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British Balloonists Over Red Sea

February 24, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ Two British adventurers bidding to be the first to circle the world in a balloon nonstop were floating over the Red Sea on Wednesday night, bound for Saudi Arabia.

Earlier in the day, pilots Andy Elson and Colin Prescot flew east across the Nile as they passed through Sudan in northern Africa, spokeswoman Nicola Wise said from their headquarters in London.

The giant balloon was flying at about 50 mph over the Red Sea, on course for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, she said.

The balloonists are flying in the jet stream at 22,000 feet to 27,000 feet to take advantage of the strongest winds available, she said.

The balloon, sponsored by the Cable and Wireless communications company, skimmed just south of the Libyan border Wednesday and also briefly entered Egyptian airspace. Spokesman Lou de Marco said he anticipated no problems with the countries over which the balloon was passing.

``However, while in the air, the balloon pilots will speak to the local air travel control centers at half-hourly intervals to ensure that the national authorities are happy to allow the balloon’s passage through their airspace,″ de Marco said.

Elson, 45, and Prescot, 48, took off Feb. 17 from a golf course launch pad near Almeria in southern Spain.

If all goes well, a successful touchdown after traveling around the globe could come in the North Sea or the Mediterranean in the next two to three weeks.

The two men have planned a route that will avoid flying over China. Elson’s last attempt foundered on Chinese restrictions last year, when he was on board the Swiss Breitling Orbiter balloon.

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