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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 08:47 GMT

Balloonists 'relieved' as rivals ditch safely

The Breitling balloon continued to make progress round the world after poor weather forced an all-British team to abort their flight after 19 days.

Great balloon challenge
"The Breitling Orbiter 3, with British pilot Brian Jones, 51, from Erlestoke, near Devizes, in Wiltshire and Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard, 41, at the helm, was travelling 2,000ft above the Arabian sea on Monday morning.

A spokeswoman said the pair had been "relieved" to hear that the Cable and Wireless crew had been rescued safely after being forced to ditch their balloon in the sea off Japan on Sunday morning.

"We are not pleased at someone else's failure, and our pilots were sorry to hear the news.

[ image: Piccard and Jones: 2000ft above Arabian Sea]
Piccard and Jones: 2000ft above Arabian Sea
"But on the other hand, this means that they are now the only ones up there - and there is a sense of relief, which is normal."

The Cable & Wireless pilots Andy Elson and Colin Prescot were picked up safe and well by Japanese rescue teams.

They spent the night in Hamamatsu, 100 miles south west of Tokyo, where they are planning to make arrangements to return to Britain later this week.

A Cable and Wireless spokeswoman said: "They are fine. They are recovering at the moment and have had nice long hot showers - their first for 19 days."

They were forced to abandon their flight due to poor weather conditions just hours before they would have entered a high speed jet stream which would have propelled them at speed across the Pacific.

Mr Prescot, 48, of Stockbridge, Hants, and Mr Elson, 45, from Wells, Somerset, are now the holders of the world endurance record for the longest balloon flight without refuelling.

'Enormous success'

Mr Elson joked: "Although we have not been successful flying a balloon round the world I don't think we have failed, we have just found another way that doesn't work."

Mr Prescot's wife, Suzi, said: "It's been the most enormous success. They have beaten the world endurance record and it's going to take a lot for anyone to ever do that again, because it's been such an achievement."

The failure of their bid means that the Breitling balloon, which set off from Switzerland last Monday, is now the only contender in the race to complete the first round-the-world trip in a balloon.

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