January 31, 2015 / 5:51 PM / 5 years ago

Gas-filled balloon completes record-breaking Pacific flight

Bert Padelt (foreground) prepares the Two Eagles capsule for launch in Saga in this handout picture, received by Reuters on January 28, 2015, courtesy of Al Nels of the Two Eagles Balloon Team. REUTERS/Al Nels/Two Eagles Balloon Team/Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) - A gas-filled balloon co-piloted by an American and a Russian touched down safely in the waters off Mexico on Saturday, completing a week-long trans-Pacific flight that unofficially broke two world records, a spokeswoman said.

The balloon carrying Troy Bradley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his Russian co-pilot Leonid Tiukhtyaev landed near La Poza Grande in the Mexican State of Baja California Sur at 7:01 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (0800 ET) after a flight that lasted six days, 16 hours and 37 minutes.

Bradley and Tiukhtyaev, known as the Two Eagles, left Saga in southern Japan on January 25 in their attempt to surpass the world distance record for flying a gas-filled balloon, as well as the record for time in flight. Both records need to be certified before becoming official.

“The pilots made a controlled descent to a gentle water landing about four miles off the Baja coast,” said Kim Vesely, a spokeswoman for the ballooning mission. “The balloon is stable and still inflated and the pilots are fine.”

During the balloon’s descent, winds turned parallel to the coast, making it more prudent for the pilots to execute a landing in the water, she said.

Mexico’s Coast Guard is en route to the balloon and was expected to tow the capsule to shore.

“We would note that a water landing is acceptable under the international rules governing the establishment of world records,” Vesely said. “Two around-the-world attempts using a different type of balloon landed in the water and were approved as records.”

The flight surpassed the distance record of 5,209 miles (8,383 km) for gas balloons set on the only previous manned trans-Pacific flight, in 1981. It also topped the flight duration record of 137 hours aloft set in 1978 by a team crossing the Atlantic.

Two organizations, the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, need to certify the records, a process that can take months, the spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Joseph J. Kolb in Albuquerque; Editing by Frank McGurty

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