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Tuesday, December 9, 1997 Published at 18:02 GMT


Branson aims to try again
image: [ The remains of Virgin Challenger's world record bid ]
The remains of Virgin Challenger's world record bid

Richard Branson's round-the-world balloon attempt has been scuppered by a freak accident.

His state-of-the-art balloon broke free from its moorings as the crew capsule was being attached in Marrakesh, Morocco.

It was caught by a gust of wind coming off the Atlas mountains and soared at least 1,000 foot into the air as members of the Virgin Global Challenger II team watched helplessly.

The Moroccan Army has been chasing the runaway balloon. It was spotted in the Atlas Mountains but the soldiers were unable to catch it.

Speaking after the balloon floated away, Mr Branson said they would be attempting the record again as soon as possible if the craft could be found.

"We are looking for it now with helicopters so all is not lost," he said.

"When I first heard the news I thought it was all over, but I think we will live to fight another day if not this year then definitely next year.

"I was doing my final packing when I got a call to say it had gone. Obviously I was gutted. It brought a tear to my eye."

[ image: Looking forward to another attempt]
Looking forward to another attempt
The accident happened five hours before Mr Branson, Alex Ritchie and Per Lindstrand, were to have taken off on the latest record breaking attempt.

A dazed Richard Branson, dressed in a green flying suit, looked dismayed and distressed as he walked away from the launch site at the military air base accompanied by his daughter Holly, 16, and 12-year-old son Sam.

In January, a successful launch from the same area was followed within a few hours by a forced landing in the Algerian desert.

As he prepared for the mammoth trip, expected to take anything up to 20 days, Branson said he did not feel at all nervous.

The balloon journey would have taken the three men over Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, southern China, over Japan, across America and either on to Britain or back to Morocco.

The balloon would have travelled in jetstreams at around 24,000 feet, reaching speeds of up 250mph.

Richard Branson explains what happened

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