Hot air balloons target cross-Channel record
A world record-breaking attempt began today for the largest number of hot air balloons to cross the English Channel.
A total of 51 balloonists took off from Lydden Hill race circuit in Kent for the estimated four-hour flight to France at about 7am.
It marks the first time a Guinness World Records bid has been made for the largest group of hot air balloons to make the Channel crossing, and competitors have come from across Europe, including Italy and Germany.
Among the fleet was a 61ft dragon-shaped balloon, deemed to be the largest of its kind and the only hot air balloon in the UK with a glass-bottomed basket.
One of the competitors, Paul Komuro, from main sponsor Palletways, said: "People have come from across Europe at short notice to take part in this.
"We got notification late yesterday that the weather conditions were ideal and so we decided to make a go of it.
"To get the number of balloons that we have mobilised in under 24 hours is a real achievement.
"The weather conditions are perfect, there's not a cloud in the sky and there is a real sense of excitement amongst us about flying to France and hopefully breaking the record."
The record attempt is the brainchild of retired police officer Ian Sharpe, who abandoned motorbiking to take up ballooning as a hobby eight years ago.
He flies mostly in the skies above Kent, Sussex and Surrey, and six years ago flew across the Channel in less than an hour.
Before take off, Mr Sharpe, 51, from Caterham, Surrey, said: "We are at the mercy of the wind.
"What would be perfect is if everyone landed within a few miles of each other at Calais but the truth is we don't know exactly where we are going to land."
He added: "Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the first modern hot air balloon flight and I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate such a significant milestone."
Sponsorship from the bid will go to three charities, including the RNLI, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and the Halow Project, which supports young people with learning disabilities.
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