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Balloonists Fear Pacific Weather

March 11, 1999

GENEVA _ A Swiss-English balloon team slowed down over the Pacific early Friday while their weather experts pondered whether to send them over California or Mexico.

Running ahead of schedule after leaving China and passing south of Japan, Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Brian Jones of England adjusted their altitude to catch slower winds 1,860 miles out over the Pacific Ocean.

``At this stage, faster winds would spoil the favorable easterly direction taken by the craft,″ said their control center.

Piccard and Jones, who are trying to become the first to circle the globe nonstop, have covered more than 12,400 miles since they took off March 1 from the Swiss Alps.

The team’s meteorologists were choosing between the Polar jet stream and the Subtropical jet stream, both of which can be caught half way across the Pacific.

The Polar jet stream would carry the balloon over California and the middle of the United States. The Subtropical jet stream, which is forming near Hawaii, would push it towards Mexico and the Caribbean. The balloon is expected to take five more days to reach the coast of North America.

Weather is a key concern of the balloonists, since several of their competititors have run had to ditch into the Pacific _ the latest on Sunday during a thunderstorm.

``What frightens us most about crossing the Pacific is bad weather in an area where rescue will be long and possibly difficult,″ the control center quoted Jones as saying.

Piccard comes from a family of explorers and adventurers. His grandfather, scientist Auguste Piccard, was the first person to fly into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, also in a balloon. His father, Jacques, was a renowned underwater explorer.

On Thursday, the balloon passed 870 miles north of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known spot on earth, where 39 years ago Jacques Piccard set a depth record by descending 35,800 feet below the surface of the ocean in a special submarine.

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