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Historic air balloon journey

January 31, 2015

Two hot air balloon pilots have touched down in Mexico, completing a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean. The six-day adventure smashed world records unbeaten for over three decades.

View of earth from the Two Eagles Balloon
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Bradley

The helium-filled balloon piloted by the American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev landed safely in the sea just off the Baja coast near La Poza Grande on Saturday.

"The pilots made a controlled descent to a gentle water landing about four miles (6.5 kilometers) off the ... coast. The balloon is stable and still inflated and the pilots are fine," the Two Eagles balloon team announced.

Meanwhile, at mission control in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the balloon team and pilots' families exchanged hugs and relieved smiles as they watched the landing on a giant screen.

Historic flight

Bradley, 50, and Tiukhtyaev, 58, set off on their epic voyage from Saga, Japan, last Sunday morning. By Friday, they had broken consecutive distance and duration world records by flying for over 137 hours and traveling more than 8,383 kilometers in a gas-filled balloon.

According to the Two Eagles team, the duo's six-day journey was eventually timed at 160 hours and 37 minutes at a distance of 10,696 kilometers (6,646 miles). They are the first crew to attempt a trans-Pacific balloon crossing since 1981 - when the distance record was set. The flying duration record of 137 hours was set by a trans-Atlantic balloon flight in 1978.

Mission control director Steve Shope said he was "really pleased" with the numbers. "These are significant improvements over the existing records," he said. "We didn't break them by just a little bit. They were broken by a significant amount."

The record-shattering trip wasn't without its challenges, though. Difficult weather conditions off the western coast of the United States meant that the team had to abandon their original plan to land in Canada, and instead veer south toward Mexico for the descent.

Troy Bradley und Leonid Tjuchtjajew
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev managed to keep their spirits up during the grueling journeyImage: Reuters/T. Bradley

The two men traveled in an unpressurized carbon-fiber flight capsule, described as being smaller than a king-sized mattress, and took turns piloting the balloon in shifts of four-to-six hours. They had to stay bundled up in cold-weather gear and use oxygen masks to be able to withstand the conditions at an altitude of over 4,700 meters (15,500 feet).

Organizers cautioned that the new world records would not be made official until they had been certified by US and international aeronautics associations.

nm/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa)