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Balloonists abandon effort to circle globe

Three Europeans abandoned their record-setting attempt at the first nonstop balloon flight around the world Wednesday, defeated by China's refusal to allow them into its airspace.

Flight director Alan Noble said the balloon would likely come down in Burma or Thailand in the next few days, after a more than weeklong journey rife with problems with gear, weather and geopolitics."It's a very sad moment," Noble said at the balloon's Swiss mission control center, where bottles of celebratory champagne sat unopened.

The balloonists, who took off from an Alpine resort on Feb. 28, broke the world record Tuesday for the most time in the air.

"It's the icing on the cake - but unfortunately we haven't got the cake," Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard said in a message from the balloon.

Noble said that although the Chinese had not given their final word on an overflight, it was now too late for the Breitling Orbiter 2 balloon to pick up the fast jet stream winds needed to speed it around the world. The crew members no longer have enough fuel to clear the Pacific Ocean if they tried to skirt China and keep going.

Noble said the balloon would keep heading down through India and then across the Bay of Bengal into either Burma or Thailand, where he expected a disappointing - and difficult - landing in the jungles.

The balloonists planned to stay airborne for as long as possible to extend their endurance record, Noble said.

The balloon was just southeast of the Taj Mahal city of Agra when the crew last made contact with monitors on the ground, said an official in New Delhi.

Chinese officials have said the balloon poses a security risk to other aircraft in its airspace. It was only the latest such problem for the flight: Over the weekend, the balloon's course took it over the U.S.-patrolled no-fly zone over northern Iraq without U.S. permission; the balloon cleared Iraq unscathed after five tense hours.

The team bettered the record set last year by American adventurer Steve Fossett, who was on his Solo Challenger balloon for 146 hours and 44 minutes before lack of fuel forced him down in India.

The control center said the team beat that record at 8:07 a.m. EST Tuesday, and its staff celebrated that achievement with some of their champagne.

British tycoon Richard Branson is also out to fly around the world nonstop - although he has not yet decided whether he will take off this year.

"I'm very pleased about the new world record and every hour we fly makes it more difficult for Mr. Branson to take it off us. So it's not a total failure," Noble said.