British balloonists’ transatlantic quest thwarted as troubles force landing in N.L.

They hoped to cross the Atlantic in about six days

By Sarah Smellie in St. John’s

Two ballooning Brits have abandoned their quest to fly across the Atlantic Ocean after technical issues forced them to land in central Newfoundland Friday morning.

U.K. residents Mike and Deborah Scholes were safe and unharmed in Gander, N.L., on Friday afternoon. They had arrived by a search-and-rescue helicopter dispatched from Gander earlier that morning after their hot air balloon made an emergency landing in a remote, wooded area, said Dani Maimone, a spokesperson for the team behind the Scholes’ journey.

It was not a crash landing of any sort, Maimone emphasized in an interview. But the husband and wife team felt it would be unwise to continue flying.

“Erring on the side of safety, they thought it would be much more acceptable to land on the ground and not in the ocean,” Maimone said.

The Scholes lifted off from a New Brunswick field on Thursday morning in a Rozier hot air balloon, bound for the other side of the ocean. They hoped to cross the Atlantic in about six days, according to the website for their trip, called Transatlantic Balloon Challenge.

The balloon’s trajectory and landing spot was to be determined by the direction and speed of the winds. But after just 19 hours of flight, they were forced to make an emergency landing at 6:22 a.m. in Newfoundland’s vast, forested interior.

“There’s no roads there at all,” Maimone said, explaining why a helicopter had to go get them. “Canada is a big country with a lot of lakes and trees.”

If their mission had been successful, Deborah Scholes would have been the first woman to captain a balloon across the Atlantic and Mike Scholes the first registered blind person to crew.

The Scholes were in good spirits in Gander, though they were exhausted after their flight, Maimone said. “They’re an amazing, remarkable couple,” she added. “It takes a lot to dampen their spirits, it really does.”

As for whether they’ll attempt their transatlantic feat again, Maimone wasn’t sure. “They have to kind of take stock and see what the situation is,” she said, adding that their current attempt took years of planning. “If they do it again, it won’t be any time this year; it’s not like they can pack it all up and go back to New Brunswick and start again next week.”

The Scholes have been hot air ballooners for decades. Deborah Scholes holds an unofficial ballooning record for flying over the Alps at a height of more than seven kilometres, according to their website. Mike Scholes has twice won the Great British Long Jump long-distance ballooning competition. 

He lost 85 per cent of his sight in 2007, the website says, after which he began training for marathons. He has since run more than a dozen marathons, with Deborah at his side as his sighted running partner.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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