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Monday, 29 March, 1999, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Balloonists soar into history
Balloon, BBC
The pilots of the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon have crossed into Africa and a place in history.

A cheer went up at Breitling mission control in Geneva as the two-man crew crossed the finish line over northern Mauritania shortly before 1000 GMT on Saturday.

Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and British co-pilot Brian Jones are said to be in a state of nervous exhaustion after their 20-day 26,600-mile (42,197-km) journey.

Mr Jones, 51, from Erlestoke, Wiltshire, and Swiss psychiatrist Mr Piccard, 41, can safely say they have conquered one of the last great aviation challenges.

Speaking by phone from the balloon, Mr Jones said that he planned to "have a cup of tea like a true Englishman" when he got home and to tell his wife that he loved her.

Bertrand Picard and Brian Jones
Celebration time for an exhausted crew
Mr Piccard, described their "incredible" experience and said that once their balloon was down and deflated, it would be "the beginning of a new kind of life".

Don Cameron, of the Bristol-based balloon makers Cameron balloons, which made the Breitling Orbiter 3, told Sky News: "We are absolutely elated.

"There was an enormous cheer when we heard that they had crossed the line. There is a certain amount of Champagne being drunk here."

Flight director Alan Noble was also thrilled and admitted the crew had a great deal of luck.

"The control centre team are delighted and really happy for Breitling who have invested not just money in this - they have invested their spirit in it," he said.

The successful circumnavigation, which started from the Swiss Alpine village of Chateau d'Oex on 1 March, wins the two pilots the $1m (600,000) prize put forward by brewers Anheuser-Busch.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulated the successful balloonists and said it was "a fantastic achievement".

Cup, BBC
This cup - and $1m - awaits the crew on landing
Now the finish line is crossed, the balloon is heading for Egypt. If they have enough fuel the men should be able to land at dawn on Sunday. If not, they may have to land at Mauritania or Mali.

The pilots had hoped to land by the pyramids but their hopes may be dashed by high winds.

Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who has made four unsuccessful attempts at the record himself, told Sky News: "They must be feeling incredibly elated and delighted at this stage."

He had been monitoring the two men's journey closely, he said, adding: "It has been a fantastic voyage and it has been wonderful in a sense to enjoy it with them."

Asked if he was disappointed that he had not broken the record, he said: "We are reasonably good at picking ourselves up and moving to other challenges.

"Fortunately there are plenty of other challenges around at the moment."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Flight Director Alan Noble
"It's absolutely brilliant"
Pilot Brian Jones
"I'm going to go home and have a cup of tea"
Pilot Bertrand Piccard
"Grateful to mission control"
See also:

20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
22 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
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