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1985: Virgin voyage ends in disaster

The speedboat Virgin Atlantic Challenger has capsized in heavy seas off the south-west of England scuppering Richard Branson's attempt at the fastest-ever Atlantic crossing.

The 32-ton vessel overturned just 140 miles (224km) short of its target, the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall.

The founder of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, veteran sailor Chay Blyth and the remaining seven crew are reported to be safe and well.

The crew were spotted floating in life boats by helicopters from the Royal Navy air station at Culdrose, Cornwall.

They were picked up by a passing ship and have been airlifted to hospital.

It is not yet known what caused the Challenger to overturn but the voyage had been hampered by bad weather.

The attempt began three days ago in New York.

Initially it went well and Challenger seemed set to break the record.

But the weather worsened and the boat developed a fuel leak.

Only an unscheduled rendezvous with a container ship to pick up more petrol enabled her to continue.

At the St Mary's yacht club in the Isles of Scilly the scene had been set for a celebration before news of the capsize came through.

Richard Branson's parents and sister, Chay Blyth's wife and relatives of the other crew members had gathered there in anticipation of their triumph.

At Virgin Atlantic's headquarters in London staff had also been waiting to celebrate a famous success.

It is not yet known whether Mr Branson will make a second attempt to claim the record.

In Context
Before Richard Branson's attempt, the Blue Riband - the trophy for the fastest sea crossing of the Atlantic - had been held by SS United States.

The high-speed liner, out of service by 1985, had held the title for more than 30 years.

In 1986 Richard Branson achieved the fastest ever Atlantic crossing in his new boat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II completing the trip in three days, eight hours and 31 minutes.

A year later, he crossed the Atlantic in a hot air balloon with veteran balloonist Per Lindstrand.

They set records which stood until 1991 when the pair flew the Pacific Ocean in another balloon.


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