Conn. Man Is Oldest to Swim English Channel

A retired Connecticut pilot has become the oldest person to swim the English Channel. George Brunstad (search), 70, left Dover, England, Saturday morning heading for the French Coast. He finished shortly after midnight, said Mike Oram of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation.

"I thought I could make it, but it was pretty darn uncomfortable," Brunstad said in an interview just after making it to the coastal town of Sangatte, France.

Oram certified the swim in 15 hours 59 minutes.

"For anybody at any age it's good," Oram said. "To do it at 70, there's not much you can say. You could call it incredible."

Brunstad's swim broke the age record held by Bertram Cliffort Batt (search) of Australia. Batt was 67 years, 241 days old when he made the journey in 1987.

Brunstad, a retired American Airlines pilot from Ridgefield, Conn., turned 70 on Wednesday. He has competed in several open water swims in the past, though his longest distance in competition before the channel was just 10 miles.

He said he did not want to cross the channel — one of the toughest courses in marathon swimming — just to break the record. He has used the swim as a vehicle to raise more than $11,000 to build an orphanage, medical center and schools for children in the Haitian city of Hinche (search).

That's why he said he never considered quitting.

"I was going to do this," he said while drying off. "Too many people were depending on me. Too many people were praying for me."

At home in the United States, his son kept in touch with friends and family through e-mails about the progress of the swim.

"I always thought if any 70-year-old person in the world could do it, it would be him," son Mark Brunstad said. "He's scientific about it. He trained for it right, and he's as ready to go as anyone."

Brunstad said he had good weather and manageable currents. To keep warm, he coated himself with a combination of lanolin and petroleum jelly.

"My muscles are feeling fine right now, but I'll let you know tomorrow," he said.

There was a chance Saturday for the record to be shattered by two men. Joe Van Horn (search), 68, a retired dentist from Canton, Ohio, was also hoping for the record, but had to stop swimming 8.5 miles into his effort because of leg cramps, said Andy King, captain of Van Horn's escort boat.