Heading for an expected Saturday-morning landing in Baja, Mexico, two balloonists crossing the Pacific have made history by traveling farther and longer in a gas balloon than anyone else.
The pilots of the helium-filled Two Eagles — American Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev, of Moscow — eclipsed the distance record of more than 5,209 miles Thursday afternoon and the duration mark of more than 137 hours Friday morning, according to the site tracking the voyage.
The old distance record was set in 1981 by the Double Eagle V on the only other trans-Pacific balloon crossing. The previous duration record came with the historic 1978 trans-Atlantic crossing by the Double Eagle II.
The Two Eagles site takes care to note that the records remain unofficial until validated by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and the international air-sport governing body.
At 6 p.m. PT Friday, the balloon was moving south off Baja California at 17,200 feet, traveling at 45 mph. Touchdown is estimated for 8 a.m. PT Saturday (9 a.m. MT), according to a tweet from Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who was heading to the projected site.
When their historic voyage ends -- likely on a beach along the southern end of the peninsula -- Bradley, 50, and Tiukhtyaev, 58, will have traveled more than 6,800 miles since taking off Sunday from Saga, Japan.
The balloonists plan a little show for the cameras on their approach. They'll skim the ocean surface, trailing thick ropes to slow them down, then rise and land among the dunes — what's known in ballooning parlance as "splash and dash." A chase team was headed to the projected landing site Friday to record the arrival and help secure the balloon.
The south-of-of the border finale is far from the original flight plan and landing spot, however.
The Two Eagles, which measures 140 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, had expected to take a northern route into British Columbia, crossing the Canadian Rockies and then dropping down into the United States, perhaps landing somewhere in the eastern U.S.
But late Wednesday and early Thursday, the crew hit the ridge of high pressure ridge that has brought California its driest January on record. To dodge it and maintain their northern track, Bradley and Tiukhtyaev would have had to ascend to more than 30,000 feet, an altitude deemed too dangerous.