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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 20:07 GMT


Pilots dive to safety from balloon
image: [ Everyone out - Global Hilton abandoned ]
Everyone out - Global Hilton abandoned

Pilots of the Global Hilton hot air balloon have parachuted to safety after a technical problem dashed their plans for the first round-the-world non-stop flight.

David Rutan could see the humour in failing (13")
The two pilots, Dick Rutan, 59, and Dave Melton, 39, free-fell before opening their parachutes and landing in good condition about 100 miles (161 kilometers) away from the take-off site at Albequerque, New Mexico.

A helium cell in the top of the silver balloon ruptured at an altitude of about 9,000 meters (30,000 feet).

[ image: The Global Hilton hot-air ballon]
The Global Hilton hot-air ballon
The $1m (£613,000) attempt at one of aviation's last frontiers was the third by a balloon team since December 31. Two balloonists in Switzerland also plan to launch soon.

Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett, whose fourth round-the-world bid ended on Monday on the edge of the Black Sea, has speculated that a successful trip might need a pressurized capsule. His balloon, Solo Spirit, did not have one.

Mr Fossett had hoped to break his own record of travelling 10,361 miles (16,675 kilometers) in a balloon, or his record for longest flight - six days and two-and-a-half hours.

[ image: Solo Spirit's gondola]
Solo Spirit's gondola
Those records were set in January 1997 when he was forced to land in a mustard field in India after running out of fuel.

British tycoon Richard Branson's attempt was foiled when his Virgin Global Explorer was ripped free by a strong gust of wind.

Another balloonist, Kevin Uliassi, left Loves Park, Illinois, on New Year's Eve but an equipment problem forced him to land a few hours later in Indiana.

Anheuser-Busch is offering $500,000 (£307,000) to the first person or team to circle the globe in a balloon, along with $500,000 to the charity of the winner's choice. The deadline is December 31, 1999.

The race has heated up because January jet streams provide an ideal time to fly.

[ image: David Rutan: safe and good spirits]
David Rutan: safe and good spirits
But come February, thunderstorms build and weather conditions become less favourable, said Mr Rutan, a former Air Force pilot from Mojave, California, who helped fly the experimental plane Voyager around the world non-stop 11 years ago.

The Voyager now hangs in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

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