Steve Fossett has broken the world record for the longest uninterrupted flight – but a last minute electrical failure meant he had to make an emergency landing.
Virgin GlobalFlyer touched down in Bournemouth - better known for its many retirees and nursing homes - just after 1700 GMT on Saturday. He was forced to make the mayday call having covered 26,389.3 miles in 76 hours and 45 minutes.
The world's press were assembled at Kent International Airport at Manston, hoping to broadcast the adventurer's triumph live. After a medical check-up, Fossett was flown there to greet them in his own enigmatically monickered 'Citation X' private jet with sponsor and friend Richard Branson.
GlobalFlyer's on-board generator failed over Ireland, soon after Fossett had passed the existing marker of 24,987 miles, set in 1986 by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager. He realised he would not make it to Kent as he was beginning his 40,000ft descent. Having to land with near-zero visibility and bursting two tyres on landing, Fossett told reporters: "It was a difficult flight. I was lucky to make it to the end."
Earlier fuel worries were almost borne out too, with GlobalFlyer landing with just 200lbs of the more than 18,000lbs it began with. Branson joked: "We told him he had to land alive. If he didn't land alive he wouldn't get the record."
The record bid was beset with difficulties since take-off on Wednesday. Four percent of GlobalFlyer's fuel payload was vented during the ascent, and uncontrollable cabin temperatures caused a temporary instrument failure. Extreme turbulence over India almost caused him to bail out.
After days without sleep and a diet of nothing but milkshakes, Fossett quaffed champagne and told reporters he now plans to get some rest. It's thought that after inspection GlobalFlyer will find a final resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.®