Balloonist Fumio Niwa floated on toward North America Wednesday despite a compressor failure 14 hours into his attempt to make the first solo balloon crossing of the Pacific Ocean, a spokesman said.
Thirteen hours after taking to the air, Niwa's huge orange and blue helium-filled balloon was about 310 miles southeast of Tokyo and flying at 12,900 feet, said project spokesman Tadakatsu Izumi.Niwa, 38, who quit his job in a computer company three months ago to prepare for the flight, left Yokohama before dawn, aiming for San Diego.
His plan was to grab a ride on the high-speed jet stream at about 26,000 feet altitude and travel 5,000 miles to North America in four days - but weather reports said the jet stream was angled more to the north than usual and might carry Niwa to Alaska.
Izumi said Niwa was staying at a low altitude by holding on to his ballast so the balloon would drift farther south before entering the jet stream.
"All I see is clouds and the ocean," Izumi quoted Niwa as saying by radio from the balloon's cramped gondola. "It's boring. I have nothing to take a picture of."
Before he lifted off, Niwa was aware of the problem with the wind direction.
"My long dream of crossing the Pacific is coming true today," Niwa said. "I still wonder if it's really possible. The jet stream is bending strangely, but America is big, so I think I'll make it - somewhere."
Izumi said Niwa reported in a radio contact that one compressor used to maintain air pressure inside the gondola had failed, but the pilot was using the sole standby compressor to continue the flight.
The compressor sucks in the thin, high-altitude air and keeps pressure inside the high-tech plastic gondola at normal levels.
In 1981, four men crossed the Pacific in a balloon from Japan to the United States for the first time, but no one has done it alone.
The gondola, the fifth Niwa has designed, is 6 feet in diameter but is not tall enough for him to stand. It has no heating to protect Niwa from nighttime temperatures of about minus 50 degrees, but his flying suit has built-in electric coils to keep him warm.