Man flies 370km in garden chair attached to balloons

Helped by 150 helium balloons and an air pistol, Kent Couch flew across the Oregon desert.

BEND, Oregon // Using his trusty air pistol to help him return to Earth, Kent Couch flew a garden chair rigged with helium filled balloons more than 370 kilometres yesterday. The petrol station owner, 48, floated across the Oregon desert before landing in a field in Idaho. Mr Couch created a sensation in the tiny farming community of Cambridge, Idaho, where he touched down safely in a pasture and was soon greeted by dozens of people who gave him drinks of water.

Mark Hertz, a local plumber, said: "My wife works at the City Market. She called and said, 'The balloon guy in the lawn chair just flew by the market.' "We go outside to look, and lo and behold, there he is. He's flying by probably 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 metres) off the ground. "He takes his BB gun and shoots some balloons to lower himself to the ground. When he hit the ground he released all the little tiny balloons. People were racing down the road with cameras. They were all talking and laughing." Mr Couch covered the distance in about nine hours after lifting off at dawn from his petrol station riding in a green garden chair rigged with an array of more than 150 giant party balloons.

He was also carried a pole with a hook for pulling in balloons, a parachute in case anything went wrong, a hand-held Global Positioning System device with altimeter, a satellite phone, and two GPS tracking devices. One was one for him, the other for the chair. "If I had the time and money and people, I'd do this every weekend," he said before getting into the chair. "Things just look different from up there. You've moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace, the serenity. "Originally, I wanted to do it because of boyhood dreams. I don't know about girls, but I think most guys look up in the sky and wish they could ride on a cloud."

His wife, Susan, said: "It's never been a dull moment since I married him." This was Mr Couch's third balloon flight. He realised it would be possible after watching a TV show about the 1982 garden chair flight over Los Angeles taken by a lorry driver called Larry Walters, who gained folk hero fame but was fined US$1,500 (Dh5,500) for violating air traffic rules. *AP