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The BBC's Carole Jones
"Their equipment is still intact"
 real 56k

Monday, 25 September, 2000, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Balloonists praise Scottish welcome
Men in balloon
The men on the ground in Carnoustie
The German balloonists who were blown off course and landed in Scotland say their unscheduled stay has been "fantastic".

Heinrich Brachtendorf, 67, and Peter Wittmann, 32, from Marle, stayed in a Carnoustie hotel after they were caught in strong winds and crossed the North Sea.

The two friends were taking part in a competition in Marle to see which ballooning team could stay in the air for the longest time.

But when they realised they had travelled as far as the English coast, they put out a distress call and the RAF swung into action.

Their balloon was first spotted by the RAF off the coast of Grimsby at about 2130BST on Saturday, and was intercepted by a helicopter.

The rescue chopper followed them for several hours and a decision was taken to bring them down.

Peter Wittmann
Peter Wittmann: Recovering
The balloonists landed on a Ministry of Defence training camp close to a beach just outside Carnoustie, near Dundee, at about 0330BST on Sunday.

Mr Wittmann said: "The rescue team were really fantastic and I would like to thank them a lot. They were unbelievable."

Of his brief stay in Scotland he said: "We have had a fantastic time and everyone has been really friendly towards us.

"It is my first time in Scotland but I will never forget it."

An MoD spokesman said the balloon was tracked after being picked up by military radar in London.

"A search and rescue helicopter followed it up the east coast until it went into the area of RAF Bulmer in Northumberland," he said.

"Near Dundee, an RAF helicopter managed to talk the crew down and they were met on the ground by police."

Distress call

Mr Wittmann said the two men were taking part in an endurance competition with about seven other teams of balloonists who took off from Marle on Saturday.

He said: "No balloonist knows their destination but the competition is to see how long you could stay in the air.

"There is no set flight path, you just go up, but we didn't mean to end up over Scotland."

He said it was when they realised they were over England they feared they had travelled too far and put out the distress call.

They were then escorted to a place they could land safely.

Mr Wittmann said they were not particularly scared during the flight but he added: "Perhaps when you think back on what happened you are, but during the flight we didn't have time to think.

"We were just concentrating on keeping ourselves up."

After contacting family in Germany, Mr Wittmann and Mr Brachtendorf discovered that despite their epic journey they had not won the competition.

He said: "We were airborne for 24 or 25 hours. It was the farthest flight, but we were not in the air the longest."

The two men are travelling home by ferry with their balloon.

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See also:

22 Mar 99 | Great balloon challenge
Special report: Aviation's last great challenge
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