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Great balloon challenge Sunday, 21 March, 1999, 09:31 GMT
Desert touchdown for balloon heroes
The party begins in the Breitling control centre in Geneva
The party begins in the Breitling control centre in Geneva
The Breitling Orbiter 3 hot air balloon has landed in western Egypt following a record-breaking three-week journey around the world.

Great balloon challenge
Cheers broke out in the mission control in Geneva shortly after the Anglo-Swiss team touched down at 0603 GMT near the Dhakla Oasis in the western Egyptian desert, more than 200 miles west of Luxor.

Mission control was notified of the touchdown by a simple message from the pilots, saying "The eagle has landed."

Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and British co-pilot Brian Jones landed about 20 km from the nearest road after their epic flight which made aviation history, smashing records as it went.

Hopes for a picturesque descent near the Great Pyramids were dashed by high winds.

Messages of congratulation have flooded in. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh said they were "delighted" by the achievement.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed what he called a "fantastic achievement".

Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who made four unsuccessful attempts at the record, said: "It is magnificent achievement and two delightful people have achieved it.

"We look forward to going to Switzerland to celebrate it with them."

The balloon completed its circumnavigation of the world shortly before 1000 GMT on Saturday. Staff at the Breitling mission control centre in Geneva popped champagne corks and cheered.

Mr Jones, 51, from Erlestoke, Wiltshire, and Swiss psychiatrist Mr Piccard, 41, can safely say they have conquered one of the last great aviation challenges.

Speaking by phone from the balloon, Mr Jones said that he planned to "have a cup of tea like a true Englishman".

His co-pilot Mr Piccard, described the experience as "incredible" and said that touchdown would bring "the beginning of a new kind of life".

The Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which regulates the event, said the balloonists had broken three records - for distance, duration and time around the world.


Click here to read how News Online plotted the progress of the historic adventure.


'Dream come true'

In a message read out at mission control, the two pilots said: "We can hardly believe our dream has finally come true.

"We almost got lost in the political problems, the slow winds of the Pacific, the bad headings over the Gulf of Mexico.

"But each time, with God's help and with great teamwork, the balloon got back on course to success.

"We are the privileged two of a wonderful and efficient team that we would like to thank from the bottom of our hearts, now that we are sharing with Breitling the result of five years' work.

Balloon crew
Celebration time for an exhausted crew
"We are eternally grateful to the invisible hand who has guided us through all the obstacles of this fantastic voyage."

The successful circumnavigation, which started from the Swiss Alpine village of Chateau d'Oex on 1 March, wins the two pilots the $1m (600,000) prize put forward by brewers Anheuser-Busch along with a special cup.


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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Brian Smith, from the Breitling Orbiter control room: "They have resorted to eating a mixture of soup and muesli"
Video
David Brown reports from a jubilant mission control in Geneva
Audio
Brian Smith with the latest from the control room in Geneva
Video
BBC Correspondent David Allison reports on the team poised to seize the prize
Video
The BBC's George Eykyn: "The Breitling is about to make aviation history"
Audio
Brian Jones: "I'm going to celebrate with a cup of tea"
Video
Kevin Connolly in Geneva: "The extraordinary adventure is going to end in triumph"
Audio
Bertrand Piccard: "Grateful to mission control"
Audio
Claire Doole reports from mission control in Geneva
Audio
Richard Branson congratulates the Breitling team
Audio
Flight Director Alan Noble: Nobody can take it away from us
See also:

20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
20 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
22 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
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