Troy Bradley might have been exhausted and a bit dehydrated, but the words printed on his T-shirt said it all: "Failure is not an option."
The accomplished Albuquerque pilot had set his sights long ago on flying farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history. He and co-pilot Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia staked their claim to those records during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon.
Their adventure ended just after sunrise Saturday when they touched down in the water a few miles (kilometers) off the coast of Mexico's Baja California, 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of the popular beach destination of Cabo San Lucas.
They had hoped for a picture-perfect landing on the beach, but winds parallel to the coast forced the pilots to drop their trailing ropes into the ocean to slow the balloon for a controlled water landing.
Hundreds of miles away at mission control in Albuquerque, cheers erupted. The team declared success once they knew the pilots had been picked up by a fishing boat. Mexican authorities helped to secure the balloon and capsule along with all the equipment aboard to document the historic flight.
"I can say on behalf of the entire mission control center, that we are all very excited and relieved," mission control director Steve Shope said.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev lifted off from Japan last Sunday. By Friday, they beat the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew of Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman in the first balloon flight across the Atlantic. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 5,209 miles (8,383 kilometers) set by the Double Eagle V team during the first trans-Pacific flight in 1981.
By the time they landed, the Two Eagle pilots had traveled 6,646 miles (10,695 kilometers) over six days, 16 hours and 38 minutes.
"These are significant improvements over the existing records," Shope said. "We didn't break them by just a little bit. They were broken by a significant amount."
The official distance and time must be confirmed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, a process that could take weeks or months.
"There will be no disputing whatsoever that they connected the dots," said Sam Parks, president of the Southwestern region of the Balloon Federation of America. He pointed to the tracking systems used and the witnesses who watched the launch and the landing.
"We are so proud of what Troy and Leonid have done. They have certainly set the bar high for all of us," Parks said.
Bradley had been planning the trans-Pacific flight for 15 years. He already holds numerous ballooning records, and his list of heroes includes Abruzzo and Anderson.
"For Troy, it's also his way of paying homage to those who came before him by attempting to go after their records," his wife, Tami Bradley, said.
Tiukhtyaev holds his own records and has participated in many long-distance gas balloon races in the United States and Europe.
Tiukhtyaev said they sent out an SOS after landing Saturday and the fishing boat picked them up. They were both dehydrated, he said.
The pilots were said to be in good spirits but it was a grueling ordeal given the number of days they spent in the cramped capsule. At high altitudes, they had to wear oxygen masks and bundle up against chilly temperatures. They had sleeping bags, a small onboard heater and a simple toilet.
Family members joked Saturday that the pilots were unshaven and in need of a shower.
The original route took the pilots on a path from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean and toward 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.
Historic balloon flight ends off Mexican coast (2015, February 1)
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Historic balloon flight ends off Mexican coast