Swiss pi­lots res­cued af­ter emer­gency bal­loon land­ing



A Swiss gas bal­loon team res­cued from woods near the Que­becLabrador border af­ter a record­shat­ter­ing bal­loon odyssey have started a new jour­ney back to New Mex­ico — this time in a mo­tor home with a trailer in tow.

Ni­co­las Tieche and Lau­rent Sci­boz landed in a re­mote area near Labrador City Tues­day af­ter an epic 3,666kilo­me­tre transcon­ti­nen­tal flight from Al­bu­querque, earn­ing them top spot in the Amer­ica’s Chal­lenge dis­tance bal­loon race.

To claim their prize, the high-fly­ing duo care­fully re­trieved their mas­sive white bal­loon and bas­ket from atop an iso­lated ridge Thurs­day and em­barked on a 48-hour road trip back to Al­bu­querque.

The pi­lots are ex­pected to be greeted with ac­co­lades for smash­ing the pre­vi­ous record of 3,215 kilo­me­tres by more than 400 kilo­me­tres.

“You get a tro­phy, brag­ging rights, a lot of atta-boys and some great mem­o­ries,” said Kim Ve­sely, a spokes­woman for the Al­bu­querque In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta, which or­ga­nizes the an­nual race and awards ban­quet.

The sec­ond-place gas bal­loon team, which landed near the Quebec-New Brunswick border, also beat the pre­vi­ous record. Krzysztof Za­part of Poland and Andy Cay­ton of the U.S. were in the clouds for nearly 70 hours, trav­el­ling a dis­tance of 3,523 kilo­me­tres.

“The weather was con­ducive to long flights,” Ve­sely said. “There is a weather high­way between two weather sys­tems ... with fairly brisk winds the teams were able to catch.”

Eight teams took part in the race, with the top three trav­el­ling more than 3,000 kilo­me­tres.

Im­prove­ments in avion­ics, me­te­o­rol­ogy and bal­loon and bas­ket tech­nol­ogy has made gas bal­loon fly­ing more com­pet­i­tive, with pi­lots reach­ing new heights and get­ting fur­ther than ever be­fore, Ve­sely said.

“They’re run­ning out of real es­tate,” she said. “Un­der race rules you can­not land on water but ... Green­land is not nec­es­sar­ily out of bounds.”

Res­cue of­fi­cials in cen­tral Labrador were sur­prised to learn on Tues­day that a gas bal­loon had drifted to the area from the south­ern U.S.

“I thought it was a prank. This time of year we’re get­ting a lit­tle bit of snow,” said Joe Power, fire chief of the Labrador City Fire Res­cue. “But it’s not like you see a bal­loon here in the sky even in July.”

Af­ter con­firm­ing the emer­gency land­ing of the Swiss bal­loon team with the race mar­shal, Power said the fire depart­ment worked quickly with the prov­ince, the Royal New­found­land Con­stab­u­lary and of­fi­cials at the nearby Wabush mine to co-or­di­nate a res­cue.

“There are no roads and it’s a pretty heav­ily wooded area,” he said.

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