RENO, Nev., Dec. 31 -- The giant Earthwinds Hilton balloon was forced to land Saturday, just hours after its pilots took off in the hopes of completing the first non-stop manned balloon flight around the globe. The 370-foot balloon was forced out of the sky due to a sudden loss of air pressure.
The balloon and its three crew members touched down in a remote part of the Nevada desert at about 2:30 p.m. EST, about 70 miles east of the Reno, Nev., airstrip where it was launched at 9:45 a. m. EST. The Earthwinds Hilton is comprised of an upper balloon filled with 1. 3 million cubic feet of helium, which is connected to a pressurized gondola that is suspended above a lower balloon used for ballast. Crew members were unsure what caused the sudden loss of air pressure in the lower balloon, project spokeswoman Pat Godefroy said. The balloon had been expected to fly over Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and the mid-Atlantic states, then head toward North Africa and Asia in a journey expected to take two to three weeks. The Earthwinds team, which includes captain Larry Newman and co- captains David Melton and George Saad, have made several attempts over the last two years to complete the global flight. The Earthwinds project is being sponsored by Hilton Hotels and other corporations. The Earthwinds traveled 202 miles last Jan. 12 when Newman decided to land it in Tranquility, Calif., because a valve that supplied air to one part of the balloon system froze. In January 1993, it was forced to land just a half-hour into its flight after hitting a mountain ridge. Numerous other launches have been called off because of gusty winds.