Lawn chair balloonists abort mission, land early

ABC News
Lawn Chair Balloon Duo Abort Mission, Land Early
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Lawn Chair Balloon Duo Abort Mission, Land Early (ABC News)

An Oregon gas station owner and his Iraqi co-pilot who lifted into flight Saturday on two lawn chairs tethered to 350 balloons from Bend, Ore., were forced to abort their flight about six hours later due to thunderstorms.

Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta had said they hoped to clear at least 400 miles, which would mean a landing somewhere near southwestern Montana on Sunday morning, but ended up landing about 30 miles northeast of their starting point, flight organizer Mark Knowles told The Associated Press.

This afternoon, slow winds carried them off course to Washington State. Couch told ABC News from 11,000 feet in the air that he was "very disappointed in the wind speeds" and that they were making "not very good progress."

"We are only going 3 miles an hour at 11,000 feet," Couch said.

To land, Couch and Lafta used a Red Ryder BB rifle to shoot out enough balloons to help them have a smooth landing.

If they had remained aloft for longer than 13 and a half hours, they would have beaten the world record.

Eight hundred pounds of ballast, in the form of barrels of red Kool-Aid, were on board with the men. They were also equipped with a GPS, a satellite phone and parachutes.

"It seems simple -- you know, just putting some balloons on a lawn chair and taking off, but it gets a little more complicated than that," Couch said.

The pair plans to embark on another flight together in the fall, this time in Iraq.

"The ultimate goal is to do this in Iraq and do a fundraiser to raise awareness for the orphans in Iraq," Couch said. "There's over three and a half million of them over there that are just, you know, victims of their civil war."

In 2008, Couch gained national attention when he floated 235 miles from Oregon to Idaho in a solo flight in his balloon-carried lawn chair.

"It's just an awesome thing to be able to go up, float just like a cloud would, and just float along the earth, no noise whatsoever," he said. "If you're going 50 miles an hour, you're going as the wind goes, so you don't have any wind on your face, it's just, it's just like you're paralyzed up there in the sky, just floating along. It's an amazing feeling."

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