Mexico-bound balloon crew breaks distance record

By Susan Montoya Bryan ,AP

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Two pilots in a helium-filled balloon on a record-setting journey across the Pacific Ocean entered the final leg of their trip Friday as they traveled along the California coast for an expected landing somewhere in Mexico. The pilots made history Thursday, first matching and then surpassing the 5,209-mile (8,383-kilometer) official world distance record for human flight in a gas balloon. Their next milestone is a 1978 duration record of 137 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds in the air in a traditional gas balloon – a mark that’s considered the ��holy grail�� of ballooning achievements. The Two Eagles team expected to surpass that Friday morning. They hope to land Saturday somewhere on the peninsula of Baja California, where volunteer chase crews were being organized to help with the landing. The balloon team originally planned to cross into North America in Canada but shifted the plans because of changing weather. They are now catching a wind pattern that will take them south toward Mexico. The balloon was about 400 miles northwest of San Francisco when it hit the distance mark. Everyone inside the control room had their smartphones pointed at the screen to document the moment. ��There it is! There it is!�� shouted team members at the flight’s mission control in Albuquerque as a giant screen showed the helium-filled Two Eagles balloon passing the record set by the Double Eagle V in 1981. In a matter of hours, they hit another milestone in similar fashion when they reached the 5,260-mile mark. That’s the distance �X 1 percent more than the current record �X they needed to meet in their quest to establish a record under international aviation rules. The distance still has to be confirmed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, a process that can take weeks.