My Friend, Steve Fossett

Insatiably curious, Steve Fossett soared to new heights and took us along for the ride

Jeff Cooper / Salina Journal / AP

Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson and pilot Steve Fossett.

I first met Steve Fossett on a freezing January evening at the Busch stadium in St. Louis, Mo., in 1997. He was about to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the world by balloon, and although we were rivals, I decided to see him off in the spirit of sportsmanship that still inhabits the world of record-breaking. As I neared his balloon, a TV crew approached, and I found myself being filmed chatting with a man I thought was on his team. I said one had to be a bit mad to test oneself in this way. The quiet American in front...

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