CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) _ Emotions fluttered up and down at the Virgin Atlantic Flyer's launch site Friday as the balloon soared over Ireland before plunging into the sea.

''It was very scary because there were all sorts of reports,'' said Peter Sherry, one of the support staff members for the first attempt to cross the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon.

Sherry said confirmation that adventurers Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand had been rescued was greeted with champagne toasts, but only after a nerve-wracking period in which rumor outran certainty.

''When they lost communications with the center here, that's when the little worry started to happen,'' Sherry said. Branson was rescued as soon as the balloon went down, but Lindstrand was listed as missing for a time.

Crispin Williams, a spokesman for the balloon effort here, said there was a ''touchdown'' somewhere in Northern Ireland before the ditching.

A spokesman for the group in Britain said Branson and Lindstrand did not plan to claim they had made the first Atlantic crossing, but Williams said he thought the claim would be valid.

''The balloon flew low over Northern Ireland for about an hour or so and they deliberately made a low pass over the field with the intention of landing. But it didn't slow down very much,'' Williams said.

Williams said he understood that the capsule dragged across land for 50 or 100 meters before flying on.

The two daredevils lifted off from Sugarloaf Mountain at this western Maine resort early Thursday morning. Despite a snag that cost them two of their 12 fuel tanks, they exceeded all expectations by the pace of their trip, but their descent nearly turned into disaster.

''But the important thing is that they made it and they're all right,'' said Sherry, who is from New York City.

''A balloon record has been set, the trans-Atlantic hot-air balloon record has been completed. We broke open some champagne here at Sugarloaf,'' said Sherry.

Another member of the backup team, Rodger Beimer of Albuquerque, N.M., said staying calm was the best approach on either side of the Atlantic as the flight's conclusion unfolded.

''This is the sixth or seventh one of these that I've been through and there are always those anxious moments,'' he said.

Once news of the rescue came through, those at the launch site were joyous, he said, ''smiles on their faces and champagne glasses in their hands.''