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Balloon Lifts Off--but Has to Abort

<i> From Reuters</i>

An attempt to make aviation history by flying a manned balloon around the world ended soon after it began Saturday when a loss of pressure forced the balloonists to land, project officials said.

It was the fifth failure in three years for the Earthwinds balloon, whose previous attempts to fly around the world either scratched shortly before takeoff or failed after a few hours of flight.

The revolutionary, hourglass-shaped balloon made a flawless takeoff from Reno’s Stead Airport shortly after dawn Saturday, and weather conditions seemed ideal for the 20,000-mile flight.

But about three hours after takeoff, balloon captain Larry Newman radioed his ground crew to report a loss of pressure in the craft’s lower ballast balloon, project spokeswoman Pat Godefroy said.

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She said the balloon made a controlled landing in the Nevada desert about 100 miles east of Reno. All three crew members were safe, she said.

Members of the ground staff were disappointed by the halt to the mission.

“The balloon was headed in the right direction, the weather was right. Suddenly, this unforeseen thing happens. Everybody is unhappy,” said spokesman Doug Buemi.

Project officials said it appeared unlikely that another launch could be attempted before the end of February, when the current “window” for making the flight attempt closes. Prevailing winds are right to make the voyage between November and February.

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The unusual craft consists of a large upper balloon filled with helium, a cigar-shaped capsule for the crew and an anchor balloon underneath filled with air. The upper balloon can be used only once.

The 370-foot, 10-ton balloon had reached an altitude of about 32,000 feet when the problem occurred.

Newman, an airline pilot and veteran balloonist, and co-pilots Dave Melton and George Saad had planned to head due east, traversing Denver, Kansas City and Boston before crossing the Atlantic, traveling across Europe, Russia and Asia and returning to the western United States.


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