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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 12:11 GMT
Indian sets balloon flight record
Vijaypat Singhania takes off in his balloon
Mr Singhania's 160ft high balloon took off from a site near Mumbai
Indian Vijaypat Singhania has claimed a new world record for the highest flight in a hot air balloon, after a voyage lasting several hours.

The 67-year-old textile tycoon soared past 21,000 metres (69,000 feet) but fell just short of his original target.

He travelled in a pressurised cabin attached to a balloon as high as a 22-storey building.

The previous record of 19,811 metres (64,997 feet) was set by Per Lindstrand in Plano, Texas, in June 1988.

Mr Singhania's son, Gautam, announced the news to the waiting media.

How pilots have flown ever higher and further

He said: "As you can see we are very happy. The team is also excited because they have worked very hard on this project for a very long time."

Colin Prescott, leader of Mr Singhania's British technical team, said the official height was 21,290.89 metres (69,852 feet), subject to certification.

High hopes

A band played and hundreds of people watched as Mr Singhania's 48-metre (160 ft) balloon took off from Mumbai (Bombay) at 0645 (0115 GMT), the BBC's Monica Chadha reported from the city.

Management student Parag Sharma arrived at the venue at 0515 because he was so excited about seeing a hot air balloon for the first time.

"I had never seen one before so I thought this was a good opportunity. It is awesome, the balloon was gigantic," he said.

Indian tycoon and aviator, Vijaypat Singhania
Current record: 64,997ft (19,811m)
Target altitude: 70,000ft (21,336m)
Balloon capacity: 1.6m cu ft
Total height: 160ft (48.8m)
Gross weight: 1,820kg (1.8 tons)
Pilot flies in 560kg sealed aluminium capsule approx 2.7m x 1.4m (9ft x 4ft 6in)
Fitted with 18 burners, three fuel tanks, sat-phone; camera; two VHF radios; GPS; life-support system; safety-release system and parachute
Ascent: 3 hours
Descent: 1.5-2 hours

National television carried live coverage of the voyage, which ended with Mr Singhania's safe return to Earth some five hours later.

During the ascent, air temperatures plummeted to around -93C (-135F).

His wife Asha told of her relief and joy at the success of the trip: "When I heard that he had broken the record, I became numb in mind and heart," she said.

Mr Singhania's craft comprised a pressurised aluminium capsule with a specially designed multi-coloured balloon and 18 burners.

The balloon was connected to a parachute that would have been released automatically in case of any emergency.

A helicopter carrying a technical team followed the balloon closely and was in constant touch with Mr Singhania throughout the flight.

'Passion and obsession'

Colin Prescott explained that the team had "decided to quit while ... ahead" once they had crossed a height of 69,000 feet.

"He [Vijpayat Singhania] wanted to go to 70 but what's a thousand feet?

"It's easily a new world record, so we are all very excited."

Before taking off Mr Singhania, who chairs Indian textile giant Raymond Group, told the BBC that flying was in his blood.

"I thought let us do something important in life, therefore I went about preparing for this world record."

Asked what motivated him to set new records, he said flying was "a want, a passion and an obsession" for him.

"The father of Indian aviation, JRD Tata used to say, 'You don't have to be crazy to get in to aviation, but it helps'... you could say the same for me," he said.

Mr Singhania is the only Indian to have won the aviation sports gold medal from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) that ratifies aviation records, for a 24-day world air race covering 34,000km in 1994.

See the record-breaking balloon in flight

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