West Sussex couple who wanted to make ballooning history forced to abandon Transatlantic challenge mid flight

A Burgess Hill couple who were attempting to make ballooning history with their Transatlantic crossing have had to abandon their challenge mid flight.
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Mike and Deborah Scholes set off on the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20, in their 1.8m x 1.4m British-made wicker basket.

Deborah, who owns Hairworks in Cuckfield, aimed to become the first female pilot in command on the trip, while Mike hoped to be the first registered blind crew member to make the more than 2,000-mile journey.

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But it was announced on Friday, July 21, that the couple had to stop after just 19 hours of flying into their six-day journey.

Mike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon TeamMike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon Team
Mike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon Team

A message on www.transatlanticballoonchallenge.com said: “British husband and wife team, Mike and Deborah Scholes, taking part in the Transatlantic Balloon Challenge, have been forced to make a controlled landing ahead of schedule. A technical issue with their balloon made it unwise for them to continue their quest to fly across the Atlantic and on a further journey of some 2,000 miles to Europe.”

The couple made a controlled landing in Newfoundland, Canada, and are now heading back to the UK.

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In an announcement on their Facebook page Debbie said: “With any big challenge like this there’s always a level of risk involved and that’s why it’s essential to put safety first and make sure that everything is working just as it should before you take that final step over the ocean. We are now carefully gathering all the information together concerning the technical issues that we encountered, not only for the benefit and safety of any further Atlantic crossing attempts we might make but also for the wider ballooning community.”

Mike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon TeamMike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon Team
Mike and Deborah Scholes from Burgess Hill set off of the crossing from Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, on Thursday, July 20. Photo: Transatlantic Balloon Team
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But the post added that the couple were in good spirits and said they are ‘probably already planning their next adventure’.

Deborah and Mike are experienced balloon pilots and Deborah has flown balloons across the channel and over the Alps to an altitude of 23,180ft. Mike learned to fly with the RAF Volunteer Reserve while at Newcastle upon Tyne University. Afterwards, he joined the Royal Navy and learned to fly helicopters. After the Navy, he started a passenger ballooning company in Sussex but he lost his sight in 2007, due to a rare condition called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

The adventure was raising money for Blind Veterans UK and had been planned for years. It was originally scheduled for July 2019 but had to be postponed several times because of the Covid pandemic and Mike becoming unwell in 2021.

Before the launch, a spokesperson for the couple said: “The British built Cameron Rozière balloon has a helium cell at the top with a special air cone below which can be heated by a propane burner to control the altitude. This combination provides the balloon with enough lift and endurance for long flights and will fly for at least 200 miles over land before it gets to the Atlantic. It’s expected to travel over 2,000 miles at a maximum altitude of 18,000ft or approximately 6,000 meters over the ocean before it gets to dry land somewhere in Europe.”

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