Up, up, and away with top title

Jonathan Mason with his wife Anna and daughter Matilda.
Jonathan Mason with his wife Anna and daughter Matilda.

A SUNSHINE Coast doctor and a renowned British explorer have won the world's premier balloon event and set a new record.

Dr Jonathan Mason, a psychologist with the Department of Communities, spent 71 hours and 32 minutes travelling 1568 kilometres to win the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race.

The event was part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the most photographed event in the world and the largest international event in America.

Dr Mason's pilot was David Hempleman-Adams. He was the first person to reach the geographic and magnetic north and south poles and to climb the highest peaks in all seven continents.

The two have been flying together for several years and won another ballooning event, the Gordon Bennett Cup, in 2008.

Dr Mason moved from Britain to the Sunshine Coast with his wife Anna and daughter Matilda in 2009.

He has kept his ballooning feats low-profile, but one of his colleagues heard about his participation in the Albuquerque event and thought the world should know.

This was Julie Watson, the mother of Jessica Watson, the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Mrs Watson said that when Jessica heard of what Dr Mason was achieving she said she had an "obligation to tell the world".

She was thankful Jessica had chosen the sea and not the air to set her record.

"They (ballooners) are at the mercy of the gods up there," she said.

Dr Mason and Mr Hempleman-Adams won the ballooning event yesterday when their closest competitors, Americans Peter Cuneo and Barbara Frick, were forced to land. More than two hours later Dr Mason and Mr Hempleman-Adams made a safe landing near the Canadian border.

They had spanned three American states.

The old record of 68 hours and 41 minutes was set in 2008.

This was the first America's Challenge win for the duo.

While the British flag was being shown for the winner of the event, Dr Mason is listed as "Australian".

Dr Mason was "still out in the boonies in North Dakota" late yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

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