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Balloon headed out over Mediterranean


Slow winds hamper trip

January 28, 1998
Web posted at: 11:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT)

CHATEAU D'OEX, Switzerland (CNN) -- A team of European balloonists trying to become the first ever to circle the globe is nearing the southern French coast, getting ready to head out over the Mediterranean Sea.

The Breitling Orbiter 2, which lifted off Wednesday morning from Chateau d'Oex in the Swiss Alps, was expected to reach Monte Carlo early Thursday, then head over the sea toward Italy and Greece.

The crew reported witnessing a "magnificent" sunset over Mount Blanc, Europe's highest mountain.

The Breitling-Orbiter 2
video icon 1.1MB/32 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

"We are relaxed and happy," the crew said in its first message to ground control.

However, in the hours after takeoff, the balloon was hampered by light winds which limited its speed to 10 miles (16 km) per hour. It was expected to remain at that slow pace through Thursday.

In order to complete the journey in two weeks as planned, the craft would need to average 120 miles (192 km) per hour.

The crew
The crew of the Brietling  

The crew's first night in the balloon was also expected to be a key test as "the burners are new and we have to see how they perform," said Wim Verstraten, the Belgian pilot.

The crew is led by Swiss psychiatrist and adventurer Bertrand Piccard. British engineer Andrew Elson makes up the third member of the flight team.

Piccard -- whose grandfather Auguste Piccard invented the stratospheric balloon and pressurized cabin for balloonists in 1931 -- is making his second attempt at an around-the-world journey. Last January, his team had to ditch their balloon after just six hours.

"I think exploring is very important in the human spirit and very important in my family," he said.

The current trip was delayed three weeks when the crew's capsule was damaged while being lifted from a trailer.

Four other teams -- three American and one British -- have also tried and failed to circumnavigate the world in a balloon this year. British tycoon Richard Branson is expected to try again later this month, launching from Morocco.

About 5,000 spectators were on hand in Chateau D'Oex for Piccard's launch Wednesday. The balloon's burners were lighted with the Olympic flame, and, with the cooperation of the International Olympic Committee in nearby Luzanne, the 177-foot high balloon was adorned with the Olympic rings as a symbol of world piece.

Piccard also said he hoped the Olympic links would help persuade China to grant overflight rights. Without that permission, the balloon would have to make a detour that could add two or three days to the trip.

Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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