By Mail Foreign Service
When space balloon launches go wrong: A cloud of dust is sent up in the air as the balloon crashes to the ground in Australia today
Bystanders were forced to flee for their lives today when the launch of a giant space balloon in the Australian Outback went badly wrong.
The multi-million pound balloon - along with its heavy payload of scientific equipment - ripped from its mooring and careened across the desert, overturning an SUV.
One witness said she felt lucky to be alive after the car-sized, unmanned gondola hanging beneath the balloon careened out of control into the vehicle parked next to hers at the launch site near Alice Springs
Damage: Scientists inspect the damage done to their multi-million pound equipment after the crash today
The balloon was part of a research project by academics and students at the University of California, Berkeley, and several Taiwanese universities designed to study gamma rays in space from 25 miles above the earth.
As the huge balloon filled with air, it ripped from its mooring and dragged across the desert, crashing into and overturning a parked four-wheel-drive vehicle and strewing debris across a wide area before coming to a halt.
No-one was injured in the accident, which was captured on video by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television film crew.
In the way: The balloon overturned this SUV when it ripped from its moorings
Debris: Scientists inspect the damage to the equipment
Alice Springs couple Stan and Betty Davies were in their car when the gondola broke free and came lurching towards them, hitting the vehicle next to them.
'We were sitting in our car and preparing to move it out of the way and we were actually within about a foot of being wiped out,' Mrs Davies told ABC.
The exact cause of the crash was not immediately known, though wind gusts were suspected.
Aftermath: The wreckage of the balloon is gathered up after the failed attempt
Ravi Sood, an astrophysicist from the University of New South Wales who was overseeing the balloon launch, said quick-changing wind conditions could cause difficulties for launching such large balloons.
'Ballooning, that's the way it happens on occasions but it is very, very disappointing. Gut-wrenching actually,' Mr Sood was quoted as saying by ABC.
Equipment was being recovered from the site, and Mr Sood said the team hoped to try again next month to launch the balloon.