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Saturday, March 20, 1999 Published at 11:06 GMT

Orbiter's progress

After 20 days in the air, the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon has become the first balloon to circle the world non-stop.

This is how BBC News Online plotted its progress. Click on the links to see each story.

1 March: The race is on

With the rival Cable and Wireless balloon already heading for the Pacific, the Breitling craft takes off from Chateau d'Oex in the Swiss alps.

5 March: Icy blast for pilot

Suspended some 6,000ft above the Sahara desert, pilot Bertrand Piccard climbs out of the craft to chip giant 10ft icicles off the balloon with a pickaxe.

Meanwhile the Cable and Wireless crew are trying to pick up high winds over Japan to propel them across the Pacific.

8 March: 'Relief' as rivals ditch safely

The Breitling team are happy that the Cable and Wireless crew managed to ditch safely in the Pacific.

The rival balloon was forced down by bad weather over the Pacific while the Orbiter 3 travelled over the Middle East.

9 March: Speeding across China

The team say they are the first balloon to legally cross China, taking just 14 hours, instead of an estimated two days.

A spokesman even admits "they were flying almost a little bit too fast" through the narrow air corridor.

11 March: Critical phase begins

Having waited for the right wind, the crew head out across the Pacific insisting "there has not been a single bad word between us".

Japanese coastguards closely follow their progress, ready to launch a rescue operation if required.

12 March: Halfway mark reached

Slow speed across the Pacific Ocean but the crew are at least halfway around the world.

The team is hoping to pick up a fast subtropical jet stream over Hawaii as it heads into uncharted territory.

13 March: Record-breakers at date line

The International Date Line is crossed and a new world distance record set, but the team "are not too impressed".

Organisers insist they only have one objective - going around the world.

16 March: Land ahoy!

"Psychologically, the sight of the Mexican coast will be very important to the pilots," says a support team member.

This is just hours away after six days looking at the wide expanse of the Pacific.

17 March: Pacific left behind

The Breitling ballon becomes the first to cross the Pacific during a non-stop, round-the-world attempt.

But Bertrand Piccard warns: "We can't claim victory too soon. There could still be problems."

18 March: The final obstacle

The crew head over the Caribbean saying that only bad luck can spoil their plans.

Their main fear is fuel although it is reported later that they suffered from a lack of oxygen in the cabin at this stage.

19 March: History on the horizon

The exhausted and emotional pilots speed into Africa and a place in history.

Another record is broken as they cross the Atlantic - the longest balloon flight in history set just two weeks earlier by the Cable and Wireless craft.

20 March: Balloon soars into history

Breitling Orbiter becomes the first balloon to circumnavigate the world after crossing the finishing line in West Africa.

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Internet Links

Breitling Orbiter III

International Aviation Federation - Ballooning Commission

Ballooning News

Cable and Wireless balloon

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