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Friendship Flight : Tony Circles the Globe : Tony, Tired and Thinking of Home, Battles Ice Storm but Lands Safely

Times Staff Writer

A weary, homesick Tony Aliengena successfully guided his single-engine plane through a fierce Siberian ice storm that nearly forced the young pilot to make two emergency landings before arriving in this Central Asian trading center on Wednesday.

Showing signs of mounting fatigue and trying to recover from food poisoning, Tony expressed little interest in touring this city and surrounding countryside after a harrowing, 635-mile flight from Kemerovo.

“I just want to go home,” said the 11-year-old, who is more than halfway through his bid to become the youngest person to fly around the world on a trip dubbed the “Friendship Flight.”

Even another hero’s welcome, replete with flower-laden schoolchildren and flag-waving dignitaries, seemed to have little impact on Tony as he and his family, which is accompanying him on his unprecedented journey, set down in this Siberian town, about 250 miles north of the Mongolian border.

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In fact, halfway around the globe inside the Soviet Union, the thoughts of many in Tony’s traveling party have been firmly fixed on America in recent days. On Tuesday, as the Aliengena entourage headed for the airport in the town of Omsk, there was talk of family and friends back in the States gathering for hot dogs, beer and fireworks to mark the Fourth of July.

At one point, Tony’s 10-year-old sister, Alaina, grabbed a microphone in the shuttle bus carrying the group to the airport and announced: “It’s the Fourth of July--we’re going to have fireworks.”

But there were none, just a rather uneventful, 600-mile flight Tuesday between Omsk and Kemerovo, a Siberian coal-mining town of 200,000 people.

For Tony, the fireworks occurred on Wednesday in the form of a surprise ice storm that on two occasions nearly forced him to land before reaching Bratsk on the flight from Kemerovo. After 3,200 miles of relatively calm flying weather crossing the Soviet Union from Moscow, Tony’s plane and two others accompanying the San Juan Capistrano youth flew straight into the storm.

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The bad weather caught the group by surprise. Soviet forecasters had predicted that the storm front would move well to the south by the time the three planes took to the air Wednesday. But the front stalled, and the group was caught in the midst of the storm. Up to an inch of ice formed on the wings of Tony’s single-engine Cessna Centurion Turbo 210.

Sizing up his dilemma, Tony at one point messaged: “We have heavy ice and we’re being bounced around crazy.”

On the advice of Soviet air-traffic controllers, Tony, who had been trying to fly above the storm, dropped to a lower altitude in hopes that the ice on the wings would melt, improving the plane’s handling. It worked, although his father observed that it was a much rougher ride at a lower altitude.

“That was the worst ice of the whole trip,” Tony’s father, Gary, said after the group reached Bratsk.

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Once in Bratsk, Tony and his family planned to spend a full day resting before returning to the air Friday for a 630-mile flight north to the Soviet city of Mirnyi. The group is scheduled to spend one more week in the Soviet Union before crossing the Bering Sea and touching down at Anchorage, Alaska, on July 15.


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