AUGSBURG, Bavaria, May 27, 1931 (UP) - Two men in an aluminum ball, suspended from a great balloon, were tossed erratically by the winds over the Bavarian Alps tonight.
They had ascended, probably farther than any other man into the mysterious "stratosphere" above the earth's surface. Some believed they were alive, others believed they were dead.
Early today Professor Auguste Piccard of the University of Brussels, a gray-bearded, dignified man of science, and his assistant, Charles Kipfer, set sail on their adventure into the upper air. It was believed they reached a height of 10 miles above the earth's surface.
They had oxygen for 10 hours. Their aluminum balloon cabin was hermetically sealed. They hoped to discover much about the band which surrounds the earth. Tonight, as darkness neared, they had been aloft nearer 20 hours than the 10 they had prepared for, and many feared they must have died from lack of oxygen.
Hope was held, however, that any scientific material they might have gathered or data recorded on the many instruments carried in the cabin might be brought safely back to earth.
The balloon was about 13,000 feet over the Bavarian Alps, south of Munich. An amateur flyer, Pilot Teschner, took off from Munich in an attempt to reach them before darkness - which comes very late at this season - halted all rescue efforts.
Pilot Teschner reported he saw no sign of life aboard the balloon, which he followed as far as Zugspitze and watched through a telescope. The balloon was still hermetically closed.
Persons who saw the balloon at Patenkirchen and other towns of the region said it was moving slowly southward and apparently out of control. The only explanation advanced by experts regarding the failure of the craft to descend was that Kipfer and Professor Piccard had become unconscious from lack of oxygen before they were able to pull the rope which released the gas from the bag and caused the balloon to descend.
Professor Piccard had planned to stay aloft only seven or eight hours, due to the perils of flight in the stratosphere and the uncertainty of conditions there, particularly regarding the ability of man to remain in such rarified atmosphere under the heat of the sun.
The greatest height ever attained by man was 43,168 feet, a mark set by Lieut. Apollo Soucek, of the United States navy in an airplane last year.
In addition to the exhaustion of oxygen the two scientists - should they still be alive - faced the threat of severe thunderstorms over the Alps region. Such storms, if they broke over the balloon, might destroy all record of the voyage.
Prof. Piccard was making his thirteenth attempt at a successful flight when he departed in the ballon from Augsburg this morning. He had hoped to make new discoveries concerning the mysteries of the cosmic rays and the action of atoms in space. The fact that he was making an unprecedented and sensational flight did not interest the grave Swiss scientist who concentrated entirely on the scientific possibilities of his experiment and willingly risked his life to accomplish it.
The cosmic ray, as described by the California scientist, R.A. Millikan, represents the energy radiated during the actual creation of atoms out of electrons and protons combined in space. Prof. Piccard during the actual creation of atoms out of electrons and protons combined in space. Prof. Piccard held the belief that a new source of unbelievable energy produced on earth by such material as coal, he believed.
To obtain data on the process of creation of atoms in space, the Swiss professor had equipped the carriage of his balloon with many delicate instruments for measuring cosmic radiation and ionization of the atmosphere.
The bag of the balloon has a capacity of 14,000 cubic meters but was not covered with the usual network because of desire to reduce the weight and avoid a repetition of previous attempts when the balloon failed to rise.
There were several bottles of cognac, ham sandwiches and milk in the carriage as provisions for the scientists.
The only entrances to the carriage were two small holes, which were tightly sealed after Prof. Piccard and Kipfer entered.
The balloon began its flight from Augsburg in good weather, rising rapidly to a height of 13,000 feet and drifting southward. It continued to rise slowly as it drifted over Oberguenzburg, Kempten and Lake Constance, on the Swiss frontier.
Amateur meteorologists near Lake Constance observed the balloon and estimated that it already had broken the former altitude record. The balloon continued southward drifting over Bodensee, Schongau (near Wuermsee) and Oberammergau, to Mount Ettaller Manndl, at which time officials of the Riedinger balloon works, builder of the balloon, began to express anxiety over the failure of Prof. Piccard to descend.
They said they believed the oxygen was exhausted before mid-afternoon, but the balloon continued aloft, being sighted from Murnau, and near Lake Staffel, which is close to a mountainous district. Later, it drifted over Partenkirchen and continued southward over the mountains.