicopters were following the 1.6-metric ton (1.8-ton) balloon inland to and help him land somewhere along a 500-kilometer (300-mile) sparsely populated Outback expanse between Northam and the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie.

"We've got to keep him up a bit longer because there's quite a bit of wind on the ground here," Griffin said from Northam.

"We want to get him a bit further inland where there's a bit more open space and some big paddocks and hopefully get him clear of power lines which are a big concern," he said. "The balloon is coated with an aluminum foil so we don't want it touching power lines or the whole thing will become live."

Konyukhov's team say landing the balloon could be the most challenging and dangerous part of the journey, with late afternoon the best time. 

He will expect to be dragged along the ground for several kilometers (miles) before coming to a halt.

"There's a number of things we have to be careful to manage as far as the risk goes," Griffin said. "Fedor is very tired. He's hardly slept in 11 days."

Fossett 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.

The then 58-year-year-old 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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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