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History-making transatlantic balloon flight takes off from Sussex, N.B.

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A trip across the Atlantic Ocean in a helium balloon began Thursday morning in Sussex, N.B.

Hundreds of people were on the ground to send off Deborah and Mike Scholes, for a trip several years in the making

The U.K. couple were in Sussex for about seven weeks, waiting for approval from meteorologists to begin their journey, amongst other interruptions.

Guinness World Records is tracking the crossing to determine if Deborah becomes the first woman to captain a balloon across the Atlantic, and if Mike becomes the first registered blind person to crew a transatlantic balloon trip.

It could take about a week for the balloon to arrive at its intended destination in Spain, depending on the weather.

Ultimately, the wind’s direction and speed will determine where the balloon lands in Western Europe.

Live updates on the balloon’s progress can be found online.

The start of a planned transatlantic balloon flight in Sussex, N.B., on July 20, 2023, with Deborah and Mike Scholes on board. (Nick Moore/CTV Atlantic)‘IT’S A LOVELY AREA, WE’VE ENJOYED OUR STAY HERE’

The couple said they wanted to begin their balloon trip in Sussex, N.B. for a few reasons. For one, the couple reside in West Sussex, South East England.

Deborah said the couple also wanted to start their journey in a Commonwealth country, as well as a community known for its experience and expertise in balloon travel. 

“Everybody in Sussex has been very friendly and very helpful,” said Mike, a few minutes before taking to the skies, Thursday morning. “It’s a lovely area, we’ve enjoyed our stay here.”

However, their stay has been longer than expected.

Westerly winds over the Atlantic – the conditions most ideal for balloon travel over the Atlantic – were slow to appear.

One delay was caused by French military exercises in the east Atlantic Ocean, directly in the balloon’s travel path.

“The danger area covered 3,600 square miles, and (our meteorologist) couldn’t find a way of getting us there before it became active, or afterwards, or around it,” said Mike.

Mike and Deborah Scholes are pictured in Sussex, N.B., on July 20, 2023 ahead of their transatlantic balloon flight. (Nick Moore/CTV Atlantic)DELAYS AND CHALLENGES

The couple began planning their transatlantic balloon trip in 2019.

A global shortage of helium, followed by COVID-19 travel restrictions caused immediate delays.

Then, Mike was diagnosed with cancer. He beat the disease, giving him a new perspective on the balloon trip.

“I’m absolutely tickety-boo,” said Mike. “I don’t feel nervous. I felt more nervous, more frightened when I went in to have the bowel removed.”

The trip is a fundraiser for Blind Veterans UK

Mike, a former Royal Navy Pilot, began to lose his sight at the end of 2007. He ran a passenger ballooning company for several years.

Deborah regularly competes in long-distance hot air balloon flying competitions, and has flown balloons across the English Channel and the Alps.

As of Thursday evening, the helium balloon was travelling over the Gulf of St. Lawrence toward Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mike said the couple would make a decision about going for the full trip as they approach the open Atlantic.

“We have a few hundred miles over land, and if we don’t like it, we can land,” he said. 

For the latest New Brunswick news, visit our dedicated provincial page.

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