WASHBURN, Maine — After almost 68 hours aloft, Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett Team USA III co-piloted by Washburn native Sam Canders is back on solid ground in Spain.

Canders said he and fellow balloonist Andy Cayton lost too much altitude trying to avoid a thunderstorm and were forced to land their gas-powered balloon Tuesday afternoon just northwest of Cordoba, Spain. Their balloon landed about 1,300 kilometers from the launch site in Geneva, Switzerland, where 16 balloons took off Saturday evening.

By Tuesday, five remained in the race. The winning team is the one staying up the longest and flying the farthest.

Working with a land-based support team that includes a meteorologist with the latest tracking and weather gear, Team USA III took advantage of up-to-the-minute climate data.

“You have to consider the altitude you choose and the speeds and directions of the winds at those altitudes,” Canders said. “Some winds may have good speeds but not allow you to track in the right direction to get the distance you want.”

While floating over Switzerland, France, Spain and the Mediterranean, Canders and Cayton were treated to some distinctive scenery and experiences.

“Last night was pretty neat,” Canders said Tuesday by e-mail. “The balloon settled in around 500 meters above the ground with a full moon behind us lighting our way while we cruised at nearly 30 mph. We passed over a small town that was having a celebration [and] once we got about 10 miles away they started a fireworks display.”

With the landing of Team III, five balloons were left in the competition Tuesday with Team USA I leading the pack and floating toward the Portuguese coastline.

Sharing the skies as of Tuesday afternoon were teams from France and Germany.

Back on Earth, Canders and Cayton were waiting for their chase crew to come pick up them and the balloon.

“They just do their best to use the forecast given by the meteorologist and try to stay ahead of the balloon,” Canders said. “For this flight they stayed in Barcelona a night to see if we headed north to Italy [and] once they were sure we were headed to Spain, they continued the chase.”

While participating in the race, Canders also was raising funds for Healthcare Charities, the lead sponsor for the Children’s Miracle Network for the 10 northernmost counties in Maine.

Canders pledged to the charitable cause $1 for every hour flown with an additional 10 cents a mile.

Anyone who wants to donate as part of Cander’s fundraising may do so at https://secure.emh.org/emhs/CMN_donate_teamusa.as.



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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.