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U.S. balloonist forced to abandon Atlantic crossing

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - A balloonist who departed Maine in a lifeboat suspended by hundreds of colorful helium-filled balloons was forced to give up his attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean due to technical problems.

Jonathan Trappe, of Raleigh, North Carolina, took off early on Thursday from Caribou, Maine, on what he described as the first flight of its kind, but ended up back on the ground in a remote part of coastal Canada hours later.

"Landed safe, at an alternate location. Remote. I put the exposure canopy up on the boat. Will stay here for the night," Trappe wrote on the social media website Facebook late on Thursday. The message included a link to a satellite map that showed his location on the coast of Newfoundland.

An hour earlier, he had written another message: "Hmm. This doesn't look like France."

A representative of Barcroft Media, which is tracking the expedition and has been in contact with Trappe via satellite phone, said the voyage was cut short due to technical difficulties, but did not elaborate.

Trappe, who had crossed the English Channel in a "cluster balloon" in 2010, said he spent two years preparing for the flight and had waited for suitable weather conditions before embarking on the journey.

A technical projects manager at management consulting firm Accenture, Trappe has also completed a gas balloon flight across the Alps from France to Italy, according to his website.

"I have been looking at an epic challenge - one that honestly may prove to be beyond me," he wrote. "Nobody has ever made a flight like this, using only small helium balloons - in manned flight - across the ocean."

The last person to cross the Atlantic using only a helium balloon was Colonel Joe Kittinger in 1984, according to Trappe. That flight also began in Caribou, Maine. Kittinger helped Trappe prepare for his attempt to float across the Atlantic.

In 2012, Trappe flew 8,500 feet over Mexico in a cartoon-like house held aloft by hundreds of balloons, reminiscent of the Disney/Pixar movie "Up," a balloon adventure story that won an Oscar for best animated movie in 2010.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Andrew Hay)

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