As the crew of Double Eagle V crossed the Californian coast at 9pm on 12 November 1981 they had already been in the air for 82 hours since leaving Nagashima in Japan at 3am.
The picture shows them at 15,000ft floating past Mt. Fuji hoping for 26,000ft – an altitude that they failed to reach. Once east of Japan at 19,000ft they accumulated ice on top of the balloon which plagued them throughout the flight, the extra weight dictating altitudes which resulted in average speeds of 68mph.
They were not always able to follow their meteorologist’s advice because of ballast limitations but they did reach 17,000ft east of Hawaii and 100mph. At 2am on November 12 they crossed the international date line and thus turned the calendar back one day.
A long period of nearly level flight conserved precious ballast, indicating the ice had not punctured the enormous polyethylene balloon 4.5 millionths of an inch thick, but speed a disappointing 43 mph.
Ben Abruzzo was captain and Larry Newman co-captain and radio navigator – both veterans of the first balloon across the Atlantic in 1978 . Ron Clark and Rocky Aoki were the other two pilots. They spent four days and five nights in their capsule and survived on an austere but nourishing diet of oranges, energy bars, dried beef and peanut butter sandwiches. Half way through the flight chef Rocky treated them to a sumptuous feast of fresh beef, noodles and vegetable cooked on the little propane stove.
The first approach to land in torrential rain took them towards houses so they dropped all the ballast within reach and climbed back into cloud. The next descent ended with a ‘massive jolt’ on a shrub-covered hillside and Abruzzo fired the explosive bolts to jettison the balloon. They were down after 5,768 miles – a new world’s distance record.