Record-breaking Pacific balloon flight nears touchdown

Pilots Troy Bradley (left) of the US and Leonid Tiukhtayev of Russia sit in the capsule of the Two Eagles balloon before their departure on Jan 25, 2015. The pair completed a world record-breaking trans-Pacific flight on Saturday after splashing down
Pilots Troy Bradley (left) of the US and Leonid Tiukhtayev of Russia sit in the capsule of the Two Eagles balloon before their departure on Jan 25, 2015. The pair completed a world record-breaking trans-Pacific flight on Saturday after splashing down safely off the coast of Mexico, organisers of the epic voyage said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Two balloonists drifted closer to touchdown in Mexico's Baja California region on Friday after laying claim to two world records in an epic trans-Pacific flight that began in Japan.

Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev passed the 8,467km mark of their journey aboard Two Eagles on Thursday, surpassing the record for the longest distance covered in a gas-filled balloon.

Then on Friday, they bested the previous duration record of 137 hours, five minutes and 50 seconds for time aloft in a ballon, as they looked forward to touchdown sometime Saturday.

"So far the mission is going wonderfully. We have excellent conditions," said Bradley in a satellite telephone conversation posted on the expedition's www.pacificballon.com website.

Filled with 10,000 cubic meters of helium, and capable of staying aloft for 10 days, Two Eagles departed Saturday from Saga, southern Japan, and sailed over Tokyo at night before heading out across the wide Pacific.

Bradley, 50, an American, and Tiukhtyaev, 58, from Russia, had planned to land in the vicinity of the Canada-US border, but set course for Baja California instead to avoid a ridge of high pressure off the US west coast.

The duo are the first to attempt a trans-Pacific balloon crossing since 1981.

The record for the longest distance ever travelled in a balloon was set in 1981 by Double Eagle V, the first gas-filled balloon to cross the Pacific Ocean from Nagashima, Japan to northwestern California.

The duration record was established three years earlier when Double Eagle II became the first balloon to traverse the Atlantic, from the northeastern US state of Maine to a farmer's field outside Paris.

Two Eagles was named in honour of those two craft.

The unpressurized, 100kg Kevlar and carbon-fibre capsule in which Bradley and Tiukhtyaev are riding is described by the expedition as smaller than a king-sized bed, with freeze-dried food sharing space with state-of-the-art electronics.

Some 4,500kg of sand in 287 colour-coded bags hung outside the capsule as ballast at lift-off, enabling the pilots to vary their altitude between 3,600m and 9,000m.