US team vanishes at oldest balloon event

The disappearance of an American team participating in the world’s oldest balloon race sparked air and sea searches by Italian authorities Wednesday.

Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis, who lifted off Saturday from Bristol, western England, last transmitted their whereabouts at 7:58am local time Wednesday.

The organizers behind the 54th Gordon Bennett International Gas Balloon Race said they had become "very concerned" about the pair. Thunderstorms were reported in the area of their last-known position.

Italian maritime authorities launched a rescue operation involving a helicopter and speedboat, and Croatian authorities and shipping traffic were alerted.

The Gordon Bennett competition was first organized by James Gordon Bennett Junior in 1906 in Paris. The longest flight wins the prize. It was first won by a British team in 2008, when David Hempleman-Adams and Jon Mason claimed victory after flying 1,098 miles from Albuquerque, N.M., to the shores of Lake Michigan in just over three days — giving them the right to host the next contest.

Some 20 ballooning teams from 10 countries participated this year, all of which are equipped with the latest meteorological technology and GPS tracking systems.

The Swiss team won, having almost reached Constanta in Romania — a distance of 2,435.08 kilometers (1,513 miles) from the start point in Bristol.