Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, 65, claiming a new world record for flying solo around the world nonstop in 11 days, landing safely in WA’s Wheatbelt.
Konyukhov, who launched his helium balloon from Western Australia’s Avon Valley on July 12, landed near the small town of Bonnie Rock before dark.
His journey, taking just over 11 days, is faster than the record set by the late American adventurer Steve Fossett who in 2002 became the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon in a feat which took 13 days.
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.
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.
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.
Konyukhov’s son Oscar described his father’s achievement as a miracle.
“As a son, I’m very proud of my father. It’s just difficult to comprehend what he just achieved,” he said.
“He completed round-the-world solo flight on the first attempt.”