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Round-the-World Balloon Attempt Fails

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Orange County man was forced to abandon his quest to become the first person to circle the Earth nonstop in a balloon when he ran into trouble and landed early Wednesday at a frozen lake in eastern Canada.

Millionaire soybean trader Steve Fossett, 51, had lifted off from the Black Hills of South Dakota in predawn darkness on Monday and immediately encountered biting cold, a dead heater and problems with his autopilot.

“I’m very disappointed,” Fossett, a 1962 graduate of Garden Grove High School, told the Associated Press. “It wasn’t a hard landing but it wasn’t an easy landing either.

“I’m rather disappointed and embarrassed that I didn’t do better on this,” added Fossett, who bounced around inside his all-weather capsule as it dragged 100 yards across a field and stopped just shy of woods. “I think we’ve all underestimated the difficulty.”

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Fossett had hoped that his 150-foot-tall, 50-foot-wide Mylar-sheathed balloon, which holds helium and hot air in separate chambers, could complete the voyage in 16 to 21 days.

He had planned to cross the Atlantic Ocean and Europe before flying over Ukraine, Kazakhstan, China and Japan, floating in his yellow gondola at altitudes of 18,000 to 30,000 feet. His final leg called for crossing the Pacific and landing, as he said, “anywhere from Nebraska to southern Canada.”

But officials at Loyola University Chicago, for which Fossett was conducting scientific research during the flight, said he began to jettison fuel shortly after 4 a.m. PST on Wednesday before landing on the edges of Lake Darlen in Hampton, New Brunswick, a province of Canada.

The Canadian Coast Guard deployed two helicopters, a C-130 transport plane and a cutter to rescue Fossett had it been necessary, officials said.

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“What Steve did teaches you a lot about resiliency,” said Stephanie Kerch, spokeswoman for Loyola University Chicago. “He fought through freezing cold . . . truly unbelievable conditions. He really is a remarkable human being. He made the point that this really isn’t a failure at all. The message is, you can’t really explore new places unless you take risks.”

Last year, Fossett became the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean solo in a balloon. In 1985, he swam the English Channel. He later finished 47th in Alaska’s Iditarod sled-dog race, ran Colorado’s Leadville 100 ultramarathon in less than 30 hours and set six ocean sailing records.

He also sailed solo across the Atlantic, drove a Porsche in the Le Mans 24-hour race and climbed Argentina’s 23,000-foot Cerro Aconcagua.

Fossett, who owns the Chicago-based company Lakota Trading Inc., struggled with a childhood asthmatic condition that left him unable to compete in organized sports. He left Garden Grove for Stanford University, where he graduated in 1966 with a degree in economics. He later worked as a systems engineer for IBM, then entered the stock market.

His parents, Charalee Fossett, 82, and Dick Fossett, 84, a retired supervisor for Proctor & Gamble, have lived in the same house in Garden Grove since 1944.


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