Balloonists on course for new world record

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH-SWISS duo was on the verge of breaking the world distance record for a balloon flight last night and now looks poised to become the first to circumnavigate the globe in such an aircraft.

Good weather forecast for the next few days has increased the prospects for success for the British balloonist Brian Jones and his co-pilot Betrand Piccard on their journey in the Swiss-sponsored balloon Breitling Orbiter 3.

They hope to arrive in North Africa by next weekend. Jones, 51, from Erlestoke in Wiltshire, and Piccard, 41, launched from the Swiss Alps on 1 March. Yesterday they dodged thunder clouds over the Pacific Ocean as they headed towards Hawaii at a speed of 47 knots (54mph). By yesterday evening they were just 50 miles short of the official world distance record of 14,852 miles, set last year in a solo round-the-world bid by the American pilot Steve Fossett.

The best time of year for a successful circumnavigation by balloon is from November to February, when flight is aided in the northern hemisphere by the gusting jet streams.

Tonight the Breitling Orbiter 3 is expected to enter a favourable subtropical jet stream, blowing from the Equator,which could increase the speed to 125mph, putting them on course for victory.

The jet stream should carry the balloon over Mexico on Wednesday and across the Caribbean between Jamaica and Cuba into the North Atlantic for the last leg of the three-week journey.

The two men are reported to be in high spirits. "The past seven days above the ocean, seeing only water, has been difficult but they are doing well," said a spokeswoman.