Search for missing Gordon Bennett balloonists continues

Richard Abruzzo at the launch site on Saturday
Image caption No distress beacon has been picked up from Mr Abruzzo's balloon

An air search for two missing balloonists taking part in the Gordon Bennett Cup race resumed at first light on Thursday.

The Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) has been searching for the pair using four boats, an aircraft and a helicopter.

The hydrogen balloon, piloted by Americans Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis, went missing in thunderstorms over the Adriatic.

Nothing has been found so far.

A statement from the Gordon Bennett Control Centre in Bristol said: "The Italian MRCC has been extremely thorough in their operations, but unfortunately all items found have not been related to the search."

It said the MRCC also had the support of the Croatian and Greek search and rescue authorities.

"We are grateful to the US Consulate in Naples who has designated assets to the search operation," the statement added.

A vigil has been held in the US for the pair who have been missing since Wednesday morning.

The statement said that the families of those missing were grateful for all the good wishes and messages of support they have received.

Don Cameron, the race's flight director, said the event's control centre was providing technical details to the Italian coastguard to aid the search.

British competitor Paul Spellward, who returned home on Thursday with co-pilot Colin Butter, said: "If they've not found them and not found any parts of the balloon, for example, then it indicates potentially either they're looking completely in the wrong place - which would be a nice outcome - or that there was a serious event."

Twenty balloons took off from a launch site to the north of Bristol on Saturday night - the first time the race has started in England since it began in 1906.

'Bad weather'

Massimo Maccheroni, of the Italian coastguard, said they last had contact with the pair, who won the race in 2004, at 0800 local time (0700 BST) on Wednesday.

Mr Maccheroni said the pilots reported bad weather conditions.

He said on Wednesday: "We are searching the sea 13 miles off Cap Gargano in the Puglia area.

"The balloon could also have landed on the ground near Foggia and we have also been advised that it could have possibly landed in Croatia."

The 19 other balloons taking part in the race had landed safely by Wednesday.

The last satellite tracker report from the missing balloon - USA2 - was at 0658 BST.

Race rules dictate that the winning team is the one to travel the furthest. Crews control the balloons by letting gas out to descend or throwing sandbags out to ascend.

A Swiss team - SWI2 - made up of Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witpraechtiger, landed near Constanta, Romania, in first place, having travelled 1,513 miles (2,435km).

A German balloon piloted by Wilhelm Eimers and Ullrich Seel landed in second place, in Moldova, having travelled 1,438 miles (2,313km).

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

Their balloon landed in eastern Serbia having travelled 1,248 miles (2,010km).

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