Russian Balloonist Circling Globe Crosses Australian Coast

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 65-year-old Russian adventurer reached the Australian coast on Saturday and was within a few hours of setting a new record for flying solo nonstop around the world, an official said.

Fedor Konyukhov's 56-meter (184-foot) -tall helium and hot-air balloon was descending as it crossed the southwest coast directly over the city of Perth at 95 kilometers (60 miles) per hour and at an altitude of less than 7,000 meters (23,000 feet), support crew member Steve Griffin said.

When he drifts across 117 degrees longitude east of Perth, he will have shaved two days off the record of 13 days and eight hours set by American businessman Steve Fossett in 2002.

Konyukhov hoped to land around 4 p.m. (0800 GMT) along a 500-kilometer (300-mile) sparsely populated expanse between the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie and Northam, the town where his eastward journey began on at 7:33 a.m. on July 12, support crew member John Wellington said.

"It's a bit overcast, but it's not windy which is the most important thing," Wellington said. "It should be a reasonable sort of day to hopefully get him on the ground later this afternoon."

Konyukhov's team say landing the 1.6-metric ton (1.8-ton) balloon could be the most challenging and dangerous part of the journey, with late afternoon the best time. He needs to find an open space free of power lines and buildings and expect to be dragged along the ground for several kilometers (miles) before coming to a halt.

Fossett was forced by strong winds to spend more than a day in the air after setting his own record as the first person to circle the globe in a balloon. His capsuled tumbled along the ground for 15 minutes after he landed on a cattle ranch in southwest Queensland state.

The then 58-year-year-old emerged from the capsule with a bloodied mouth from biting his lip during the rough landing, but was otherwise unhurt.

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