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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Balloon challenge has shaky start
David Hempleman-Adams before take-off
Mr Hempleman-Adams sees his flight as 'romantic'
British explorer David Hempleman-Adams has begun his record-breaking transatlantic balloon flight with a troubled take-off in the United States.

The night launch from Allegheny County airport near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania saw the balloon, which carries an open wicker basket, come within 10 feet of crashing.

Flags and radio antennae hanging beneath touched the ground after the balloon rapidly dropped, causing Mr Hempleman-Adams to jettison sand ballast.

The trip is expected to last six days and end, all being well, in Portugal.

The balloon prepares for take-off
The balloon could climb to 24,000 ft
Launch master Gavin Hailes said the early morning temperature had affected the balloon's balance.

He said: "It wasn't quite the start we wanted.

"It is very cold, but he's off now."

Mr Hempleman-Adams' attempt to beat the world distance record in a traditional open wicker basket has attracted support from curious locals.

They have embraced what they see as his eccentric English spirit of adventure.

Ocean fear

The 45-year-old balloonist, mountaineer and polar explorer from Wiltshire is hoping to beat five records including the solo world distance record of 5,340km (3,337.5 miles) for the helium and hot-air balloon.

During the flight he could have to deal with temperatures as low as minus 30C.

In the air above Pittsburgh
After a slight scare, the explorer took-off
At the launch the father-of-three said: "I will be happy just to land somewhere safely in Europe."

Although equipped with two emergency life rafts, the latest communications equipment and an immersion suit, he said his biggest fear is having to ditch in the Atlantic.

Navigation of the Roziere balloon will mean he can only sleep for one hour at a time and could fly at heights up to 24,000ft where the temperature drops dramatically.

'Romantic adventure'

He will be able to eat fresh food for a couple of days and will then rely on dehydrated packet food.

The explorer has also been given supplies of doughnuts from a Pittsburgh store and even a homemade apple pie from a local 83-year-old grandmother.

Another woman gave him a package with a New York address to drop-off en route.

Mr Hempleman-Adams said he had chosen to use the open wicker basket over a modern enclosed capsule to create "a more romantic adventure".


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See also:

03 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jun 00 | Europe
29 Apr 98 | In Depth
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