Balloonists recount flight

Jeff Barnard/Associated Press
Oregon gas station owner Kent Couch and Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta lifting off from Couch’s gas station in Bend, Ore., in an attempt to fly in tandem lawn chairs to Montana. The duo ran into thunderstorms that forced them to abort the flight. Enlarge photo

Jeff Barnard/Associated Press Oregon gas station owner Kent Couch and Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta lifting off from Couch’s gas station in Bend, Ore., in an attempt to fly in tandem lawn chairs to Montana. The duo ran into thunderstorms that forced them to abort the flight.

Two men flying matching lawn chairs suspended by helium-filled party balloons over Central Oregon last weekend said Tuesday they were floating along peacefully at 14,000 feet when thunderstorms grabbed control of their homemade craft like a giant hand.

“It was so nice, so beautiful, so peaceful,” for the first three hours of the flight, said Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, who joined lawn-chair ballooning veteran Kent Couch in an attempt to fly from Couch’s gas station in Bend, Ore., to Montana as a warm-up for a future flight over Iraq. “Then we were in this thunderstorm.”

Couch said it was like some giant hand grabbed hold of their craft.

Couch said Lafta asked if they should jump with the parachutes they strapped on before climbing into their lawn chairs.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to jump,”’ Couch said. “‘I’m not ready to jump yet.’

“By the time we got in our landing mode, I wished we would have jumped.”

They were buffeted for an hour and a half.

With half their 800 pounds of ballast and nearly half their 350 balloons gone, Couch said they would never make it to Montana, a trip of some 400 miles. Flight by helium-filled party balloons is a constant process of releasing ballast and shooting out balloons, Couch said.

“It was really, really dangerous for us,” he said. “The best solution is to get down.”