Yost's diet during the voyage consisted mainly of canned food and fruit juice. He heated water for coffee only once before the stoves went over the side to decrease ballast. "We made a bad mistake when we brought the balloon from South Dakota to Maine," he says. "We put a bunch of mothballs in the balloon box to keep the mice out. Then we put my plastic water bottles on top of the balloon and closed the box. The water tasted like mothballs all the way across. I didn't drink much water."
As the Silver Fox was driven inexorably to the south, it became clear that Yost would eventually have to abandon the flight. He finally ditched at about 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 10. "We decided on Saturday afternoon that we'd land the next morning at about 9 a.m. so that the ships would have a full day of light in which to pick me up."
Search aircraft found him at about 8 a.m. Sunday and were able to follow him down even though there was rain. After putting out a 700-foot nylon drag line weighing 100 pounds to hold the balloon relatively stationary, Yost went about converting the gondola to a boat by installing rudders and checking to see that everything was seaworthy. Then he valved the balloon down close to the water. "When I was about four feet off," Yost says, "I pulled the rip panel partially so the balloon would start losing helium and wouldn't be floating off by itself, a derelict." After Yost disconnected the balloon from the gondola, he watched it rise to about 5,000 feet before slowly coming down into the ocean. But despite Yost's precautions, the balloon could not be recovered. Three hours later, as Yost was on the bridge of the Elisabeth Bolten radioing news of his rescue, the balloon sank. "That was a real loss," he says. "We spent a lot of time and hard work building it, and we probably won't have the patience to build another one."
Still, Yost claims to be satisfied with his flight. "We set out in the beginning to use modern equipment and modern techniques and fabrics to build a balloon that would stay in the air longer than these people who've been going out for about 10 hours, some of them not even getting beyond sight of shore. It would have been nice to have made land, but what the heck, we were prepared for water and that's where we ended up."
Yet there were some cracks in Yost's wall of satisfaction. He was visibly annoyed with the quality of the weather forecasting he received, some of it contradictory. In unguarded moments, he admitted frustration at being balked by winds at the altitudes he had to maintain during the day while watching the clouds below him moving in the direction he wanted to go.
The annoyance is understandable. World records are fine, but they do not capture the public imagination the way an Atlantic crossing would. Nevertheless, Ed Yost, a throwback to the days when rugged individuals tried to conquer time, mountains and geography just because they were a challenge, can take consolation in small things. On a visit to the gondola the day after landing, a Gibraltar customs agent greeted him, quite sincerely and simply, by asking: "Are you the hero?"