Two pilots who completed a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon returned to New Mexico on Sunday to the sounds of mariachi music and an enthusiastic welcome.
A large crowd greeted Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia after they finished the historic journey on Saturday. Bradley had been planning the trans-Pacific flight for 15 years, and his wife said he was driven by the goal of doing something better than anyone else in the world.
“Our flight was absolutely amazing,” Bradley told reporters and supporters.
Bradley had wanted to fly farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history. He and Tiukhtyaev staked their claim to those records during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific Ocean.
Their adventure ended just after sunrise on Saturday when they touched down in the water off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Initial plans called for a picture-perfect landing on the beach, but winds pushing parallel to the coast forced the pilots to drop their trailing ropes into the ocean to help slow the balloon for a controlled water landing.
“That was the hardest part of the trip,” Bradley said.
Mexican authorities helped to secure the balloon and capsule.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev lifted off from Japan on Jan. 25. By Friday last week, they had beaten what is considered the pinnacle of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 during the first balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 8,380km set during the first trans-Pacific flight in 1981.
By the time they landed, the pilots had traveled 10,695km over six days, 16 hours and 38 minutes.
Asked if he and Bradley were still friends after such a long trip, Tiukhtyaev said no.
“We stayed brothers,” said Tiukhtyaev, who holds his own records and has participated in many long-distance gas balloon races in the US and Europe.
Growing up in the former Soviet Union, Tiukhtyaev said he never thought about breaking the record with a US pilot.
“But I’ve always dreamed about it since I was a child,” he said in Russian.
The original route took the pilots on a path from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean and toward the Pacific Northwest before they encountered a wall of high pressure. They then made a right turn and headed south along the California coast for the Mexico landing.
“We enjoy great views,” Bradley said. “We took some great photos.”
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