French balloonists forced to ditch special England flight

5th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Three hot air balloonists planning to set off from Nancy in eastern France Sunday in a bid to reach England and retrace a route only ever travelled once before, were foiled by a gas leak.

On Sunday afternoon, while the balloon was being inflated, a strong gust of wind forced it to the ground, detaching key parts and causing a gas leak, one of the organisers explained.

The incident meant there was not enough gas for the trio to make the trip, which was expected to last between 24 and 36 hours.

"Just two of us could have tried to make the trip, rather than three, but then we would have flown too high. Also, the forecast in England was not ideal," one of the balloonists Benoit Pelard said.

Pelard, a hotel manager, was to be joined by two experienced balloonists, Laurent Lajoye and world gas balloon champion Sebastien Rolland.

"We will try again, later," Pelard said. "We will only tell people once we have done it," he added.

If the "Grand Nancy" does make the trip, it should fly at a height of up to 1000 metres (3280 feet) at night and nearly 2000 metres in the day.

On Saturday Pelard had explained the source of the team's inspiration: the 1909 balloon trip by Marie Marvingt, a woman the Chicago Tribune once dubbed "the most extraordinary lady since Joan of Arc".

Marvingt's balloon trip was only one in a string of extraordinary feats.

She flew bombers in World War I, worked as a reporter in the inter-war years, and devoted most of her life to promoting the concept of air ambulances, becoming the first ever certified flight nurse.

Marvingt continued to fly for the rest of her life, piloting helicopters into her eighties. She died in 1963 aged 88.

© 2010 AFP

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