Lawn chair balloonist’s flight goes awry

A 60-year-old man whose lifelong dream was to take flight in a lawn chair using helium-filled balloons did so on Saturday, though his attempt to set a record didn't go quite as planned.

“I've been thinking about this forever," Joe Barbera, a semiretired engineer from La Center, Wash., told Seattle's KATU-TV on Friday. "Little by little, I've been working on the details.”

Barbera took off from his home on Saturday morning, hoping to travel 268 miles—which would've been a record, Barbera said—and land "somewhere in Oregon." Instead, his GPS-enabled homemade contraption landed in a 40-foot tree in the middle of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Barbera was able to radio for help, and a Skamania County search-and-rescue team located Barbera 24 miles away in the forest, where rescuers brought him down safely.

“It didn’t go quite as planned,” Barbera's son, Riley, told KATU-TV.

Barbera had planned to use an oxygen tank, but he was forced to ditch it along with some other equipment—including a camera—before the launch because it was too heavy.

"There were a lot of defective balloons and we were forced to get rid of everything of weight just to get him off the ground," Kevin Cyrus, a fellow engineer, wrote on Facebook. "That included his shoes, oxygen, all of his food, and some of the computer controlled ballast. The craft was basically stripped down to Joe and his chair just so we could get him airborne."

Barbera took off with about 80 balloons, rising to about 21,000 feet—much higher than he anticipated. So the thrill-seeker popped some of the balloons on purpose, which led to his emergency tree landing.

“He got in the air," Riley added. "That’s really what we wanted.”

Barbera and his band of self-described "redneck engineers" had been working on the lawn-chair launch for a little over a month, even clearing the project with the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Finally got up enough nerve to call the FAA and ask for help," Barbera wrote on Facebook on May 9. "They were pretty cool about it."

Perhaps the crew should've seen trouble coming. According to the Columbian, Barbera's team lost track of an unmanned test balloon earlier this month.

"We were making this up as we went along," Jay Elder, a member of Barbera's rigging crew, told the newspaper.