Friday, January 19, 2007

Hempleman Adams-I had better eat humble pie

Nobody told me it was an Ax5

By Sue Ryan
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 14/01/2007

The British explorer David Hempleman-Adams has broken the world altitude
record in a hot air balloon.

Record-breaking hot air balloon
David Hempleman-Adams reached an altitude of 32,500ft

Mr Hempleman-Adams endured temperatures of minus 60C to fly his balloon to
32,500ft (6 .1 miles) – just above the cruising height of a jumbo jet – and
smash a record that had stood for more than 27 years.

An airline pilot flying below the 50-year-old adventurer radioed him to say:
"Only a mad Englishman would do that in an open basket."

It was his fourth attempt to break the record set by Carol Davis, an
American, who flew at 31,299ft in 1979.

Under aviation rules, altitude records have to exceeded by three per cent.
The sealed black box was taken away for ratification by an official
observer. The result is expected to be confirmed in the next four weeks.

The balloon, with the explorer in a 3ft by 4ft basket and wearing a
parachute, was launched from a sheltered site near Red Deer, Alberta, at
5.20pm British time on Friday. He landed just under two hours later at

At one point in the flight, his equipment started to freeze and the burner
went out. Despite wearing an oxygen mask, the explorer also suffered slight
hypoxia (dizziness through lack of oxygen).

The descent provided the greatest challenge. When Mr Hempleman-Adams reached
32,500ft, he discovered that he only had five per cent of his fuel left,
forcing him to descend at 1,500ft a minute.

"It was pretty hairy," he said yesterday. "Doing it at that speed made the
balloon very unstable and it was rotating and shaking the whole way down. It
was such a hard landing, I think I must be two inches shorter." It could,
however, have been far worse – he landed near the only lake and power cables
in the area but managed to miss both.

Graphic showing how high the balloon reached

Estimating the exact amount of fuel is crucial and has been blamed for the
failure of Mr Hempleman-Adams's three previous attempts. Too much and the
balloon is too heavy, too little and the flight has to be aborted.

His latest record has been the most hard-fought. It took three expeditions
to get to the North Pole, three to cross the Atlantic in a balloon and two
to take one particular route to the geomagnetic North Pole.

On the last, he did not even tell his wife, Claire. "So that's where Dad has
been," she told their three daughters when she heard about his achievement
while shopping.

"That one was extreme," he said. "I knew how tough it was, and I have never
sat down and talked about the risks with those close to me."

He was appointed Lieutenant of the Victorian Order in the latest New Year's
honours list for his work for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. He raised
£2 million, with £5 million more pledged over the next five years.

In 1998, he became the first man to do "the adventurers' grand slam" – the
highest mountain on each of seven continents plus the four geographic and
magnetic poles. He achieved his latest record in the AX-05 category of
hot-air balloons. The AX-05 group represents balloons with a capacity of
900-1,200 cubic metres of air.

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