Every adventure must come to an end — even those that have barely begun.
On Sunday an Iraqi adventurer and an Oregonian gas station owner had their attempt to fly from Oregon to Montana, borne aloft by lawn chairs held up by helium balloons, foiled by inclement weather. The from the skies by weather and came crashing down in lawn chairs held up by helium balloons. They came down hard from 10,000 feet but made it safely to the ground, although they had to watch their aircraft drift back into the sky.
“It’s about as redneck as you can get,” Oregonian Kent Couch said of his latest contraption, made entirely from found items in Couch’s garage and purchases from a hardware store.
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The two men packed BB guns to shoot out the balloons in case of emergency, a GPS tracker and navigation gear, oxygen, a satellite phone, two-way radios, cameras, parachutes and sleeping bags to combat the sub-freezing high-altitude temperatures. They also carried the ashes of a family friend to scatter from the skies into the desert.
Couch is a veteran of helium balloon travel. He started flying in 2006 after a lifetime of dreaming about floating through the skies like a cloud. Over the next few years he perfected the art made popular by the Pixar film UP and fixed the bumps he’d experienced on his first journeys.
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He thought he was done with the great cloud game in 2010, but he decided to give it one more go after receiving an email from an Iraqi man named Fareed Lafta. “I want to inspire Iraqis and say we need to defeat terrorists,” Lafta said. “We don’t need just an Army. We need ideology and to just have fun.”
So the two decided to try and sail through the skies together, both in America and Iraq. Getting clearance to fly their lawn chairs from Baghdad proved difficult, so they shifted their trip stateside.
Their departure was marked by hundreds of onlookers, cheering the seemingly harebrained endeavor. Volunteers helped fill the balloons: red, white, blue and black to represent the colors of Iraq and the United States.
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Up, up, and away they went. Easily clearing a two-story motel as the winds floated them north for about 30 miles before pushing them east toward their desired destination. Seven hours and 30 miles east, however, the two were forced to descend because of unexpected hail and snow.
Couch used his trusty BB gun to shoot his way down, just as he had in flights past. He told reporters he was used to harrowing endings, adding that the landing is the hardest part to get used to. “It takes six months after you land for your brain to get over the fear and just the emotions,” he said.