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British Balloonists Break Record

February 28, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ Two British adventurers attempting to make the first nonstop round-the-world balloon voyage set a record Saturday for the longest time aloft in a balloon.

Colin Prescot, 48, and Andy Elson, 45, who took off from Spain Feb. 17, broke the endurance record after being in flight 233 hours and 55 minutes, their spokesman said.

They were soaring at 17,000 feet over Bombay, India, at the time and involved in delicate maneuvers to keep the aircraft away from China.

The previous record was set by Elson last year on his failed round-the-world bid, which ended in Burma after China refused him permission to enter its airspace.

``Although this record is a major achievement, and one worthy of a celebration, there is still a long way to go before we complete the 18,000-mile journey around the world,″ the pilots said in a message to the team’s headquarters in London.

They dropped to 15,000 feet as they made their way across India, trying to avoid winds that could draw their balloon into China.

Organizers in London said the pilots would fly at a low altitude for 48 hours as they attempt to skirt across southeast Asia before heading out over the Pacific.

``The tactic is to fly low and slow,″ said technical director Anthony McQuiggan. ``We are playing a game of 3-D chess with the weather, with a constant risk that they could be sucked north and dragged into China.″

If all goes well, the team could touch down in the North Sea or the Mediterranean in the next two to three weeks.

The balloon’s mission controller, Lucias Peart, told British Broadcasting Corp. that the pilots are aiming for another record: the longest distance traveled in a balloon. The record is 11,000 miles, and the balloonists have traveled 5,900 miles.

Elson and Prescot had another small victory Saturday when they repaired their satellite phone using the light from their on-board toilet. They had lost use of the phone, which provides one of the means of communicating with London, for 48 hours as they soared above the Arabian Ocean and India.

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