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Around the world, solo and sleepless

Chicago, March 4: Exhausted and struggling to stay awake after 67 hours in his cockpit, the American adventurer Steve Fossett touched down in Kansas yesterday to become the first person to fly solo non-stop around the world.

Fossett, 60, landed at Salina airport less than three days after taking off from the same airstrip in his fuel-laden experimental plane, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer.

Thousands of people lined the runway under bright blue skies and cheered as Fossett returned after a flight which lasted 67 hours, two minutes and 13 seconds, according to the official time released by his mission control.

Emerging from his cramped cockpit, Fossett was hugged by his sponsor, Sir Richard Branson, on the tarmac. He said he felt like 'a really lucky guy'.

'I got to achieve my ambition,' Fossett added. 'It was a major ambition.' Asked how he felt, the millionaire aviator said: 'Better than I have in the last couple of days. I'm energised by the reception. Right now I'm not sleepy.

'What a day. It's something I wanted to do for a long time. I was in control and able to make decisions. I didn't make any major errors.' He added: 'Somehow, I think I'll sleep tonight.'

The 23,000-mile journey was not without its moments of drama. The attempt was seemingly in peril on Wednesday when organisers announced that the jet ' which had not been tested with full tanks before it took off from Kansas on Monday ' had 'lost' 2,600 pounds of fuel shortly after take-off and might have to land in Hawaii.

However, Fossett decided to keep going and, if necessary, glide for the last stretch of the journey.

His mission control has failed to explain the fuel discrepancy. It is unclear whether the plane was filled incorrectly before taking off, or if it burnt off too much fuel in the early stages of the flight.

Organisers said strong tail winds had allowed Fossett to conserve fuel. The flight has been part-sponsored by Sir Richard, who followed the jet in a chase plane for the final leg of its journey.

Fossett, a former stock market trader, was only able to sleep for only three minutes at a time throughout the trip and had to survive on water and milk shakes. The main problem was keeping him hydrated, said organisers.

The pilot said he had begun to feel very tired but had 'really perked up' when he realised how close he was to finishing. Fossett already holds the record for flying solo around the globe in a balloon.

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