Saturday 20 January 2018

Hero's welcome for balloon pilots

Troy Bradley, left, and Leonid Tiukhtyaev salute their supporters after beating the 'holy grail' of ballooning feats (AP)
Troy Bradley, left, and Leonid Tiukhtyaev salute their supporters after beating the 'holy grail' of ballooning feats (AP)

Two pilots who completed a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon have returned to a hero's welcome in New Mexico.

A huge crowd cheered Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque, and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev amid the sounds of mariachi music a day after they finished the historic journey.

Mr Bradley had been planning the transpacific flight for 15 years and his wife said he was driven by a goal of doing something better than anyone else in the world.

"Our flight was absolutely amazing," he told supporters.

The accomplished pilot had wanted to fly further and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history. He and Mr Tiukhtyaev staked their claim to those records during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific.

Their adventure ended just after sunrise on Saturday when they touched down in the water off the coast of Mexico's Baja California.

Initial plans called for a picture-perfect landing on the beach, but winds pushing parallel to the coast forced the pilots to drop their trailing ropes into the ocean to help slow the balloon for a controlled water landing.

"That was the hardest part of the trip," Mr Bradley said.

Mexican authorities helped to secure the balloon and capsule.

The pair lifted off from Japan last Sunday. By Friday, they beat what is considered the "holy grail" of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 during the first balloon flight across the Atlantic. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 5,209 miles set during the first transpacific flight in 1981.

By the time they landed, the pilots had traveled 6,646 miles over six days, 16 hours and 38 minutes.

Asked if he and Mr Bradley were still friends after such a long trip, Mr Tiukhtyaev said in Russian: "We stayed brothers."

He holds his own records and has participated in many long-distance gas balloon races in the United States and Europe.

Growing up in the former Soviet Union, Mr Tiukhtyaev said he had dreamed of breaking the record since he was a child, but never with an American pilot.

The original route took the pilots on a path from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean and towards the Pacific Northwest before they encountered a wall of high pressure. They then made a sweeping right turn and headed south along the California coast for the Mexico landing.

"We enjoyed great views," Mr Bradley said. "We took some great photos."

Press Association

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