Stalled balloonists give up round-the-world bid
Trio heads for difficult landing near HawaiiDecember 25, 1998
Web posted at: 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- Three balloonists abandoned their bid on Christmas Day to fly nonstop around the world after losing the wind over the Pacific Ocean, and were heading for Honolulu, Hawaii, preparing for a sea or beach landing, the crew's ground control team said.
"I'm afraid the weather has beaten us," Mike Kendrick, director of the ICO Global balloon project, said Friday at a London news conference.
British mogul Richard Branson, American millionaire Steve Fossett and Per Lindstrand of Sweden caught the jetstream and were racing at 150 mph (240 km/h) across the Pacific Ocean when they got sucked into a low pressure system Thursday that brought the balloon down close to the surface of the water near Hawaii.
At 0830 GMT on Friday, the balloon was stalled above the sea, traveling at only 16 mph (26 km/h), as the adventurers made a desperate bid to make it through the low pressure system and catch an easterly wind.
'We're sorry to let you down'
"It has been like hitting up against a solid brick wall," Branson said in a statement. "All day and all night long, we battled to get through it. I'm sorry that it's now all over. We're sorry to let you down. We've had a fascinating journey and we now aim to get back with our families."
The balloonists are hoping to land near Honolulu by dawn local time on Friday.
"Timing is absolutely critical," Kendrick said. "We need to land it before it gets too hot. The good news is the weather is quite calm. At this point, we're treating it like a normal landing."
The three balloonists are "terribly disappointed," Kendrick said. "But their minds are focused now on landing this massive balloon safely. It's not an easy thing to do."
Kendrick said the balloonists were shooting for Hawaii because it offers the best search-and-rescue facilities in the area.
The voyage of the 272-foot-high (83-meter-high) hot-air and helium balloon began in Marrakech, Morocco, on December 18. The men had planned to end their voyage in Western Europe.
The bid to fly nonstop around the world was the latest in nearly 20 attempts to be the first balloonists to accomplish the feat.
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