In the race to claim the first round-the-world flight in a balloon, we were rivals, but friendly rivals. During one of Steve's attempts, he crashed in the Pacific and nearly died. I was getting close to taking off from Morocco in a three-man capsule, so I rang him to see if he would like to join us. We became good friends while flying together those seven days: crossing Mount Everest and down the Himalayan chain, with the Chinese threatening to shoot us down. During the trip, I talked with him about my desire to repopulate Necker Island with flamingos, because they had been wiped out from the British Virgin Islands 100 years ago. After he flew nonstop around the world in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, the first plane to do so, he gave me the flamingos as a gift. From the original flock of ten, we now have 250 breeding birds. We're actually using those to populate other islands. If future generations come to the British Virgin Islands and see a flamingo, they'll be able to thank Steve Fossett.
Fossett, 63, died in California's Sierra Nevada in a plane crash in 2007. Branson, 60, is the president and founder of Virgin Global, which includes Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic.