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Balloon Heads Toward North Pole

August 31, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ Against all odds, a giant runaway weather balloon appeared headed toward the North Pole on Sunday after eluding another attempt to catch up to it.

A U.S. Navy pilot who believed he spotted the 25-story balloon on Sunday had to return to a NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland, when his plane developed a propeller leak, said Halli Sigurdsson, deputy director of Air Traffic Services in Iceland.

``We are fairly optimistic the balloon has been found,″ he told The Associated Press. He said another navy plane will be sent to try to catch up to it.

Canadian jet fighters fired more than 1,000 rounds into the helium-filled balloon on Thursday, but it remained aloft.

The balloon disappeared off radar screens late Saturday night about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Sigurdsson said its disappearance is worrisome because of the possible interference with air traffic.

Airplanes from Canada, Britain and the U.S. military in Iceland had been tracking the runaway balloon, and air traffic controllers had been diverting planes from its path.

The balloon is not equipped with transponders that emit navigation signals to alert airliners to its presence.

Sigurdsson said the Navy believes the errant balloon is now east of Greenland and north of mainland Norway.

``If this is the balloon, it looks like it’s heading towards Spitsbergen,″ a remote Norwegian island on the Arctic Circle off the country’s north coast, he said.

The wayward balloon, an unstaffed research station used to measure ozone levels over Canada, can be seen from about 40 miles away. It was launched Aug. 24 from Vanscoy, Saskatchewan, just outside Saskatoon.

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