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Record-breaking gas balloon odyssey ends in emergency landing in Labrador

LABRADOR CITY, N.L. — Rescue officials are working to recover a Gas Balloon from woods near the Quebec-Labrador border after a record-shattering balloon odyssey across the continent ended in an emergency landing in the remote region.

Joe Power, fire chief of the Labrador City Fire Rescue, said Thursday attempts are underway to free the gas balloon from an isolated ridge about a kilometre from Lake Lorraine.

Two Swiss pilots taking part in a gas balloon distance race landed near the northern Quebec border after travelling 3,666 kilometres from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Power said when he received a call from Switzerland Tuesday morning about the emergency landing he thought it was a prank.

“I didn’t know if it was serious. We’re in Labrador and this time of year we’re getting a little bit of snow,” he said Thursday. “It’s not like you see a balloon here in the sky even in July.”

After confirming the unexpected landing with the America’s Challenge race marshal, Power said the fire department worked quickly with the province, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and officials at the nearby Wabush mine to co-ordinate a rescue.

“They had a satellite phone so I was in contact with them to let them know what we were doing,” he said. “There are no roads and it’s a pretty heavily wooded area. We decided a helicopter was the best option.”

The Swiss pilots were rescued by helicopter Tuesday morning but recovering the large air balloon has proven more difficult, he said.

“We’re trying to help retrieve their balloon now,” he said. “They’ve got a crew here with them.”

They plan to transport the balloon and basket in the cargo net of the helicopter back to the local airport, Power said.

The pilots, Nicolas Tieche and Laurent Sciboz, are expected to fly back to Albuquerque, where they’ll receive accolades for smashing the previous distance record of 3,215 kilometres set in 2000.

The Swiss team had expected to land in Quebec, but hit a patch of bad weather.

“In between Quebec and Labrador there is a lot of barren land, a lot of hills and water and the weather can change quickly,” said Power. “They encountered some snow and some winds as well and ended up off course.”

The gas balloon team had planned to land in Fermont or Schefferville in northeastern Quebec but ended up just north of Labrador City.

A ground crew tracked their nearly 60-hour journey across the United States and Canada and called in the rescue request.

The second-place gas balloon team, which landed near the Quebec-New Brunswick border Tuesday, also broke the previous record for the America’s Challenge race, part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Krzysztof Zapart of Poland and Andy Cayton of the U.S. were in the clouds for nearly 70 hours, travelling a distance of 3,523 kilometres.

The Canadian Press

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Record-breaking gas balloon odyssey ends in emergency landing in Labrador


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