Missing balloonist left voicemail for crew chief

A message from a balloonist who went missing over the Adriatic said "things are good" about 90 minutes before the balloon vanished from the radar.

American pilots Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis were competing in the Gordon Bennett race but disappeared on 29 September.

Mr Abruzzo left the message for his ground crew at 0513 BST on Wednesday.

He said: "We're headed for Albania - we're scooting along." The race launched near Bristol on 25 September.

'Very sad'

Richard Abruzzo left the message on the mobile phone of his crew chief, Rob Bayly.

Mr Bayly said it was a routine message left on his phone while he and the ground crew were on a ferry en route to Croatia where they had hoped to successfully retrieve the balloon.

He said: "It was sad now to know he was heading for a storm after such a calm message. It must have been the calm before the storm."

He added Mr Abruzzo had further voice communication with the weatherman, which was not recorded, before they lost contact on Wednesday morning.

Americans, Mr Abruzzo, 47, and Ms Rymer Davis, 65, who won the race in 2004, last had contact with the Italian coastguard at 0800 local time (0700 BST) on 29 September when they reported bad weather conditions.

A search for the pair was started and led by the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) on Wednesday but was called off on Monday afternoon.

The event's organisers said on Friday that new radar information on the missing Americans suggested they were "unlikely to have survived".

Race director Don Cameron told the BBC earlier: "The rate of descent at the last moment was about 50mph (80km/h). If that's correct it's very pessimistic news."

The Italian coastguard said they would continue a scaled-down search during their routine patrol boat activities.

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