ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — 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 Albuquerque pilot had set his sights long ago on flying farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone in history. He and co-pilot Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia staked their claim to those records during a nearly seven-day trip across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon.
Their adventure ended just after sunrise Saturday when they touched down in the water a few miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja California, and about 300 miles north of the popular beach destination 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. The team declared success once they knew the pilots had been picked up by a fishing boat. Mexican authorities helped to secure the balloon and capsule along with all the equipment aboard that was used to document the historic flight.
"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 what's considered the "holy grail" of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew of Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman 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. They were broken by a significant amount."
The world tracked the progress of the flight online and through social media sites. Still, the official distance and time must be confirmed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, a process that could take weeks or months.
"There will be no disputing whatsoever that they connected the dots," said Sam Parks, president of the Southwestern region of the Balloon Federation of America. He pointed to the tracking systems that were used and the witnesses who watched the launch and the landing.
"We are so proud of what Troy and Leonid have done. They have certainly set the bar high for all of us," Parks said.
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.
He already holds numerous ballooning records, and his list of heroes includes none other than Abruzzo and Anderson.
"For Troy, it's also his way of paying homage to those who came before him by attempting to go after their records," his wife said.
Tiukhtyaev was up for the challenge. He holds his own records and has participated in many long-distance gas balloon races in the United States and Europe.
Tiukhtyaev said he and Bradley sent out an SOS after landing Saturday and the fishing boat picked them up. They were both dehydrated, he said.
The pilots were said to be in good spirits at various times during the trip, but it was a grueling ordeal given the number of days they spent in the cramped capsule. At high altitudes, they had to wear oxygen masks and bundle up against chilly temperatures. They had sleeping bags, a small onboard heater and a simple toilet.
Family members joked Saturday that the pilots were unshaven and in need of showers.
The original route took the pilots on a path from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean and toward the Pacific Northwest before they encountered a wall of high pressure. They then made a sweeping right turn and headed south along the California coast for the Mexico landing.
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