Bristol

Italian coastguards call off search for US balloonists

The Italian coastguard has called off the search for the two missing American balloonists in the Gordon Bennett race.

Richard Abruzzo, 47, and Carol Rymer Davis, 65, are feared to have plunged into the Adriatic Sea during a thunderstorm on 29 September.

The search-and-rescue operation was stood down at 1100 BST but coastguard boats on routine patrol will still look for debris in the area.

Rescue teams had also used CCTV equipment to search the sea bed.

Italian coastguard spokesman Lt Massimo Maccheroni said: "We found nothing that could be traced to the balloonists."

The pair took off in USA2 from a launch field near Bristol on 25 September along with 19 other teams.

To win teams had to travel the furthest distance on one fill of hydrogen.

The balloons can be controlled only by releasing gas to go down and throwing out sand to go up.

The Italian coastguard last had contact with the pair, who won the race in 2004, at 0800 local time (0700 BST) on Wednesday when they reported bad weather conditions.

USA2's last satellite tracker report was received at 0658 BST last Wednesday.

Readings from their balloon's tracking device showed it was travelling towards the sea at 80km/h (50mph) before signals stopped.

The race was won by the Swiss team made up of Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witpraechtiger in SWI2.

It landed near Constanta, Romania on 29 September, having travelled 1,513 miles (2,435.08km).

One of the British entries, piloted by Wiltshire-based David Hempleman-Adams and Simon Carey, landed in third place.

The Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett Race has been held more than 50 times over a 104-year period.

'Shot down'

But there have been years when the gas ballooning distance race has been hit by tragedy - ranging from problems with the weather to cross-border incidents.

In 1923 three balloons were struck by lightning and one balloon hit power cables on its descent and the British team had to ditch in the sea.

In 1983 Maxie L Anderson and Don Ida were attempting to land in a forest clearing to avoid crossing Czechoslovakian border when they lost their lives.

And in 1995 a balloon, flown by Americans Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis, was shot down killing both over Belarus.

Belarusian authorities forced two other balloons to land and the pilots were fined.

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