A thunderstorm forced two men who tied party balloons onto lawn chairs in their attempt to fly from Oregon to Montana in the US to set a world record.
The pair, a Bend, Oregon gas station owner and an Iraqi adventurer, had travelled about 7 hours and 48 kilometers when they forced down and landed hard near a reservoir. The Washington Post says they had been pelted with hail and snow and strong turbulence before they came down. After they got out of the chairs, their homemade contraption floated up again.
About 1000 volunteers and onlookers had gathered to count them down as they lifted off from Kent Couch's gas station. One of those watching the launch has posted a video on YouTube.
Couch had apparently tried to fulfill his childhood dream several times before and Fareed Lafta, a mountain climber and sky diver, sent him an email after reading about the earlier flights. The Globe and Mail quotes Couch saying, "The interesting thing is, anybody can do this. They don't have to sit on the couch thinking, 'I should have done it.' They can do it."
Lafta tells the Washington Post, “My target is to inspire young people, especially in the Mideast. I want to tell them, ‘I didn’t give up. Keep standing. Smile. This is the way to defeat terrorists.'“
The volunteers helped fill 350 red, white, blue and black balloons with helium, representing the colours of the US and Iraqi flags, and tied them to a frame supporting two tandem lawn chairs with a large American flag hanging underneath. The pair had filled 150 litre barrels with Kool-Aid to act as ballast and had stocked up with a GPS, satellite phone, oxygen, two way radios, cameras, parachutes, and sleeping bags to stay warm. They also had a couple of BB guns and blowguns to shoot out enough balloons to bring them down to earth when they were ready. They had a flare gun for emergencies and had carried the ashes of a family friend to spread over the high desert.
The pair had planned to fly over Iraq last year but couldn't get government permission. Still this flight was supposed to be a warm up before trying to fly a tandem lawn chair balloon in Baghdad later.
They had set up a website and Facebook page to update their followers and had hoped to set a world record for the longest two-man cluster balloon flight.