Alex Ritchie, 52, who climbed outside the Virgin Challenger capsule when it began plummeting to the ground during Mr Branson's round-the-world attempt in January 1997, died from septicaemia after undergoing a hip operation. His family maintained a vigil at his bedside at London's Middlesex Hospital until he died. Last night, Mr Branson said: "Alex was a brilliant friend and also a brilliant engineer." Obituary, page 18
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THE balloonist who saved Richard Branson's life last year died yesterday, three months after suffering multiple injuries in a parachuting accident, writes Steve Boggan.