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Thursday, February 18, 1999 Published at 08:27 GMT


Balloon record bid on course

The British team takes off over southern Spain

A British team's bid to fly non-stop round the world by balloon is on course after a successful launch.


Sue Llewellyn: A perfect launch
Pilots Andy Elson and Colin Prescott are flying over North Africa on the first stretch of a marathon journey they hope will take them into the record books.

After taking off from Almeria, in southern Spain, the balloonists headed for the Canary Islands to catch jet stream winds they hope will carry them over Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt.


[ image: Well-wishers on the ground]
Well-wishers on the ground
Flight director Ian Ashpole said the launch had been "superb".

Great feat

He said a small leak in one of the hatches was being fixed, but was of no concern.

The team, sponsored by communications company Cable and Wireless, are hoping to succeed where more than 20 other balloons have failed in achieving one of the last great feats of aviation.

Most recently, British entrepreneur Richard Branson and American Steve Fosset failed in their attempt after being forced to ditch in the Pacific.

That attempt created extra obstacles for this new bid, as Branson and Fossett's accidental detour into forbidden Chinese airspace has meant authorities in Beijing refusing to allow the latest British team over its territory.

Flight records

This has meant having to carry extra fuel to allow the balloon to avoid China.


[ image: A home in the air]
A home in the air
Elson and Prescot have previously set several other flight records, but will have to fly for around three weeks if they are to achieve the biggest prize in ballooning.

And if they fail, there are already at least five other teams preparing round-the-world bids of their own.

Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard and British co-pilot Brian Jones received permission earlier this month from China to overfly part of its territory, but only over designated areas.



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