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World - Europe

For Piccard, record-setting is a family tradition

March 20, 1999
Web posted at: 6:36 a.m. EST (1136 GMT)

(CNN) -- For most people, setting a balloon flight record would be a pipe dream. For Bertrand Piccard, it's practically a family obligation.

Piccard, 41, is a third-generation adventurer: His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, invented the pressurized cabin and was the first man to reach the stratosphere in a balloon.

Piccard's father, Jacques Piccard, struck out in the opposite direction. In 1961, he took the submersible Trieste to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, nearly 11,000 meters (33,000 feet) below the surface of the Pacific -- the deepest point on Earth.

Bertrand Piccard's bid to circle the globe nonstop, with British co-pilot Brian Jones, came after two previous attempts. In 1997 and 1998, with Belgian partner Wim Verstraeten, Piccard's balloons fell short of the mark.

"Last year, we took off on my grandfather's 114th birthday," he said before lifting off in the Breitling Orbiter 3 on March 1. "Maybe it is the turn of this generation to succeed."

Piccard is a former aerobatics champion and a hang-gliding instructor. He and his wife, Michele, have three daughters.

A Swiss psychiatrist with a penchant for hypnosis, Piccard has become a hero in a country where adulation is usually reserved for skiers or mountain climbers.

His success is due partly to good relations with Chinese officials. He lobbied Beijing for rights to cross China's airspace last year, on behalf of the several teams who wanted to attempt a round-the-world flight.

But the Chinese withdrew their permission last year after a dispute with British tycoon Richard Branson and American Steve Fossett. That forced Piccard and Jones to put off their flight for two months, until China agreed to let them cross.

"This is the dream of all balloonists. It's the ultimate flight," Piccard said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Balloonists 'secretly' predict success
March 19, 1999
Balloonists begin final assault on elusive dream
March 18, 1999
Balloonists reach Caribbean en route to record
March 17, 1999
<Balloonists pass halfway mark in around-the-world bid
March 13, 1999

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