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Saturday, December 26, 1998 Published at 19:03 GMT

Branson may try again

Rescued by US coastguard

Tycoon Richard Branson, whose attempt to be the first to fly around the world in a hot air balloon ended in failure on Christmas Day, has hinted he may try again.

Richard Branson: "The most magnificent memories"
There are at least seven more round-the-world balloon flights under preparation - two of which will depart this month. It is widely perceived as the last great aviation challenge yet unclaimed.

But Branson has been criticised by fellow balloonists for violating restricted Chinese air space and incurring a suspension of further balloon flights across the country.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports on the failed bid
Speaking from Honolulu, Hawaii prior to departing to join his family at their holiday island home in Necker, in the British Virgin Islands, Branson hinted that this was not his last flight.

"I've made the mistake before of saying 'never again' the day I've been rescued after failing," he said.

"I've decided this time not to think about it, to relax over Christmas ... and we'll decide early in the New Year."

Great balloon challenge
Branson's ICO Global balloon, co-piloted by Per Linstrand and Steve Fossett, ditched in the Pacific Ocean 10 miles from Hawaii on Christmas Day after it hit a pressure trough and missed the winds that would have carried it to the west coast of the United States.

All three men were rescued unhurt by US Coastguards after a dramatic splashdown in shark-infested waters.

Fossett, who has already made three attempts on the record in 1998 alone, also refused to rule out trying again.

[ image: Capsule dragged along the sea]
Capsule dragged along the sea
"We are all very tempted as this is a major objective, the greatest unachieved aviation goal and one of the greatest adventures that hasn't been done," he said.

Branson and his crew will be closely watching two attempts that leave at the end of December to see if they manage to snatch the prize first.

Breitling Orbiter 3, piloted by Switzerland's Bertrand Piccard and Briton Brian Jones, is set to launch from the Swiss Alps.

Colin Prescot: "The mission to fly into China has been suspended"
The Cable & Wireless balloon, helmed by Britons Andy Elson and Colin Prescot, is due to take of from Almeira in Spain in the next few days.

They will be followed by the Anglo-American Spirit of Peace from New Mexico and the J Renee from Chicago, piloted by soloist Kevin Uliassi. Both are scheduled to leave before the end of the winter.

World Quest is to fly from Santiago in Chile in the summer of 1999, as are Global Conqueror from Cape Providence, South Africa, and Re/Max from Alice Springs in Australia.

'Ballooning is a sport'

The standing record for the longest distance travelled by balloon is held by Branson's co-pilot Fossett who single-handedly took Free Spirit 10,406 miles earlier this year.

Suggestions that the ICO Global attempt had ruined the chances of other balloonists were deflected by Branson.

China has said it is reviewing its position over whether or not to allow further round-the-world balloon flights to pass over its territory after the Branson attempt drifted into restricted airspace and was initially ordered to land before eventually being permitted to continue.

"I think if China wants to hold the Olympics one day they've got to become part of the real world and accept that ballooning is a sport and as such they ought to allow our rivals through," Branson said.

Rival Colin Prescot from the Cable and Wireless bid said tension with China created over the ICO Global attempt "hasn't helped" other balloonists in their record attempts.

Meanwhile it later emerged that worldwide charities have missed out on up to $2m because of Branson's failure. He had put a $300,000 bet on his success at 10-1, with most of the money allocated to unnamed charities.

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