Md. man ends attempt to fly around world over the poles

Pilot points to weather and mechanical problems

February 20, 2004|By Elizabeth L. Piccirillo | Elizabeth L. Piccirillo,SUN STAFF

A Maryland pilot who hoped to become the first to circumnavigate the globe by flying over both poles in a single-engine aircraft abandoned the effort yesterday and began his return home.

Gus McLeod, 49, of Laytonsville, said by satellite phone yesterday that severely cold weather and a series of mechanical difficulties made reaching Antarctica impossible.

The amateur aviator, who started his flight from College Park on Dec. 29, said he encountered trouble early on, when his plane's electrical system malfunctioned over Cuba, forcing him to return to Florida for repairs. He resumed the flight in his Korean-designed plane, named "Firefly," on Jan. 23, he said.

A few days later, en route to Peru, he was ordered by radio to land in Ecuador and face a tribunal on the suspicion he might be part of a military operation, he said. After he cleared that up, McLeod pressed on, but encountered fuel and power problems before reaching Antarctica.

While flying across Drake's Passage, a dangerous body of water between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, extreme crosswinds and sea swells prevented any opportunity for a rescue should an emergency occur, he said. Also, icy conditions presented a danger to the aircraft.

McLeod said that when he increased his altitude to 10,000 feet to avoid the ice, his plane suffered a loss of power and descended 7,000 feet before he could regain control.

McLeod, who took off yesterday from Ushuaia, Argentina, on his way home, said he is not shaken and plans a second try at circumnavigation this year, traveling first over the North Pole.

Even as he headed home yesterday, McLeod's airborne drama continued. "I'm flying over God knows where," he said as he attempted to determine his position. He said he believed he was about 300 miles south of Buenos Aires.

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