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Saturday, March 20, 1999 Published at 16:41 GMT


Orbiter 3: Ups and Downs



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.

Mon 1 Mar - Take-off
Orbiter 3 is launched from the Alpine village of Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland at 0805 GMT, 10 hours behind a rival British Cable and Wireless balloon.

  • The race is on

    Fri 5 Mar - Icicle skywalk
    Suspended some 6,000ft above the Sahara desert, Mr Piccard climbed out of the gondola to chip giant 10-ft icicles off the balloon with a pickaxe.

    He said his skywalk had not been dangerous: "We felt so safe on the gondola that we didn't even attach our harness. But I must admit the sight of the empty space was very impressive."

  • Icy blast for pilot

    Sun 7 Mar - Rivals ditch
    The C&W balloon is forced down by bad weather over the Sea of Japan . A spokeswoman says Mr Piccard and Mr Jones are "relieved" to hear that the rival crew has been rescued safely.

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

  • 'Relief' as rivals ditch safely

    Tue 9 Mar - Speeding across China
    The Orbiter 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.

    The Swiss-registered craft had permission to over-fly China, a luxury that British balloons were denied because of previous airspace violations.

  • Orbiter propelled towards Pacific

    Thur 11 Mar - Slow-down and bad food
    After dropping speed and waiting for the right wind, the pair heads out to cross the Pacific. They acquire a stowaway mosquito which Mr Piccard later swats.

    "Bertrand and I are still talking to each other," Mr Jones says. "The only thing that annoys me is the dehydrated food. But if it's the only problem, I think we can survive it."

  • Critical phase begins

    Fri 12 Mar - Halfway mark
    As they reach the halfway mark above the Pacific, the two pilots are able to open their sealed hatch for the first time in more than a week. They use the opportunity to air the cabin and carry out some housekeeping chores.

  • Halfway mark reached

    Sat 13 Mar - Record-breaking
    The International Date Line is crossed and a new world distance record set, but the team "are not too impressed".

  • Record-breakers at date line

    Wed 17 Mar - Crossing the Pacific 'puddle'
    After six days of nothing but water around them, the two pilots see the coast of Mexico and become the first balloonists to cross the Pacific during non-stop, round-the-world attempt. Support team members say that the experience is "psychologically very important".

    "So that little puddle was what they call the Pacific," Mr Jones joked in a conversation with the Geneva control centre.

  • 16 March: Land ahoy!

    Thu 18 Mar - Hypnosis therapy
    The crew head for the Atlantic saying that only bad luck can spoil their plans. The main fear is fuel, but the support team says later that they were also suffering from lack of oxygen in the cabin.

    "Bertrand was suffering from exhaustion on Wednesday afternoon. We were really worried as he was quite breathless."

    "He did some self-hypnosis and had a couple of soups and some oxygen and he got a new lease of life."

  • Pacific left behind
  • The final obstacle

    Sat 20 Mar - Cheer of victory
    A cheer goes up at the Geneva control centre, as Breitling Orbiter becomes the first balloon to circumnavigate the world after crossing the finishing line in West Africa.

  • Balloon soars into history



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  • Internet Links


    Breitling Orbiter III

    International Aviation Federation - Ballooning Commission

    Ballooning News

    Cable and Wireless balloon


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    In this section

    Balloonists: Next stop Geneva

    Stranded balloonists rescued

    Desert touchdown for balloon heroes

    News Online users cheer record balloonists

    Balloonists soar into history

    Sky-high hopes

    Balloons make history

    Ballooning's 'triumph of a dream'