Balloonists: '20 days of beautiful moments'
March 22, 1999
GENEVA (CNN) -- They flew for nearly three weeks in a cramped cabin high above the Earth's surface -- not a space shuttle crew, but a pair of adventurers trying to accomplish something never done before. They were successful.
Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones flew nonstop around the world in a balloon, landing safely Sunday in the Egyptian desert. And on Monday, they arrived, by plane, back in Switzerland, where their journey began.
"The flight itself was interesting, fairly long, but went extremely well," Jones, a 51-year-old British balloon flight instructor, said of the 20-day adventure.
Jones was greeted by his wife, Joanna Sainsbury, when the Learjet carrying the two arrived at Geneva's airport. Piccard's wife, Michelle, and three daughters, were aboard the plane from Cairo.
Several hundred people were on hand to welcome the world travelers home, jangling bells and reaching to shake hands as a car carried them across the airport to a news conference.
It was, Jones said inside an airport hangar, an "amazing adventure."
"Personally, my best memory is the precise moment between the takeoff and the landing," said Piccard, 41, a Swiss psychiatrist. "It's 20 days of beautiful moments."
With Piccard and Jones aboard, the Breitling Orbiter 3 landed about 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Cairo on Sunday. An army helicopter whisked the pair to the Egyptian capital eight hours after the landing.
Piccard and Jones had hoped to touch down alongside the pyramids at Giza. But high-altitude wind currents forced their craft onto a more southerly course.
The two men flew 46,759 kilometers (29,056 miles) in 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes. They achieved one of the most hotly contested aviation goals on Saturday when they passed over Mauritania and crossed the 9 degrees west longitude mark -- the official finish line for their flight around the world.
The two achieved a feat attempted unsuccessfully in recent years by many others, including British tycoon Richard Branson and the American adventurer Steve Fossett.
Branson, owner of Virgin Airways, joined Piccard and Jones in Geneva for a champagne toast.
"I've never had a champagne shower before," Piccard laughed after Branson sprayed him with a well-shaken bottle.
Jones and Piccard both said they felt they were guided by an "almost invisible hand" as they circumnavigated the globe. That was particularly evident, Jones said, as the balloon passed Puerto Rico on the journey's last leg across the Atlantic -- low on fuel.
Jones was calculating the balloon's remaining fuel and the distance until they'd reached their goal, he said, when "right before my eyes our speed went from 50 to 60 to 70 knots. I pushed the calculations aside."
Not that it mattered. "We were never going to stop even if they told us to," Jones said.
Balloonists head home after triumphant global flight
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.