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Bay Area pilots fly on world's other side

Bay Area pilots fly on world's other side

Progress of record-seeking fliers remains mysterious as they head for New Delhi

By Sean Holstege
STAFF WRITER

Saturday, May 15, 2004 - On the second day of their odyssey, a trio of Bay Area pilots flew from a remote industrial outpost in Russia toward one of the world's most bustling metropolises.

They went from a cool 51-degree night rain to sweltering in 112-degree haze.

After 55 hours into their world-record attempt to take a Cessna around the globe, the "World Flight" team had left Bangkok bound for New Delhi.

The crew, comprised of Matt Brooks, the 52-year-old flight commander from San Francisco, pilot Fred Lohden, 62, of Oakland and San Ramon navigator Tim Weber, 32, are now expected to return to Teterboro, N.J., sometime Sunday.

A difficult first day left them unexpectedly in the Russian border town of Khabarovsk on Thursday evening, Pacific time. The industrial rail crossroads city of 700,000 was under a cool blanket of night when they left.

The trio flew to Osaka, Japan; Taipei, Taiwan; Macau and Bangkok on Friday, according to an online log tracking their progress. From there they were headed on a 1,582-mile jaunt to New Delhi, the world's seventh largest city, which has 18.5 million people.

Their twin-engine Cessna Citation was on the other side of the world, but it might well have been on the dark side of the moon. Communications all week have been spotty, but on Friday, news from crewmen, their families or their logistics team back in Houston ground to a near halt.

Nine hours after they were due to land in India, and five hours after the estimated arrival time at the next stop in Muscat, Oman, the online log had still not changed their position -- between Bangkok and New Delhi. The crew could still not be reached on incoming calls by satellite phone, and the logistics team could not be reached.

Still, Queenya Weber, wife of the San Ramon navigator, said in an e-mail Friday that her husband calls her from the satellite phone every 12 hours "just to say hi."

"The flight is going well, and all pilots are feeling good and positive about the rest of the journey," she wrote. "Yes, there have been delays, but all (were) interesting experiences they can't wait to tell family and friends when they get home."

If the men succeed, they will have flown 22,860 miles and spent $15,000 on fuel.

Progress of the flight can be tracked at www.ardenflight.com

Contact Sean Holstege at sholstege@angnewspapers.com