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Balloonists Float Over Pacific

March 11, 1999

GENEVA (AP) _ The Swiss and British balloonists aiming to be the first to circle the world nonstop floated over the Pacific Ocean Thursday after making it across China, their Geneva control center said.

By early Thursday, Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and his British teammate Brian Jones had passed over Taiwan and were setting a course for a six-day journey across the ocean.

If all goes well, the balloon will reach California or western Mexico next.

A spokesman said the two pilots saw little of China because of clouds below them as they crossed inside the zone agreed by the Chinese government.

Piccard and Jones, who took off March 1 from the Swiss Alps, have covered more than 10,500 miles.

The balloon’s speed has increased in the past few days. By early Thursday, it was nearly five miles high and traveling at 95 mph. Its average speed since launch has been 47 mph.

The control center said the balloon had been forbidden from flying north of the 26th parallel across China because the authorities ``could not guarantee our safety.″

Several times during the 14-hour crossing, the balloon came within 25 miles of the forbidden zone, and Chinese authorities pointed it out to the crew three times, the control center said.

Piccard, who had to abandon an attempt last year because he failed to receive permission to cross China, delayed his departure from Switzerland this year until he got Beijing’s approval.

British balloonists Colin Prescot and Andy Elson ditched in the Pacific last Sunday after having to detour south because they lacked Chinese permission.

Update hourly