Killed by lightning or lost at sea: search for missing balloonists

ballonpair-abruzzoTwo missing adventure balloonists are either bobbing up and down in a life raft somewhere or a lightning strike has exploded their gas balloon, their ground crew believe.
Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis have been missing for more than 40 hours over the Adriatic Sea. Italian authorities have finished their second day of an air and sea search but have found no trace of the American pair.

Their ground crew told the BBC there were two possible scenarios. “The good news story is that they managed a rather desperate water landing, ejected from the balloon and are in a life raft somewhere, yet to be found, and the balloon took off without them with their beacon still on board, therefore not yet triggered,” Rob Bayly said.
“The other very pessimistic scenario is a catastrophic explosion in the air where they were caught in the thunder storms, very, very, violent updraughts and downdraughts, and of course lightning itself could have struck the balloon which – at many thousands of feet – could have been completely destroyed.”
The pair, described by friends as “true adventurers”, were competing in the Gordon Bennett Cup, a renowned gas balloon endurance race considered too risky to attempt by many of the most experienced balloonists.
Twenty teams try to see who can fly the furthest from a set point, this year from Bristol, England, on a maximum of about 1000 cubic metres of gas.
Race director Don Cameron said in an update overnight that the Italian authorities had been “very proactive in their search”.
“The Italian [Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre] has been extremely thorough in their operations, but unfortunately all items found have not been related to the search,” Mr Cameron said.
The remaining 19 balloon teams had landed safely by Wednesday morning.
Last contact with Abruzzo and Davis, who won the challenge in 2004, was on Wednesday afternoon, when they told the Italian coastguard they were encountering bad weather.
By that time, they were almost four days into the race.
Abruzzo’s family friend, Richard Berry, told the BBC his friend and Davis were true adventurers.
“These are people who dedicate and risk their lives to do what they love in the sport that they love,” Mr Berry, the mayor of Albuquerque, Abruzzo’s home town, said.
“I went to university with Richard and he and his family are well known and really are true leaders in our community.
“Richard has been ballooning for all of his life and I’ve a lot of confidence he and Carol Rymer Davis are well prepared and experienced and we are still hoping for the best.”
Abruzzo is the son of famed balloonist Ben Abruzzo, who was the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean in a gas balloon in 1981.
Davis is a radiologist from Denver, Colorado, and an experienced balloonist.

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