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Wild Pics: Oregon Man Attempts to Break 'Lawn Chair Balloon' Flight Record With Iraqi Adventurer

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"It's about as redneck as you can get"

Couch made news with his previous lawn chair adventures. (Photo: AP)

(The Blaze/AP) -- An Oregon gas station owner and an Iraqi adventurer have taken to the sky in a pair of lawn chairs suspended from helium-filled party balloons, according to reports.

Cheered on by roughly 1,000 supporters, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta lifted off Saturday morning from Couch's Shell gas station in Bend, Ore.

Earlier, volunteers filled 350 5-foot-diameter balloons with helium and tied them to Couch's homemade tandem lawn chair rig.  The rig includes 800 pounds of unconventional ballast -- red Kool-Aid in 40-gallon barrels.

Besides a GPS, satellite phone, and parachutes, they will also carry a Red Ryder BB rifle to shoot out enough balloons to come to earth when the time is right.

The two men hope to fly through the night across Idaho and touch down Sunday morning somewhere in southwestern Montana. But winds were carrying them in a southeastern direction shortly after the 10:20 a.m. takeoff.

But the flight isn't only for the thrill of it.  According to the pilots, the expedition is a warm-up for plans to fly a tandem lawn chair balloon rig over Baghdad sometime in the future for charity.

"A lot of people have contacted me over the years about flying, but Fareed was by far the most sincere," Couch said of his companion. "I went to the orphanages with him and saw the children there. And Fareed also has lots of sky-diving experience. Now I'll have someone to share my inflight experiences with."

Lafta commented: "I want to inspire Iraqis and say we need to defeat terrorists...We don't need just an Army. We need ideology and to just have fun."

Couch has wanted to float like a cloud since he was a child, he says, and was inspired by a TV show about the 1982 lawn chair flight over Los Angeles by truck driver Larry Walters, who gained urban myth immortality.

Couch's first time up was in 2006, when he got only 99 miles before the balloons started popping and he had to bail out.

In 2007, he flew 193 miles before running low on helium and landing in the sagebrush of Eastern Oregon.

In 2008, things went much more smoothly. After lifting off at dawn July 5 with the help of scores of volunteers, he floated at 35 mph across the high desert, reaching his goal of crossing the Idaho border. That's when he pulled out his trusty BB rifle and shot out enough balloons to come to earth in a pasture outside the tiny farming community of Cambridge, Idaho.

Couch was at it again in 2010, racing another lawn chair balloonist in a flight that went about 70 miles.

This time he hopes to set a world record.  The current record listed by Guinness for the longest duration flight by helium balloons is held by Jonathan Trappe for a flight of 13 hours, 36 minutes, 57 seconds over North Carolina in April 2010.

"It's about as redneck as you can get," Couch commented, adding that there is "perfect peace up there."

Check out this promo for "Balloons Over Baghdad:

UPDATE:

From the Associated Press:

About six hours into their flight, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta started to descend from an altitude of 10,000 feet because of the weather, flight organizer Mark Knowles told The Associated Press.

The website tracker showed them about five miles south of the town of Prineville, about 30 miles northeast of their starting point. The pair initially floated about 40 miles north before winds sent them back south, then east, the direction they wanted to go.

"Thunderstorms are around them," Knowles said by cellphone. "We've got visual contact. I can't see their faces."

Update:

 

Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta were about seven hours into their flight Saturday when they were forced to descend, coming down near a reservoir about 30 miles (48 kilometres) east of their starting point. But after they scrambled out of the contraption, it floated up again, flight organizer Mark Knowles said.

“They came down hard,” Knowles said by cellphone. “The craft went back up. It’s sitting up in the sky right above us.”

Earlier on Saturday, about 90 volunteers and several hundred onlookers counted down and then cheered as the pair lifted off from Couch’s Shell gas station. The duo safely cleared a two-story motel, a coffee stand and a light post.

“The interesting thing is, anybody can do this,” Couch, the veteran of several lawn chair balloon flights, said before the flight. “They don’t have to sit on the couch thinking, ‘I should have done it.’ They can do it.”

Lafta, a mountain climber and sky diver, said he had shared Couch’s childhood dream of floating like a cloud. He sent Couch an email two winters ago after reading accounts of Couch’s earlier flights.

“I want to inspire Iraqis and say we need to defeat terrorists,” Lafta said. “We don’t need just an Army. We need ideology and to just have fun.”

Volunteers filled 350 5-foot (1.5-meter) diameter red, white, blue and black balloons with helium and tied them to Couch’s homemade tandem lawn chair rig. The balloons were arranged in bunches to represent the colours of the U.S. and Iraqi flags. An American flag flew from the bottom of the framework supporting the chairs.

 

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