Sun, Nov 27, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Indian shatters balloon record

EDGE OF SPACEThe millionaire rose above 21,000m after taking off from downtown Mumbai, breaking the previous altitude record of 19,811m

AP , MUMBAI

Millionaire Vijaypat Singhania yesterday broke the world record for the highest flight in a hot air balloon and reached the fringes of space, his son claimed.

Singhania, 67, surpassed 21,000m a little more than two hours after taking off in his 40-tonne balloon, and has started his descent, his son Gautam said.

"We have the world record at 69,000 feet," said Gautam Singhania. "We're bringing him down now."

The previous world record was 19,811m, set by Sweden's Per Lindstrand in Plano, Texas, in June 1988.

"The exact height reached was 21,290.89 meters. This is subject to certification," said Colin Prescott, one of two British designers of the balloon.

The record could not be independently verified immediately.

A sealed altimeter, a GPS (global positioning system) unit and a barograph were installed inside the capsule to determine the balloon's height, Prescott said. On landing, the seals will be broken and the instruments submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for verification.

Singhania lifted off from downtown Mumbai at 6:45am, enclosed in a pressurized cabin suspended from the 50m-tall multicolored balloon.

He was expected to take more than two hours to get back to Earth, probably landing in Nashik, a town about 100km northeast of Mumbai, depending on wind speed and direction.

Singharia's wife said she would not be able to relax until he was safely back on the ground.

"I was really scared, am still scared until he lands. When I heard that he had broken the record, I became numb in mind and heart," said Asha Singharia.

Prescott said the enormous size of the balloon could pose a problem.

"Now the challenge is to land it safely. The lighter the wind, the easier it will be to land," he said.

Before taking off in downtown Bombay cheered by hundreds of residents and a marching band, Singhania said he expected to break the record.

"I'm very excited but very nervous and confident I'll make it," Singhania said.

Vedant Kumar, 7, watched the balloon's ascent through a pair of binoculars until it became a just speck in the sky.

"I wish I could follow him in a helicopter," he exclaimed, hopping from foot to foot with excitement. A helicopter was following the balloon to monitor wind direction for the landing. Kumar said he was trying to persuade his parents to take him to the landing site.

The entire voyage was broadcast live on national television using cameras on board the helicopter, inside the balloon's cabin and on the ground.

The temperature outside the balloon was expected to fall as low as minus 93?C and oxygen was negligible. Before taking off, Singhania stressed the importance of the pressurized cabin, saying that if he was exposed to such temperatures his "blood would boil."

A unit on the ground was monitoring oxygen levels and other life support systems inside the cabin.

Singhania, the chairman emeritus of the Raymond Group, one of India's leading textile companies, also set a record for ultralight aviation 17 years ago when he flew 9,655km from Britain to India in 23 days.

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