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Sunday, 28 February, 1999, 15:21 GMT
Balloonists face new challenge
Two British hot-air balloonists are on course to circle the world non-stop after setting a new endurance record and successfully avoiding Chinese airspace.

Great balloon challenge
But they face a new challenge in the shape of the Breitling Orbiter, a rival balloon, which is due to launch from Switzerland on Monday unless there is a late change in weather conditions.

If the launch goes ahead as planned, the Cable & Wireless bid will face a real race to be the first to make it around the globe.

For now, the British balloonists, Andy Elson and Colin Prescot, have reason to celebrate, having completed the most delicate and difficult stage of the flight so far.

The pair had to fly low and change course to avoid Chinese airspace.

Mission control back in London reported the pair were in high spirits.

Balloon launch
A successful launch
"We did very well overnight, coming down south over India. We are just crossing the coast now before we go into the bay of Bengal on our way to Rangoon," said technical director Anthony McQuiggan.

"Our whole strategy has been based on the fact that we had to find a route that would take us around China instead of the easy option which is straight over the top," he said.

By Saturday, the balloonists had broken the world balloon endurance record after spending nine days and 20 hours in the air.

The previous record of nine days, 17 hours and 55 minutes was set by Mr Elson on an earlier circumnavigation attempt.

Running repairs have also restored telephone links in the capsule. The balloonists used a light fitting from the toilet to get the phone working.

The balloonists had just one complaint after the impromptu repair - they now have to go to the toilet in the dark.

Breitling challenge

The pressure on the British balloonists will increase if the planned launch of the Breitling Orbiter goes ahead as planned.

The Breitling team aims to launch from an Alpine mountain village near Lake Geneva, between 0600 and 0800 GMT.

The Anglo-Swiss team has an advantage over the Cable & Wireless bid because it has secured permission to fly over Chinese territory.

It will head out from Switzerland to the Mediterranean, then crossing Turkey, Iran, India and China to the Pacific, covering more than 16,000 miles in a maximum of 21 days.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
C & W Balloon project director Anthony McQuiggan
Anthony McQuiggan: They are in high spirits
See also:

06 Dec 98 | Programmes
18 Feb 99 | Balloon race
22 Feb 99 | Balloon race
25 Feb 99 | Great balloon challenge
25 Feb 99 | Great balloon challenge
28 Feb 99 | Great balloon challenge
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