British millionaire-adventurer Richard Branson and Swedish pilot Per Lindstrand crossed the North American coast early Thursday to set a distance record for a manned balloon in a trans-Pacific odyssey from Japan.
Organizers of the trek said the intrepid pair crossed the coastline at 2:45 a.m. MST, headed for a landing in the Canadian Yukon sometime after dawn. They expected to set down somewhere between Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake near Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories."No craft in the 200 years of ballooning (has) flown so far and so fast," said Lori Levin, a spokeswoman for the Virgin Otsuka Pacific Flyer in Los Angeles.
Organizers estimated the balloon would have traveled 6,500 miles by touchdown. By landfall, it had already traveled some 6,300 miles, breaking the 6,138-mile record set in 1982 by the Double Eagle V, a helium balloon.
It was the first time a hot-air balloon had crossed the Pacific Ocean.
"One of the most remarkable aspects of the flight was the speed attained," Levin said. "On occasion, the balloon flew at more than 200 mph - the first time balloon pilots have flown that fast."
The balloon averaged about 150 mph during its flight.
The flight began Tuesday morning in Miyakonojo, Japan.