CNN logo
Message Boards 

CNN Networks 

Quick News 
Video Vault 
News Quiz 

World banner

China balks as balloonists approach airspace

February 2, 1998
Web posted at: 9:23 a.m. EDT (0923 GMT)

GENEVA (CNN) -- Three Europeans bidding to become the first balloonists to fly around the world non-stop headed their craft towards Pakistan on Monday in an attempt to skirt China's southern border after the country once again denied them permission to cross its airspace.

Officials at its Geneva airport control center said China's refusal could seriously reduce chances for success of the mission, now in its sixth day.

"We are trying to get China's permission through all possible channels," said a spokesman for the flight, which on Sunday was given a friendly welcome by Baghdad when winds blew the balloon unexpectedly into Iraqi airspace.

"We are still hoping for good news sometime during the day."

But Beijing has insisted it could not guarantee the balloon's safety and would therefore not grant overflight clearance. "We hope they (the Chinese) understand that we are not dangerous," the balloon's flight spokesman said.

Even if successful, a southward maneuver would add at least two days to what was originally planned as a 14-day voyage, stretching fuel supplies close to their limit.

The Orbiter -- with Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, Belgian pilot Wim Verstraeten and British engineer Andy Elson in the cabin slung underneath -- lifted off from the Swiss Alps last Wednesday on its 25,000-km (15,000-mile) journey.

After flying over the Pakistani capital Islamabad, it plans to aim towards Lahore where -- if the Chinese open up their borders to the mission -- it plans to rise to over 9,000 meters (21,000 feet) to catch east-blowing jet stream winds.

These would send it clipping along at around 230 km (150 miles) an hour over China and Japan and out into the Pacific, taking it to California by the end of the week -- a timetable to which officials say it is vital to keep.

Otherwise, the balloon will try to fly over India. Lower air currents could take it into Chinese territory whatever the crew does.

The crew of the Breitling Orbiter-2  

Near scuttle over Iran

The Orbiter's crew did get some good news Monday. A sector of Iran which earlier in the day had challenged their plan to pass through has changed its mind.

Flight control director Alan Noble, speaking from the Geneva center tracking the flight of the Breitling Orbiter-2, said that the balloon passed through Syria, Iraq and three quarters of Iran without incident. But when the balloonists entered a new sector of Iran, they were asked to land the balloon at the nearest airport for identification.

Noble attributed the request to a communication breakdown, noting that balloons attempting the around-the-world challenge can't land and can't steer the balloon to such a specific location.

"I think it's moved into a new sector and this new director has no idea what's going on," he told CNN International at the time. icon 194 K / 18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

However, Iran called Noble just after his statement aired and said the balloon could finish its journey through Iranian airspace unhindered.

The balloonists encountered no problems from Baghdad, despite tensions between Iraq and the West over a weapons inspections impasse that has led to a buildup of U.S. and British military forces in the region.

"The Iraqi air traffic controllers were very polite and very helpful," a mission spokesman quoted Piccard as reporting.

Flying high again

With a leaky hatch repaired on Saturday after Elson climbed outside, the crew was able to pressurize the cabin and then fly much higher to take advantage of the jet stream for a key part of their journey.

Controllers said the Orbiter could now fly at altitudes of between 9,000 and 14,000 meters (5 to 8 miles), far higher than during the slow first days of the journey.

If it crosses Asia safely, it will head out over the Pacific towards the western seaboard of the United States and on towards the Atlantic, going for an eventual touchdown somewhere in North Africa.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our
message boards & chat

Back to the top

© 1998 Cable News Network, Inc.
A Time Warner Company
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.