The Steam Packet Company has returned a school science project which crash-landed in the Isle of Man to the pupils of St Andrew's Academy in Renfrewshire, Scotland.

The students launched the helium-filled weather balloon on Tuesday, expecting it to land in Dumfriesshire. Instead, the balloon, which carried a capsule fitted with a GPS tracking device, drifted out over the Irish Sea and was feared lost.

However, the GPS signal showed it had actually come back down to earth in St John’s, Isle of Man, after traveling around 150 miles, battling 100+mph winds and reaching an altitude of 28,000m (91,863ft), which is regarded as 'near space'.

The school contacted St John’s vicar Diane Marchment, whose church is near the landing site. Her husband John came to the rescue and retrieved the capsule and experiment equipment.

On Saturday the equipment was carried to Heysham on Ben-my-Chree, in the care of the ship’s master James Cavanagh. It was collected by a group from the school.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward said: ‘The students put a great deal of time and hard work into this project and it must have been a worrying time when the balloon drifted off course. Fortunately, it came down safely in the Isle of Man and as soon as we were contacted about getting the balloon back to the students we immediately arranged for it to be shipped to Heysham in the care of Ben-my-Chree’s captain and handed over in person.

‘It sounds like a fascinating project, and I hope the safe return of the balloon and capsule allows the students to complete their work.’

The balloon was launched as part of Project Helios, a seven-month mission at the school to promote the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The capsule contained a video camera, a microcomputer with sensors to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature and altitude, and a 3 inch cactus. A second cactus was kept at the school with the intention of measuring differences between the two when the balloon landed.

Mission leader and sixth-year pupil Lewis Campbell said: ‘Project Helios has been a remarkable adventure for the school. As the first school in Scotland aiming to reach near space we were devastated to think we had lost the capsule at sea with its experiment, sensors and video footage. We beat all odds to miraculously land on the Isle of Man. We have been so appreciative of the local support to help retrieve the capsule. To the vicar’s husband John Marchment, to Captain James Cavanagh at the Steam Packet Company – we are truly thankful. We can’t wait to see what the video footage will show!’

St Andrew's head teacher Kevin Henry added: ‘Project Helios has been a wonderful experience for our students. They spent months preparing for the launch and there was great excitement in the school as we watched the balloon rise into the sky. Little did we know the adventure that our little balloon and capsule would have! It was amazing piece of good fortune that it landed on the Isle of Man and we are very grateful for the help of John in recovering the payload and to Captain James and the Steam Packet Company in ensuring its safe return to St Andrew’s Academy.’

The Project Helios capsule is handed over on Ben-my-Chree’s bridge. Pictured from left are Claire Stevenson, Orlagh McKeeman, Chief Engineer Dean Ellis, Captain James Cavanagh, Mairead Gavin, Catherine Campbell and Chief Officer Simon Killey