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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Mission Control Braces for Completion of Balloon Flight

Aired July 2, 2002 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: After six tries, millionaire Steve Fossett is making history, or about to make history in the Spirit of Freedom. Fossett was hoping to end his trip right where it began in Australia, but winds have pushed him a little bit off course.

CNN's Jeff Flock is at Fossett's mission control center in St. Louis -- Jeff, will he make it?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think so, Paula. I tell you what, I would like to have a hot air balloon right now, maybe we can get up a little higher than where we are right now, maybe you could see us a little bit better. But perhaps you can see the crush, this is a pretty good indication that they are very close, although it does appear that it is going to be a little later than we first thought, maybe -- we thought 8:30 local time, that's 9:30 Eastern. Now it looks more like maybe 9:40 or so.

Perhaps you see the guys down there. I don't know if you are able to see, but Kevin Stass, who is the -- an employee of Richard Branson who works now with Steve Fossett, who was working air traffic control.

They're looking where he is going to cross the line and, of course, when he crosses the line, it is kind of an imaginary line out there, the 117th parallel, and so there's no printed finish line on the ocean there. So that -- it will be a little bit anticlimactic, perhaps, but the other guy -- the other thing they have got to worry about here is that they also got to get him down safely, so I don't think you are going to see big celebrations with champagne corks popping, but clearly, they're pretty happy about what they've achieved thus far.

You know, I was just looking in the last hour at what Steve Fossett has already accomplished, which is five solo around the world attempts, the longest solo flight already, the longest duration already. The first balloon crossings of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America. He is really no stranger to achievement with a balloon, but this is the one that really took the time.

As we said, five earlier attempts, all of them, you know, disappointing, and I don't know, Bill (ph), if you're able to see, I don't know if you can see Bert Padelt, he is the guy with the blonde -- with the bald head. I don't know if you are able to see him. He has been on with Steve, and I'm not sure who he is talking to there right now, but he was the last to communicate with Steve. And he said that Steve Fossett very, very tired.

You know, went through some weather overnight. It's been 12 days, almost 13 days. You know, it's been a real tough go of it for him, and there's going to be some rush, once he finally gets across the line. But Bert told me that what he would do as soon as he got across is that he was planning to go to bed. That's was going to be his way of celebrating because he has got several more hours before he gets to touchdown.

You know, he breaks the record and then completes the circumnavigation, but then he has to get to safe ground. He is nowhere near ground right now. He has to got to get farther to the north, somewhere in Australia. And at this hour, Paula, we don't know where he is going to end up, and he might not come down until later this evening.

That is the latest from here. We are keeping an eye on it. Back to you.

ZAHN: It is uncomprehensible to even imagine the level of fatigue this guy feels, particularly after battling all those winds over the Indian Ocean. I mean, how worn out is he at this juncture?

FLOCK: Well, he is very worn out, because he is only getting, you know, cat naps, and -- 12 days, you can imagine. None of us do great without sleep, but that's one problem. And, of course, he's breathing oxygen when he is up high. He is not eating particularly well. Bathroom facilities are not the plushest in the world.

This is a really tough thing, and as Richard Branson told us, Steve Fossett may be the only guy who could have accomplished this. Five tries and what it takes in terms of human discomfort. He's just tenacious, which is amazing for guy who has made millions and is a millionaire futures trader in Chicago. So, he's really done something here, or almost done something here -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, we are going to come back to you when he crosses that magic line, once again acknowledging that that will happen well in advance, of course, of his landing somewhere. We don't know where that is going to happen, so Jeff, we will come back to you when you get the magic word he has indeed made history here -- thanks, Jeff, appreciate it.

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