Bid for freefall record threatened by rogue balloon

CALGARY, Alberta Tue May 27, 2008 3:59pm BST

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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A French parachutist's bid to set a world freefall record was in doubt on Tuesday after the balloon that was to carry him 40 km (25 miles) above the prairie of Western Canada left without him.

The balloon that was to carry daredevil Michael Fournier to his jump height separated from its gondola when it was on the ground near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, and floated away.

Pictures on Fournier's website, www.legrandsaut.org, show the 90-meter-high (295-foot) balloon drifting off into the sky as the sun rises over the prairie.

The balloon is no longer usable, Canadian media reports said.

It was the latest setback for Fournier, a 64-year-old former colonel in the French army reserve who holds France's freefall record. On Monday, high winds forced him to postpone the attempt for a world record.

Fournier has tried to make the jump twice before, in 2002 and 2003, but was turned back once by poor weather and then by a tear in his balloon.

As well as the freefall altitude record, he had hoped for three more records: the highest manned balloon flight, the longest time in freefall and the speed record for freefall.

The official world freefall record of 24,483 meters was set in 1962, though in 1960 a U.S. Army captain fell 31,333 meters in an uncertified attempt.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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