Branson balloons out of control

Branson balloons out of control, by Anonymous - 13th December 1997

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) -- The huge white balloon Richard Branson hoped would take him to a world record tore away by itself in a strong gust of wind Tuesday -- leaving him and his dreams behind on the ground.

It was the second major disappointment for the Virgin Atlantic Airways tycoon, who earlier this year launched a similar high-tech effort to become the first man to fly a balloon non-stop around the world --
only to find himself back on the ground in less than 24 hours.

Branson, dressed in a green flying suit, was still packing for the journey as technicians were inflating the balloon at a military air base outside Marrakech.

Dismay mixed with shock as he watched his $400,000, 160-foot hot air and helium masterpiece break free from its passenger capsule and soar up over the Atlas Mountains.

The balloon, emblazoned with red Virgin logos and called the Virgin Global Challenger, reached 18,000 feet. Earlier, as it floated across the border into Algeria, authorities there promised to join the chase.

The craft, which Branson said had been dropping at 1,500 feet a minute, then drifted back in Moroccan territory.

The millionaire adventurer said if the balloon is not recovered, a new balloon could be made in time to try again by mid-January.

Replacing the balloon that quickly could prove challenging. Its panels are joined with more than four miles of welds, and it takes eight hours to inflate. Its cone is lined with a thin layer of special aluminum and is designed to hold 1.1 million cubic feet of helium. Because of the difficulties present in trying to repair the damaged balloon, Branson has come up with a daring idea he hopes will keep his dream alive.

Rather than construct a new balloon -- which would be impossible to complete by early January, the adventurer has decided to use one of WWF performer Sable Mero's breasts as his new balloon.

Branson believes the balloons on Sable's chest are the best option available.

Sable's breasts are almost the same size as the damaged balloon lost in Morrocco, and should one puncture, she's got another one that can be used as a spare.

Vince K. McMahon, President of the WWF, welcomed Branson's suggestion and his company will now co-sponsor Branson's round-the-world balloon travel. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory believe Sable's massive jugs will provide just enough lift for Branson to make it around the world.

Updates of Branson's early-January trip will appear on his website, and will also be chronicled each week on WWF's Raw is War program on the USA Network.


Richard Branson