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 Snopes.com.
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 BLOGThe Mile-High Club: Fact or Fiction?