Balloonists' goal: Around the world in 18 days
They take off, hope to be first to circle globe
January 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT)
In this story:
MARRAKECH, Morocco (CNN) -- British entrepreneur Richard
Branson and two co-pilots rose slowly into the Moroccan sky
on Tuesday, hoping to become the first to fly nonstop around
the world by balloon.
"I love a challenge ... It's going to be a great adventure,"
the 46-year-old chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways told CNN
in a live interview prior to lifting off in the huge white
balloon. The hot-air and helium-filled Virgin Global
Challenger is 174-feet high, the size of a 12-story building.
(315k/28 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Branson, Per Lindstrand, 48, and Alex Ritchie, 50, planned
an 18-day flight from North Africa over the Middle East,
Iran, India, the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, the
Pacific Ocean, the United States and the Atlantic Ocean. The
balloon will reach an altitude of more than 30,000 feet
They hoped to land at Oxford, England.
Crew member replaced at last minute
Ritchie was a last-minute replacement for Rory McCarthy, who
told reporters he had to pull out because of suspected
(196k/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Branson postponed the voyage last February, saying the
balloon risked being ripped apart by thunderstorms and there
was a lack of jet stream winds needed to cross the Pacific at
speeds of up to 240 mph.
"I am confident," Branson told reporters before embracing his
wife Joan and children Holly and Sam and climbing into the $3
million balloon for the 11:19 a.m. (1119 GMT) launch from an
air base near the Moroccan city of Marrakech.
As the Global Challenger floated slowly upward against a
backdrop of the snowcapped Atlas Mountains, Branson could be
seen waving to his family.
Balloon to speed up in jet stream
Lindstrand said the balloon would travel at 19 to 25 mph (30
to 40 km per hour) over the Atlas Mountains and that they
expected to cross the Algerian border after 12 hours.
"When we reach the jet stream our speed will accelerate," he
said. Marrakech was chosen as an ideal spot to enter the
southern jet stream.
A transmitter linked to London will give real-time readings
of the balloon's location.
The trip also has a scientific purpose. Working with
university researchers, the crew will take air samples in
higher altitudes to check the pollution-threatened ozone
Branson and Lindstrand are already record-holders. They were
the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon in 1987,
and the Pacific in 1991.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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