Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 14:52 GMT
'Perfect' launch for British balloon
The latest challengers took off into clear skies and sunshine
The first all-British bid to circumnavigate the globe by balloon has got off to a "perfect" start.
The two men waved to hundreds of local well-wishers on the surrounding hilltops in the resort of Almeria as they lifted off into clear skies and dazzling sunshine.
Speaking from the London control centre, flight director Ian Ashpole said: "It is so far so good. Everything is working fine.
"We are all very glad to be off. We have been planning for a year and on standby for months, so it is great to be up there.
"They are in the air and everything is functioning, so yes, it seems to be the perfect start."
Mr Elson, 45, from Wells in Somerset, and his co-pilot Mr Prescot, 48, from Stockbridge in Hampshire, were tracking along the Moroccan coast and should be halfway along the country by midnight, he added.
Beijing barred British-registered balloon attempts after Virgin tycoon Richard Branson's ICO-Global balloon strayed into restricted air space during his round the world attempt in December.
It was China's refusal to allow Mr Elson and crewmates to cross the country which scuppered his last attempt to circle the globe on board the Swiss Breitling Orbiter balloon last year.
The rival team has managed to secure permission to cross China and weather forecasters will decide on Thursday whether the attempt should go ahead.
In any case, Mr Prescot says he and his teammate are confident that their journey, sponsored by telecommunications firm Cable and Wireless, could still succeed.
The British balloonists will spend much of their journey flying low on much slower winds which they hope will take them far enough south to avoid China.
They intend to head north-east, but the pair will begin by travelling in the opposite direction, towards the Canary Islands - again in order to avoid China.
The 200-ft balloon has been adapted to carry three tons of extra fuel which the crew hope could keep them aloft for up to 30 days, giving them time to use the slower low altitude winds.
Both men have been ballooning for more than 20 years.
Mr Prescot has his own balloon stunt company, which is currently organising manoeuvres above the Millennium Dome in London for a forthcoming James Bond movie.