The craziest air travel story in 25 years

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012

Mr. Larry Walters, a resident of California, had long harbored a desire to fly. He joined the air force, but sadly his poor eyesight prevented him from training as a pilot. After leaving the armed services he decided one day in 1982 to satisfy his urge to fly like a bird. Lacking the traditional means, such as an aircraft, hang glider or even parachute, he decided to resourcefully use balloon power.

He purchased 45 weather balloons, tethered them to a plastic garden seat and set about filling them, one by one, with helium. He reasoned that eventually he would have sufficient lift to float up to the top of the trees in the garden and admire the view enjoying the wonderful sensation of flying. A cautious man, he tethered the chair to his jeep with a thirty-foot rope and he took with him his air rifle to shoot out some of the balloons when he wanted to go back down. He also thoughtfully took some beer and sandwiches to enjoy on the way. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, at first the adventure was a roaring success. He achieved takeoff and began to climb. Once at his target height, the tree tops, he prepared to descend and looked down. And saw his friends cut the tether rope. He began to climb very fast. Petrified by the height and the danger of death if he got it wrong, he couldn't bring himself to shoot any balloons. So, transfixed by fear, he climbed further. And further. He leveled out at 16,000 feet and began to drift, cold and petrified for 14 hours.

Things began to get really out of hand when the air currents took him into to airspace of the approach to Los Angeles airport. Several pilots reported seeing a man in a garden chair dangling below a cluster of balloons bobbing past them at over twenty thousand feet. Finally Larry summoned up the courage to start shooting balloons and effected a fairly controlled descent, until the dangling balloons caught on a power line, blacking out the Long Beach area for 20 minutes.

Unharmed by the current, Larry managed to climb down the pylon to safety and into the arms of the waiting police. As he was led away Larry commented to a reporter "A man can't just sit around." The authorities were not amused. Federal Aviation Administration Safety Inspector Neal Savoy commented "We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we know which part it is, a charge will be filed."

For more details on Larry Walters' story, see

You can read more funny tales like this in both Airline Confidential, its upcoming sequel, and the Airline Confidential blog, written by Richard Havers and Chris Tiffney. The authors say that the Larry Walters story is the most amazing air travel story they've ever heard.

As we're fond of saying, If God had meant man to fly then he'd have given us tickets.

EARLIER ON THE BLOG The Mile-High Club: Fact or Fiction?

Keep reading

The Mile High Club: fact or fiction?

When two Brits, Richard Havers and Chris Tiffney, researched their exposé Airline Confidential: Lifting the Lid on the Airline Industry, they uncovered some hilarious, ghastly, and amazing stories. For example, here's what they learned about the "mile high club." Get any group of people talking about the airline business, and flying in general, and people will mention one of two things. Either it's the great lost baggage story or it's the legendary mile high club. There are few who readily admit to being a member of the club. Even those who are keen to brag of their membership are probably lying, and not just because there are, in reality, so few who have actually done it. The fact is that most commercial aircraft fly at closer to seven miles high. In order to be technically correct if you are a member of the mile high club then the chances are you will have needed to have "done it" either during climb or in the descent, which means that you should have been wearing your seatbelt! A recent survey found that around 9 percent of people admitted to having has sex on board a commercial airliner. The respondents were evenly split between men and women, perhaps indicating that the traditional wisdom that men tend to brag and women tend to be modest when asked questions about sex may be fading. Before you start checking around you on your next flight to see if close to one in ten people are at it, don't forget that only means that they may have done it on one occasion, not every time they fly! What is it that makes talk of sexual exploits on board aircraft so fascinating? It's possibly linked to the whole romance that used to be associated with flying. In the days when aircraft actually had proper bunk beds, and when air travel was the preserve of the very rich and the very famous; back then passengers were probably both. These days with air travel being more akin to getting on and off a bus the romance has very definitely gone out of flying. Another aspect of the whole sex and travel routine is the single guy, and particularly the businessman who somehow thinks that every air stewardess, flight attendant, trolley dolly, call them what you like, is going to be instantly attracted to them. Watching lonely business travelers chatting up flight attendants is still one of the saddest sights to behold. New research shows that air stewardesses are facing increasing levels of harassment. Even the British Medical Journal has got in on the act claiming that passengers have pestered one in five stewardesses. The research was undertaken among 2,000 stewardesses who worked between 1965 and 1995 for Alitalia, the Italian airline. We will refrain from making any comment. You can read more funny tales like this in both the book, its upcoming sequel, and the Airline Confidential blog. PREVIOUSLY ON THE BLOG Oh, the places you won't go! Our 2007 Not List.