A federal judge in New York yesterday rejected on technical grounds a request by the ABC television network for exclusive rights to cover the first attempted nonstop balloon crossing of the United States.
The balloon DaVinci TransAmerica, to be piloted by Vera Simons of McLean, is scheduled to lift off Monday in Tillamook, Ore., and land six days and 2,295 miles later in Norfolk, Va.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet told lawyers for ABC that the court lacked jurisdiction over the suit, which is aimed at stopping rival NBC from covering the flight, and referred the matter to a New York state court.
W. Cullen Macdonald, a lawyer for ABC, said yesterday he would have to consult with the network before deciding whether to pursue the suit. ABC contends that the crew of the DaVinci promised exclusive broadcast rights to ABC, but later switched to NBC with "no justification."
ABC's suit is not expected to delay the balloon's takeoff. The network wants exclusive rights to preflight and postflight interviews as well as rights to videotapes and photographs taken on board the balloon.
Simons, an experienced balloonist who has been planning the flight for six years, testified yesterday that she didn't care which network covered the flight. "All I want is a safe trip," she said.
Three members of the balloon crew plan to fly today to Tillamook to begin preparations for the flight.
Dave Smith, a spokesman for the crew of the DaVinci, said legal bickering over coverage of the flight has put "a tremendous emotional strain" on Simons and has disrupted planning for the flight, which will seek also to break the record for most hours aloft in a balloon.