Russian launches balloon in Australia in record attempt

July 12, 2016

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A 65-year-old Russian adventurer was drifting east across the Australian Outback in a balloon on Tuesday in a bid to set a record for flying solo around the world nonstop.

Fedor Konyukhov launched his 56-meter (184-foot) -tall helium and hot-air balloon at dawn Tuesday from the same field outside Northam in Western Australia state where American adventurer Steve Fossett started his circumnavigation of the globe in 2002.

The accomplished balloonist, sailor and mountaineer hopes to complete the 33,000-kilometer (21,000-mile) journey in a cramped gondola in less than the 13 days that Fossett took. Fossett died in a plane crash in 2007.

Konyukhov’s son, Oscar, said his father had waited six weeks for perfect conditions to take off.

“We made the right decision to wait for this weather window,” the son told reporters in Northam. “It was dead calm. Our six weeks of waiting paid off.”

Fedor Konyukhov has two days of flying 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) across Australia before he’s expected to drift over the Tasman Sea on his way to New Zealand.

“We hope he can cross Australia in two days,” Oscar Konyukhov said. “It would give him enough time to check all the equipment and if something goes wrong ... he can land in Australia on dry land.”

Australian entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith said he has known Fedor Konyukhov for 26 years and regards him as the most likely person to break Fossett’s record.

“He’s an incredible adventurer. He’s what I call a responsible risk taker,” Smith told reporters in Northam.

“I sat in the gondola last night with him — it’s an incredibly complex piece of machinery,” he said. “He’s also prepared to take quite high levels of risk.”

From Northam, 96 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of the state capital, Perth, on Australia’s west coast, the 1.6-metric ton (1.8-ton) balloon is expected to fly east across Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa before returning to Australia.