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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 12:40 GMT

Hot air and endurance

The two British balloon pilots attempting to fly around the globe have broken the world endurance record despite freezing temperatures made worse by a broken heating pump.

Anthony McGuigan at mission control: "It was absolutely wonderful"
Colin Prescot and Andy Elson have now broken the previous record of nine days 17 hours and 55 minutes.

That was achieved by Mr Elson on his last round-the-world bid on board the Breitling Orbiter 2 last year. It was also the longest unrefuelled flight by any craft.

The balloon's mission controller Lucias Peart said the pilots were "over the moon" about breaking the record.

Great balloon challenge
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programe he said: "For them to actually break this world record will be a huge mental boost to them."

Their objective now was another record, the longest distance travelled in a balloon. The current record stands at about 12,000 miles.

"We have that in our sights, to break that absolute record, then obviously the final thing, the Holy Grail, will be the full circumnavigation."

According to a spokesperson from the Cable and Wireless balloon's ground control, the pair were too busy manoeuvring the balloon through unpredictable weather patterns over the Arabian Sea to attempt repairs or switch to the back-up pump.

[ image: Andy and Colin: 10 days airborne]
Andy and Colin: 10 days airborne
If the capsule temperature dips too low, they will put on arctic clothing, carried in case the balloon ditches in inhospitable regions.

"The broken heating does not affect any other operational elements of the capsule, but it does not give ideal working conditions," flight control said.

Reports say they are having difficulties seeing outside, with ice forming on the inside of their space-age capsule's observation windows.

The local air temperature is about -30 degrees Celsius.

Toilet fix

Along with heating problems, the balloon's satellite phone stopped working.

The crew could still communicate with mission control by email, but did manage to come up with an ingenious way to fix the phone.

They used a part taken out of a toilet light.

Flight director Ian Ashpole described it as one of the most incredible repairs he had ever heard of. "Through a simulation on the ground, they've managed to repair the satellite phone using a capacitor taken out of the fluorescent tube in their toilet," he said.

Avoiding China

Mr Elson and Mr Prescot are now about 80 miles north east of Bombay, India.

[ image: A successful launch from southern Spain]
A successful launch from southern Spain
Although heading east, the balloonists are also trying to manoeuvre the balloon in a southerly direction to avoid Chinese airspace as they have not been given permission to fly over the country.

Beijing barred passage across its territory after a previous circumnavigation attempt by entrepreneur Richard Branson strayed into forbidden airspace.

Mr Elson's last attempt foundered on Chinese restrictions last year, when he was on board the Swiss Breitling Orbiter balloon.

The team have covered 9,300 km since leaving a golf course launch pad in southern Spain a week ago, and are hoping to complete their journey in about three weeks.

If all goes well, a successful finish could come in the North Sea or the Mediterranean in the next two to three weeks.

New Breitling bid

The Cable & Wireless bid could face a real race for the title of first to make it around the globe if the Breitling Orbiter 3 makes it off the ground on Monday.

On Friday, a Breitling spokesperson said British pilot Brian Jones and co-pilot Bertrand Piccard could be ready to take off from a launch site in the Swiss Alps

Although China barred British balloons from its airspace after Richard Branson's efforts, the Swiss-registered Breitling Orbiter will be allowed to cross the country, saving at least seven days on the route the Cable & Wireless team are taking.

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