Bonnie Rock kids have a ball(oon)

Dylan CapornCountryman
Jenne BrammerCountryman
Russian Fedor Konyukhov completes his hot air balloon record attempt- circumnavigating the globe in just 11 days.
Camera IconRussian Fedor Konyukhov completes his hot air balloon record attempt- circumnavigating the globe in just 11 days. Credit: Andrei Abrossimov

Despite setting a world record, Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov had just one thing on his mind after the event — sleep.

The Eastern Orthodox priest slept for most of the Sunday after landing his balloon at Bonnie Rock, after circling the globe in record time.

Project manager and Mr Konyukhov’s son Oscar said his father was tired after struggling to sleep in the last days of his record-breaking journey.

After 11 days and four hours in the air, Fedor claimed the world record, crossing the the WA coast just before noon on Saturday, July 23, beating the late Steve Fossett’s previous time of 13 days, eight hours, landing in one of farmer Justin Bowron’s paddocks.

Mr Bowron said he had no idea the balloon would land on his farm and was away working on another of his nearby properties at the time.

He was alerted to the landing after receiving calls from locals telling him the balloon was headed towards his and wife Christine’s property, so he bolted home.

“A lot of the locals saw it coming in and the phone started ringing. I didn’t get there until 25 minutes after the balloon had landed. It was certainly eventful,” he said.

Mr Bowron said there were about 50-100 people, including media and plenty of excited children in the paddock by the time he made it back to his property.

He said the balloon landed in a grass paddock, which was fortunately empty of livestock at the time. It was a pleasure to meet Fedor, he said.

After the crowds had died down, Mr Bowron was asked by the organisers to keep an eye on the capsule, relieving him of his duty later that evening.

While driving to Bonnie Rock from the flight control centre in Northam, Oscar watched on terrified as his father’s balloon descended into Mr Bowron’s farm that Saturday.

Despite Fedor’s world record attempt garnering international attention, Oscar said he thought there would be few people to see the balloon land.

“When he was descending, which was over an open field with no one there — we are 200km away from Northam — I thought it was just us and the helicopters,” Oscar said.

“It was a big surprise, all of a sudden, over the hills, bushes and forests, there was people running towards the balloon.”

Oscar looked on worried as the balloon gondola containing Fedor bounced across the ground, and he admits he did not know whether his father could survive the rough landing.

“It was very, very stressful when I could see him approaching and at a high speed,” he said.

“The biggest worry at that stage was if he was OK, if he was alive because of this shaking and rolling and banging.

“There was no sign of him coming out. We could not open the hatch because the handles are inside. This was a very worrying moment.”

Oscar paid tribute to the crowd and the support team for making the goal possible.

“The crowd helped us a lot to deflate the balloon, slow down the gondola and help Fedor out,” he said.

“Dick Smith and (support team member) John Wallington helped to slow down the balloon. They were the first people to grab him out of the gondola and move him away.”

Oscar said he was certain both the experience and the record would be remembered for many years to come.

“I think the kids on the ground will remember this moment for many years. They were very lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

But while the landing was good, Mr Wallington was impressed by the descent, where Fedor came within 250m of the launch site, something he said was “unbelievably extraordinary”.

“That will go down in the history books forever. In a way, it’s more extraordinary than the other parts of the flight, except for perhaps the endurance aspects,” he said.

For the six weeks prior, Frank and Carol Leeder had a front row seat to Fedor’s world record attempt.

The couple, who live next door to the flight control centre, found themselves chatting to them before and during the flight.

Oscar said Northam had been very welcoming.

“It’s a beautiful, lovely town,” he said. “People have been very supportive here.”

Carol said she was pleased to hear Northam had been welcoming for the crew.

“It’s just what you do,” she said.

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