French balloonists to repeat England flight 100 years later

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Three hot air balloonists will set off from Nancy in eastern France on Sunday in a bid to reach England, and retrace a route only ever travelled by a French woman adventurer a century ago.

"I told myself one day I had to do it again," said Benoit Pelard, one of the balloonists, about the 1909 ballon trip by Marie Marvingt, a woman the Chicago Tribune once dubbed "the most extraordinary lady since Joan of Arc".

For the 21st-century trip, hotel manager Pelard will be joined by two experienced balloonists, Laurent Lajoye and world gas balloon champion Sebastien Rolland.

They are keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, as the team need a southeasterly wind, rare in the Lorraine region, to carry them on a journey that should take between 24 and 36 hours.

When Marvingt -- a celebrated athlete, mountaineer and pioneering aviator -- set off from Nancy in the "Shooting Star" on October 26, 1909, she paid little attention to wind direction and had no set destination in mind.

"Landing in England was pure chance," the 2010 team said.

The "Grand Nancy" will fly at a height of up to 1000 metres (3280 feet) at night and nearly 2000 metres in the day, with the sea as the main danger since the trio are equipped with a radio and GPS system, but no lifeboat.

"The facts have changed since the last century: airspace is very busy, we must avoid the greater Paris region and Brussels, and in England the altitude is very limited," Pelard said.

Marie 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 in 1963 aged 88.

© 2010 AFP

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