Fossett Reaches West Coast of North America

Adventurer Steve Fossett reached the western coast of North America in a lightweight experimental airplane Friday as he entered Day 3 of his quest to break aviation's distance record.

Mexico's Baja Peninsula was his first sighting of land since starting his overnight trek across the Pacific.

{Fossett's Web site lets users track his progress.]

Fossett reached Japan — the midway mark of his expected 3½-day trip — late Thursday. He faced severe turbulence over India and has suffered other problems.

"It was so severe that at one stage Steve had put on his parachute because he was convinced the plane was falling apart," said Jackie McQuillan, a spokeswoman for Fossett's team.

Before takeoff, the spindly plane had more than 18,000 pounds of fuel — enough that he should have had 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds of fuel left at the end of the 80-hour trip.

But Fossett lost 750 pounds to a fuel leak during takeoff Wednesday, leaving little margin for error. Mission managers also worried about weak winds over the Atlantic during the last leg of the trip.

His goal is a nearly 27,000-mile trip — once around the world and then across the Atlantic again — with a landing Saturday outside London.

The voyage would break the airplane distance record of 24,987 miles set in 1986 by the lightweight Voyager aircraft piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager, as well as the balloon record of 25,361 miles set by Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard in 1999.

Fossett's team could not pinpoint the cause of the leak. Fuel leaks had delayed his takeoff and plagued Fossett's successful flight last year when he became the first person to fly solo, nonstop around the world without refueling.

The plane's ventilation system also was malfunctioning, causing the temperatures to rise to as much as 130 degrees. Fossett had to drink a large part of his water supply earlier than planned because of the heat, the team said.

Fossett's plane, the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, is made of carbon fiber and has a super fuel-efficient turbofan jet engine with a very high thrust-to-weight ratio.