Less than a week before a McLean woman is scheduled to attempt the first nonstop balloon crossing of the United States, a major television network has gone to federal court seeking exclusive rights to cover the flight.
ABC Television filed a suit in New York on Tuesday aimed at stopping the balloonists from granting exclusive rights to NBC Television for coverage of the planned 2.295-mile, six-day and non-hour flight from Tillamook, Ore., to Norfolk, Va.
ABC claims in court papers that the McLean woman, Vera Simons, and two crew members of the balloon DaVinci TransAmerica promised ABC exclusive rights for pre-flight interviews, daily in-flight radio and television coverage and post-flight interviews.
ABC further claims the crew later changed networks -- to NBC -- with "no justification." Although ABC says it did not have a written contract with the balloonists, the network contends the agreement was confirmed by verbal promises and an appearance by the crew members on the ABC program "Good Morning America."
The crew of the DaVinci, a helium balloon larger than the Goodyear blimp, includes Simons, an accomplished balloonist; Dr. Rudolf J. Engleman, an environmental scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Dr. Fred Hyde, a radio expert and eye surgeon from Prairie View, Kan. A fourth crewman has yet to be selected.
Through a public relations firm in Washington, the crew members yesterday refused to comment on the suit before a preliminary hearing today in U.S. District Court in New York.
A spokesman said yesterday that NBC has signed a contract with the balloon crew for exclusive broadcast rights to the flight.
NBC will be represented in federal court today as an "interested party," the spokesman said. He said NBC paid "approximately the same price" for broadcast rights -- $7,500 -- as was offered by ABC.
The flight, which will attempt to break the endurance record for most hours aloft in a balloon, is sponsored by more than a half dozen major aerospace companies and a soft drink company.