British balloonist to cross Atlantic in open basket
LONDON: A British explorer announced on Tuesday an attempt to recapture the golden age of balloonists by crossing the Atlantic solo in an open wicker-basket balloon.
David Hempleman-Adams, who became the first person to fly a balloon over the North Pole two years ago, will attempt the world distance record for flying a hybrid Roziere balloon, which is powered by a combination of helium and hot air.
“I wanted to get back to the old Jules Verne romance of travel,” Hempleman-Adams told Reuters, referring to the legendary 19th-century French author of “Around the World in Eighty Days” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.
Once over the Atlantic, the balloonist will have to cope with sleep deprivation, high altitude, and temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) during the trip, which is expected to take about a week.
Hempleman-Adams, who at the age of 45 has already climbed the highest mountains on all the Continents and has walked to both Poles, admits he is terrified.
Total fear: “There’s total fear to start with because you are completely at the mercy of the winds. If you’re walking on an ice pack to the North Pole or if you’re climbing it’s very slow, you’re going at your own speed,” he said.
“As soon as you take off in a balloon you simply just do not know how long that flight’s going to be, you don’t know what weather you’re going to get and it’s just a complete, total unknown,” he added.
Hempleman-Adams will launch from Pittsburgh in the United States between September 16 and October 15, and plans to fly over land for two days in an attempt to discover any problems before he finds himself separated from the Atlantic Ocean by nothing more than a basket.
“There’s always danger and we look at it very, very carefully to minimise the risks. We’ve all got loved ones at home,” said the explorer, who has a young family. “Every single scenario, we look at everything that could go wrong -- oxygen, fire, ditching.
“However, if I ditch in mid-Atlantic in September in a wicker basket and I’m floating around in a dinghy I’m not going to enjoy that,” he admitted.
Team effort: Hempleman-Adams attributes many of his past successes to the rest of his team, in particular Belgian meteorologist Luc Trullemans, who guided him through his North Pole feat and will be working with him again on this trip.
The support team in Bath, western England will monitor the balloon’s progress constantly, even while the explorer takes cat-naps dressed in full immersion suit with a dinghy strapped to his back.
“After the second day of sleep deprivation you start to make mistakes and you want to argue with the team -- that’s why you need really good support from guys you respect,” he said.
“I’m just the monkey in the basket. They’re the real brains,” he added. Hempleman-Adams admits to being a relative novice at ballooning -- he first set foot in a hot-air balloon just four years ago.
But the veteran explorer is keen to break the distance record for his class of balloon, held by the United States for 10 years, and never done solo.
The hybrid principle of Roziere balloons was devised by Frenchman Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and used in an attempt to cross the English Channel in 1785.