Troy Bradley might have been exhausted and a bit dehydrated, but the words printed on his T-shirt said it all: "Failure is not an option." The accomplished pilot and co-pilot Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia flew farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific Ocean, which ended just after sunrise yesterday when they touched down in the water a few miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja California, about 300 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. 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. Hundreds of miles away at mission control in Albuquerque, cheers erupted and the cork was popped on a bottle of champagne once the pilots had been picked up by a fishing boat.
"I can say on behalf of the entire mission control center, that we are all very excited and relieved," mission control director Steve Shope said. Bradley and Tiukhtyaev lifted off from Japan last Sunday. By Friday, they beat the 137-hour record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew in the first balloon flight across the Atlantic. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 5,209 miles set by the Double Eagle V team during the first trans-Pacific flight in 1981. By the time they landed, the Two Eagle pilots had traveled 6,646 miles over six days, 16 hours, and 38 minutes. "These are significant improvements over the existing records," Shope said. "We didn't break them by just a little bit." Bradley had been planning the trans-Pacific flight for 15 years. "For Troy, it's a personal thing to do something better than anyone else in the world has done it before and to push himself," said his wife, Tami Bradley. (Read more hot air balloon stories.)