Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand – a remarkable story of survival

Background
In 1986, his boat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest ever recorded time.

A year later he flew the Virgin Atlantic Flyer balloon – the largest ever built – and the first across the Atlantic!

The Launch
In 1991, Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand launched their balloon off a small island near Japan, in an attempt to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Japan to USA in a hot air balloon which was over 90 meters high.

Their plan was to ride in one of the jet streams – high speed winds that circle the earth between 6 and 12 km

The trip started uneventfully, they broke into a Jetstream, traveling at about 200km/h. About 7 hours later, they lowered the balloon out of the Jetstream to a height of about 7500m to drop the first empty fuel tank – a fairly simple procedure.

The Fuel Tank
Per pressed the button to drop the tank. The capsule lurched sideways, and the balloon started to rapidly rise. They realized that not only had the empty tank been dropped, but two full tanks as well. The capsule was suddenly three tons lighter, and unbalanced.

If they moved above 13 km, the glass dome of the capsule would explode, and their lungs and eyeballs would literally be sucked out of their bodies.

At 12500 m the balloon started to cool and slow down. At 12900m, the balloon stopped its ascendancy – they were higher than any aircraft flew. However, they now started to fall, so to maintain their height, they burned more precious fuel, of which they barely had enough to control their height, let alone reach the USA.

But they had to somehow reach land with very little fuel, which meant flying faster than any balloon in history, which meant staying in the jet streams. In the jet stream they started moving – from 120km/h, to 200, and finally to 380 km/h. They were moving – and fast.

The Fire
By this stage, they were exhausted, and were struggling to stay awake. Richard saw bright sparks in his eyes, and thought they were spirits. He soon realized they were not. Per – “wake up – we are on fire!”

They took the balloon up to just under 43000 feet, where there was no oxygen, thus killing the flames. However, more precious fuel was burned.

The Landing
They flew for hours and hours in a lopsided capsule, at over 300 km/h. Eventually, they landed in a frozen lake in Northern Canada – in an area 200 times larger that Britain. They were so remote that it took over 8 hours to be rescued.

After being rescued, Per’s first comment was “next time – we go around the world!”

Richard Branson went on this trip not to break records, but because it was a challenge to himself. He did it to prove to himself that he could.

A remarkable story of survival and bravery of two remarkable people.

Source : Screw It – Let’s Do It by Richard Branson (thanks Frances for the book)

Further information: Wikipedia, Virgin Atlantic, or an Interview with Richard Branson

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