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Balloon rises high in altitude record try

A British balloonist says he reached an altitude of 42,000 feet (12,800 meters) in what would be a world record for a gas and hot-air balloon.
David Hempleman-Adams looks over the notes in his log book, leaning on his wicker basket just after landing the Mears Explorer balloon in the background near Akron, Colo., on Tuesday.Rick Wilking / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A British balloonist soared into the Colorado sky Tuesday in an open wicker basket, saying he reached 42,000 feet — nearly 8 miles, or 13 kilometers — in what would be a world record for a gas and hot air balloon.

David Hempleman-Adams took off from Greeley and landed about 3½ hours later in a farmer’s field near Akron, 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Denver on the Colorado plains.

The current altitude record for gas and hot-air balloons is 38,507 feet (11,737 meters), set in 1999 by the Breitling Orbiter crew in a pressurized cabin.

Hempleman-Adams, 47, was in an open basket, breathing through an oxygen mask and bundled up against temperatures he said reached minus-75 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius).

Verifying the new record could take several months, since equipment measuring the air pressure must now be shipped to Europe and tested. The equipment was sealed before the flight.

Hempleman-Adams said he had intended to try only for the 34,741-foot (10,589-meter) record for his size of gas and hot air balloon, as measured by volume.

“I just decided to go for it,” he said by telephone after landing. “We didn’t know if it was possible with this size (balloon), but everything worked very well.”

The record for all manned balloon flights was set in 1961 with a gas balloon that ascended to 113,740 feet (34,668 meters), said Art Greenfield, director of contests and records for the National Aeronautic Association.

Last September, Hempleman-Adams became the first person to cross the Atlantic solo in an open wicker basket balloon. Tuesday, he used the same balloon he flew during that 86-hour trip, but it had been completely rebuilt to make it lighter.

He said he would also like to fly over Antarctica and perhaps Mount Everest, but said he did not know what he would try next. “We’re going to go for beer later on, and that’s where most trips are discussed, over a pint of beer,” he said.