19 Teams Competing in Balloon Race
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Up, up and away they went, 19 teams in colorful helium balloons in a race to see who could go the farthest before landing.
The prestigious Coupe de Aeronautique Gordon Bennett race, back in the United States after 60 years, got under way Monday night with a breezy, bumpy launch into a clear, lavender sky. A Japanese team took an early lead today.
The race is ballooning’s equivalent of sailing’s America’s Cup.
Thomas Lewetz and Silvia Wagner of Austria, packed down jackets, heavy sleeping bags and a lot of salami for the race, which is expected to mean two or three days at freezing altitudes of two to three miles.
″We try to have a good time up there,″ said Lewetz, an airline pilot from Vienna. ″For me, it’s like a holiday.″
The race is held each year in the country of the defending champion.
Americans David Levin and James Herschend won last year by flying about 650 miles from Stuttgart, Germany, to near the Polish-Ukrainian border. Levin, 45, of Boulder, Colo., teamed this year with Troy Bradley, 29, of Albuquerque.
The balloons took off heading northwest. This year’s winner is expected to cover about 1,000 miles, or as far as Oregon if the craft maintains its course. But changing wind speed and weather could vary the distance and duration.
A balloon piloted by Sabu Ichiyoshi and Maco Oiwa of Japan was reported to have taken the lead this morning near Las Vegas, N.M., about 100 miles northeast of Albuquerque. It was headed east at 16,000 feet.
Race officials said a Polish balloon also was reported in the Las Vegas area, but it wasn’t immediately known which of the two crews representing Poland was flying the balloon.
Balloonists from nine countries and the U.S. Virgin Islands competed. The 20th entry, from Canada, developed a leak and never got airborne.
The race is named after James Gordon Bennett, who owned the New York Herald in the late 1800s and founded the event in 1906 under the auspices of the Paris-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale.