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Saturday, March 20, 1999 Published at 13:26 GMT

Royal tribute flies in for balloonists

Bertrand Piccard (left) with Brian Jones: Ballooning heros

Messages of congratulation are pouring in to the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloonists for making history by circling the globe.

Great balloon challenge
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh said they were "delighted" by the achievement.

The Anglo-Swiss team crossed an invisible finish line over West Africa just before 1000GMT on Saturday to cheers and champagne-popping from mission control in Geneva.

A special message from Her Royal Highness to balloonists Briton Brian Jones and Swiss co-pilot Bertrand Piccard read: "The news of your splendid achievement has delighted us all.

[ image: The Queen said she was 'delighted']
The Queen said she was 'delighted'
"Prince Philip, patron of the Royal Institute of Navigation, joins me in sending heartiest congratulations to you both on becoming the first balloonists to circumnavigate the globe."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed what he called a "fantastic achievement" - one of the last great aviation challenges.

'A real hero'

And Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram, who is Mr Jones's constituency MP, called Mr Jones "a real hero of the 20th century".

He said: "The spirit of adventure and the tradition of challenging and extending frontiers are still alive in Britain today and are personified in Brian Jones' triumph.

"He has helped us all to walk a little taller today."

Mr Piccard's father and brother were relieved and excited when news came in of their achievement.

Jacques Piccard said he thought his son, who is a psychiatrist, was looking forward to getting back to work.

"He will return to his medical office and be very glad to start his work again," he said. "But I am sure he will be different. When you achieve something like this, it is something that remains with you forever."

Branson's best wishes

Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who has made four unsuccessful attempts at the record himself, told Sky News: "They must be feeling incredibly elated and delighted at this stage."

[ image: Virgin's balloon failed to circle globe]
Virgin's balloon failed to circle globe
He had been monitoring the two men's journey closely, he said, adding: "It has been a fantastic voyage and it has been wonderful in a sense to enjoy it with them."

Asked if he was disappointed that he had not broken the record, he said: "We are reasonably good at picking ourselves up and moving to other challenges.

"Fortunately there are plenty of other challenges around at the moment."

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