Bursting Branson's Balloon

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MARRAKESH, Morocco: Mimicking the idle-rich adventurers in Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” Virgin tycoon Richard Branson has been trying for years to become the first man to fly a hot air balloon around the world. Unfortunately for Branson, the balloon had other ideas.

As a ground crew prepared it for launch, the Challenger blithely snapped its moorings and soared into the bright Moroccan sky — as Branson watched in horror from his hotel room. "I could see it going up and I knew that one way or another I should have been on it, something was wrong," he was quoted as saying on the Challenger’s project’s web site. Having reached 60,000 feet, the wayward balloon decided to lead the chase plane sent to track it across the Atlas mountains into neighboring Algeria.

Branson hopes to recover the Challenger and resume his quest shortly. After all, it’s not as if he’s needed back at the office.