DURHAM STATION, Australia – Steve Fossett landed his balloon safely early Thursday on a remote ranch in the Australian Outback, finally ending his record breaking flight around-the-world.
The American adventurer's Spirit of Freedom balloon made a July Fourth touch down on Durham Station cattle ranch, about 870 miles northwest of Sydney. It bumped along the ground for 15 minutes before stopping.
Viewed from a small Beechcraft plane circling the landing site, Fossett clambered out of his capsule and waved to members of his recovery crew.
At least three members of the crew were briefly dragged as they clung to ropes to help Fossett deflate the balloon. None appeared hurt.
Later, officials at mission control in St. Louis confirmed Fossett had landed safely and spoke with him via satellite phone.
Fossett said he had some problems deflating the balloon, but his ground crew, which had chased him in a helicopter, helped him.
"The problem of not being able to deploy the deflation system meant I could be dragged for ever," Fossett said. He said he had braced himself inside the capsule ahead of the landing and was not injured.
"I don't plan to make any more major balloon flights," he said.
After being checked by a doctor, he flew to Sydney. He was expected to head back to the United States on Friday.
Fossett landed the balloon despite windy conditions in the desert.
"I didn't like it, but it wasn't going to get any better so I had to give it a try," he said.
The 58-year-old Chicago millionaire sailed into the record books Tuesday night as he crossed east of 117 degrees longitude to become the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon.
But gusty winds in Australia meant he had to wait until early Thursday to touch down. His crew — apparently joking — said they kept him airborne so he could land on July 4.
Asked what he learned about himself during the trip, Fossett replied: "I learned that I get scared just like everyone else. I worry a lot more than I used to."
Just hours earlier, Fossett had to climb out of his capsule in the freezing Australian night to put out a fire caused by a loose burner hose.
Fossett said the fire started immediately after a hose fitting came loose. He was able to put out the fire by shutting off a ball valve joint, which is used to attach the hose to propane fuel tanks and the balloon's burner.
"Any fire in this kind of a situation is extraordinarily dangerous," Fossett said. "It can spread very rapidly and start burning through hoses. You'd be flying a bomb."
The shock of hearing about the fire — the first emergency of Fossett's sixth attempt to circumnavigate the globe — came with relief at mission control, since Fossett reported the fire in the same note in which he said it was out.
Earlier, Fossett's team had targeted a dawn landing near Birdsville, an Outback settlement of about 100 people known for a horse race that draws thousands of people every September.
Breaking the record, Fossett spent nearly two weeks living on military-like rations, breathing from oxygen cylinders and using a bucket as a toilet.
British tycoon Richard Branson — who also has tried and failed to do what Fossett did — said his achievement compares with that of Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic.
"Steve Fossett deserves his place in the record books alongside Lindbergh. It has been an incredible feat," said Branson in a statement.
Fossett said his cramped, closet-sized capsule would be put next to Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane at the Smithsonian Museum.
The voyage around the world began June 18 in western Australia and took him exactly 13 days, 12 hours, 16 minutes and 13 seconds. By the time he landed, he had spent nearly 15 days aloft.
Fossett was able to sleep only about four hours a day during this trip, usually 45 minutes at a time.
High-altitude winds powered Fossett's Spirit of Freedom balloon along at speeds of up to 200 mph over the Southern Hemisphere — spending most of his time over water and avoiding any countries that might object to his presence in their air space.
As well as becoming the first to circumnavigate the globe, Fossett also smashed two of his own previous records for the longest duration solo flight and the furthest solo flight.
According to his Web site, he flew for 14 days, 19 hours 57 minutes and 50 seconds. He covered 21,109.95.
Fossett holds other world records in ballooning, sailing and flying airplanes. He also swam the English Channel in 1985, placed 47th in the Iditarod dog sled race in 1992 and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in 1996.