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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 15:53 GMT

Orbiter propelled towards Pacific

The Anglo-Swiss balloon crew hoping to become the first to circle the world non-stop has crossed over China and is heading for the Pacific.

Strong winds pushed the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon at a speed of up to 95 mph, allowing the crew to make the journey in 14 hours rather than the estimated two days.

Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and his colleague Brian Jones, from the UK, say they have become the first team ever to legally cross China.

Great balloon challenge
Piccard and Jones, who took off from the Swiss Alps on 1 March, have now far covered more than 12,000 miles (17,000 km).

[ image: Alan Noble of the home crew shows the latest leg of the journey]
Alan Noble of the home crew shows the latest leg of the journey
The Geneva control centre said the balloon had been travelling at 91mph (146 kph) over China, double its average speed since launch.

"They were flying almost a little bit too fast," said spokesman Steve Axentios.

The crossing over China was one of the most difficult as Chinese authorities had only granted permission for the crew to fly in a very narrow air corridor.

"We have completed one third of this round-the-world bid, the second part will be the Pacific and the final stage will be the Americas and the Atlantic," Piccard said in a link-up with ground control.

But the 7,500 mile (12,000 km) crossing the Pacific could bring other hazards.

Brian Jones said: "What frightens us most about crossing the Pacific is bad weather in an area where rescue will be long and possibly difficult. I'm just hoping we won't bump into any bad weather."

The journey across the Pacific is expected to take six days, before the balloon flies over land again, across either California or western Mexico.

Poor weather

[ image: Piccard and Jones: Anxious about bad weather over the Pacific]
Piccard and Jones: Anxious about bad weather over the Pacific
Piccard had to abandon a round-the-world bid last year after failing to receive Chinese permission to use their airspace.

He delayed his departure this year until he got the green light from Beijing.

China banned overflights last December after balloonists Richard Branson, Steve Fossett and Per Lindstrand drifted north into a forbidden zone.

The Breitling Orbiter is the latest of several balloons trying to snatch the round-the-world title.

On Monday, the Cable and Wireless balloon ditched off the Japanese coast.

The team was forced to abandon the flight due to poor weather conditions.

Hours later they would have entered a high-speed jet stream which would have propelled them across the Pacific.

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