Rivals Team Up For Balloon Bid

Virgin boss Richard Branson is joining forces with his arch-rival, Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett, to try once more to pilot a hot air balloon around the world.

Branson, the flamboyant tycoon whose Virgin company name adorns everything from record stores and clothing to an airline, has failed to accomplish the feat in four tries.

Fossett's latest attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon ended last month with a 29,000-foot plunge into the Coral Sea.

The two men, along with Swedish balloonist Pers Lindstrand, plan to take off in November in the Virgin Global Challenger. For the first time, they will have a backup balloon in case their main balloon is damaged.

Branson's previous attempts have been hampered by weather. The only time he managed to take off in January 1997 his balloon crash-landed in the Algerian desert.

"We have learned from our own mistakes and other people's mistakes," Branson said Thursday. "We just hope that we get better luck this year than we have had for the past four years."

Fossett, a former commodities trader, said he was still on the rescue boat after his crash landing last month when Branson called to suggest the partnership.

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