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Rain Delays Hot Air Balloon Launch

December 4, 1998

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) _ Rain has forced Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett and Virgin tycoon Richard Branson to delay their bid to circle the globe in a hot air balloon, officials said Friday.

The wealthy businessmen, once rivals who have now joined forces, now hope to launch their balloon on Dec. 9 if weather permits, said Mouna Benomar, a member of the team.

Crews have been preparing for a month for the takeoff at Marrakech’s military airport.

The two former rivals will be accompanied by Swedish balloonist Pers Lindstrand in the Virgin Global Challenger. They also have a backup balloon in case their main one is damaged.

Fossett broke his distance record in August, traveling more than 15,200 miles before a storm damaged his balloon, sending it plunging into the sea off Australia.

Branson, whose Virgin company name adorns everything from record stores to an airline, has failed to accomplish the feat in four attempts. His previous attempts have been hampered by weather. The only time he managed to take off, in January 1997, his balloon crash-landed in the Algerian desert.

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