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Friday, December 25, 1998 Published at 18:04 GMT


Countdown to balloon bail out



Richard Branson's attempt to become the first person to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon has come to an end, just a week after he set off from Morocco.
  • 18 December
    After months of preparations, the ICO Global Challenge takes off from Marrakech, Morrocco, with Richard Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett on board.

  • 18/19 December
    At an altitude of 28,000 feet, the balloon crosses Algeria and heads towards the Libyan airspace. Libya briefly rescinds permission for the craft to enter its airspace, but the decision is reversed after a personal appeal from Branson to Libya's Colonel Gaddafi.

  • 19 December
    The Virgin boss goes down with 'flu, but the flight continues.

  • 20 December
    The balloon passes 60 miles north of Iraqi airspace as operation Desert Fox is under way before flying onto Turkey.

  • 21 December
    The balloon heads over Pakistan, India and Nepal, towards China. The whole adventure is thrown into doubt when the Chinese authorities refuse to allow the balloon into their airspace.

    As the crew flies over the Himalayas, diplomatic wrangling becomes desperate. The balloon command centre says the course cannot be altered and that it would be impossible to put the craft down.

  • 22 December
    In the early hours of the morning, the balloon enters Chinese-ruled Tibet. The London-based support team informs the authorities and apologises. The crew desperately tries to adjust course, but the balloon remains three degrees too far north.

    Suddenly, the Chinese grant permission for the flight to continue. "Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!" is Branson's reaction.

    Later China asks other balloon teams hoping to compete in the race to be first around the world to hold off launching.

  • 25 December
    Just after midnight, the balloon crosses the International Date Line, transporting it back to Christmas Eve. It hits a trough of low pressure. Mr Branson and his co-pilots spend much of the night shifting altitude to find more favourable winds.

    At 1241GMT, with the balloon 240 miles off the coast of Hawaii, project manager Mike Kendrick announces that weather has defeated the attempt and a decision has been reached to ditch the craft.





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