Originally created 02/18/99

British balloonists in round-the-world bid fly over Morocco



MADRID, Spain -- A trouble-free launch from southern Spain on Wednesday set two British adventurers off on their bid to be the first to circle the globe in a balloon.

Pilots Andy Elson and Colin Prescot, who had been on standby since December at their golf course launch pad near Almeria in southern Spain, waved to hundreds of well-wishers on surrounding hilltops as the 200-foot gold and silver balloon soared into a clear sky.

By early evening, they were skirting the Moroccan coast at around 20,000 feet on board the giant Cable and Wireless balloon.

Flight director Ian Ashpole said their progress overnight would provide a critical indication of whether their attempt will be a success.

"Everything is going well, the balloon is performing very well, and we will see how they perform during the night," he said.

The pilots were having to work very hard in order to negotiate a tricky weather pattern, but were in "very good spirits."

The balloon's performance during the night, when the kerosene burners will be used extensively for the first time, will show whether it has sufficient fuel reserves to make the trip.

The balloon will carry the pilots in a pressurized, high-tech cabin at an altitude of between 30,000 and 50,000 feet. A successful touchdown could be in the North Sea or in the Mediterranean anywhere from 12 to 25 days after liftoff.

Elson, 45, and Prescot, 48, say they have planned a route that will allow them to avoid flying over China.

China has refused authorization for balloonists to cross its airspace.

Circumnavigating the globe nonstop in a balloon is one of the last great challenges facing aviators. The Anheuser-Busch company is offering a $1 million prize to the first team that makes it.