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Pair Make Historic Cross-Pacific Trip in Hot-air Balloon

January 18, 1991 GMT

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories (AP) _ Two adventurers landed their hot-air balloon on a frozen lake in far- northern Canada on Thursday to complete a record-setting journey of more than 6,000 miles across the Pacific.

British magnate Richard Branson and Swedish co-pilot Per Lindstrand landed the craft in such poor weather conditions - blowing snow and temperatures of minus 13 degrees - that their rescue 150 miles west of Yellowkife was delayed several hours until they could be airlifted out.

Branson and Lindstrand were reported in good condition after being picked up by helicopter 100 miles from civilizaton.

″They were OK, there was no problem,″ said Sgt. Jack Chamberlain of the Rescue Co-ordination Center in Edmonton, which sent a C-130 Hercules aircraft to locate the men.

The balloon had touched down in an isolated area of the sparsely populated Northwest Territories. An emergency locater transmitter on board helped the C- 130 pinpoint its location, and the rescue helicopter was then deployed to pick up Branson and Lindstrand.

Branson and his partner set several records during their first-ever trip across the Pacific in a hot-air balloon. In addition, the balloonists set a speed record of 198.8 mph, flight officials said. Their 196-foot hot-air balloon was the largest ever launched.

The balloon itself was made of nylon. The men flew in an insulated, pressurized cabin that allowed them to work in shirtsleeves despite being miles above earth.

They left Wednesday from Miyakonojo, a southern Japan town, and landed in the wilderness less than 48 hours later, said Lori Levin, a trip spokeswoman in Los Angeles.

The two balloonists overcame an inadvertant fuel shortage when they accidentally jettisoned 30 percent of their propane fuel.

Branson had radioed a helicopter pilot, saying that ″things are OK, but it is very cold ... (bring) ... a taxi,″ Levin said.

″They are in good spirits and are ecstatic they made and broke records,″ she added.

Previously, the Pacific has been crossed in a helium-filled balloon, but not a hot-air craft. Three Americans and a Japanese man piloted a helium- filled balloon from Japan to Covello, Calif., in 1981.

After crossing Alaska earlier in the day, Branson said by radio, ″It has been a very difficult crossing, and Per and I are very tired.″

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About that time, the balloonists were cruising at 24,000 feet of altitude at a speed of about 150 mph, flight officials said.

They covered more than 6,000 miles during the voyage, easily surpassing the previous distance record of 3,075 miles they set in 1987 by crossing the Atlantic.

Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Records, and Lindstrand, an accomplished balloonist and pilot, originally hoped to land in Utah, Idaho or Wyoming.

When Branson and Lindstrand crossed the Atlantic in 1987, their flight nearly ended in disaster. Branson leaped from the capsule as it crashed into the Irish Sea; he was rescued by a Navy helicopter. Lindstrand had jumped from the balloon earlier.

Branson and Lindstrand attempted a Pacific crossing last year but scrubbed the flight after frost damaged the balloon’s thin skin.

Fumio Niwa, a Japanese balloonist, launched Friday from Yokohama, Japan, on a cross-Pacific flight. Rescuers found him dead hours after he ditched in the ocean about 290 miles off Japan. Cause of the accident was not known.