Bad weather still grounds Branson balloon
January 24, 1998
Web posted at: 1:58 p.m. EST (1858 GMT)
MARRAKESH, Morocco (CNN) -- British tycoon Richard Branson
and his team began readying the Challenger balloon Saturday
for eventual take-off from its launch site, as Branson
prepared for his new attempt to set a global record in a
nonstop flight around the world.
Branson, who failed to get off the ground at his last attempt
in December, said bad weather forecasts meant he probably
would not be able to lift off until February.
Ground conditions in Marrakesh prevented the team from
inflating the balloon Saturday, and the jet streams expected
for the next 72 hours also were unsuitable for the flight,
the team said on its Web page.
"Because of the weather (sic) bad conditions, we do not
expect to fly before eight days," Branson said Saturday.
"I'm here in Marrakesh just for technical testing of the
capsule," he said. Branson arrived in the central Moroccan
city Friday night.
Branson, head of the Virgin Group of companies, is expected
to return to London Sunday or Monday before flying back to
Marrakesh to try to launch the balloon.
A series of balloonists, including Americans and a Swiss,
have all recently failed in their attempts at the record.
Last month, Branson's team was grounded when the balloon
sailed away without the capsule after a gust of wind ripped
it from its mooring just hours before the launch. It was
recovered, damaged, in Algeria.
A year ago, Branson and co-pilots Alex Ritchie and Per
Lindstrand successfully lifted off, but were still over North
Africa when their balloon began hurtling toward the ground at
more than 40 feet (12 meters) per second.
The nighttime plunge only slowed when Ritchie climbed on to
the roof of the capsule and managed to release two ballast
tanks to lighten the balloon's load. The balloon managed to
clear a mountain range and landed in the Algerian desert.
Reuters contributed to this report.