ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Spending more than three and a half days aloft and traveling more than 1,653 miles, a French ballooning team has traveled the farthest in the world’s oldest and most prestigious air race.
Pilots Eric Decellières and Benoît Havret landed just shy of the North Carolina coast Wednesday after having launched from an annual balloon fiesta in Albuquerque on Saturday night along with 15 other teams representing nine countries.
Organizers of the Gordon Bennett Cup said Decellières and Havret surpassed a German team by about 46 miles to take the lead. The unofficial results will have to be confirmed by a jury of ballooning experts.
The balloonists spend days in the air, carrying everything they need to survive at high altitudes as they search for the right combination of wind currents to push their baskets as far as they can go.
Their hydrogen-filled balloons fly throughout the night and into the next day, with pilots trading off so one can get some sleep while the other keeps an eye on weather conditions. Each team communicates regularly with race officials, their ground crews and meteorologists as they gauge the prospects for pushing ahead.
Two pilots from Poland continued to recover Wednesday in Texas, where their balloon caught fire and crashed after hitting a high-voltage power line while competing.
The race has been held in the United States only 13 times before, and this marked the fifth time the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta played host.
The teams are due back in Albuquerque on Saturday for an awards ceremony.
The race has roots that stretch back to 1906 when adventurer and newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett Jr. brought together 16 balloons for a competition that launched from Paris, France.