Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, right, and Bend, Ore., gas station owner Kent Couch lift off Saturday, July 14, 2012, from Couch's gas station in Bend, Ore., as they attempt to fly some 360 miles to Montana. The flight is a warm-up for a future flight planned in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)
Weather stops tandem lawn chair balloon flight

First Published Jul 14 2012 06:33 pm • Last Updated Jul 14 2012 06:51 pm

Bend, Ore. • An Oregon gas station owner and an Iraqi adventurer trying to fly from Central Oregon to Montana were forced to abort their flight to Montana on Saturday due to thunderstorms.

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.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

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."

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. They floated about 30 miles north, then winds pushed them back to the south, before sending them to the east, the direction they wanted to go.

"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 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 colors of the U.S. and Iraqi flags. An American flag flew from the bottom of the framework supporting the chairs.

Just before liftoff, they had to ask children in the crowd to return four balloons to provide extra lift.


story continues below
story continues below

The rig included 800 pounds of ballast — red Kool-Aid in 40-gallon barrels. Besides a GPS, navigation gear, satellite phone, oxygen, two-way radios, eight cameras, and parachutes, they were carrying two Red Ryder BB rifles and a pair of blowguns to shoot out enough balloons to come to earth when the time is right.

"The landings are very tough," Couch said. "I don’t think about the landings until I have to land. That’s how I do it."

Expecting to float at 15,000-18,000 feet, where temperatures drop to near zero, they packed sleeping bags to stay warm.

Electronic gear was powered by a solar panel. A flare gun was tied onto the framework for emergencies. They also carried the ashes of a family friend to spread over the high desert.

Lance Schliep, an appliance repairman, helped Couch with the latest design, made entirely from items bought at local hardware stores and junk from Couch’s garage.

"It’s about as redneck as you can get," Couch said.

Couch said their biggest challenge was finding enough helium to fill all the balloons. They sent as far as the Midwest for bottles. Each balloon that popped on inflation represented a $50 loss, but Couch would not divulge the total cost.

The two men hoped to fly through the night across the mountains of Idaho and touch down Sunday morning somewhere in southwestern Montana.

The flight was a warm-up for plans to fly a tandem lawn chair balloon rig in Baghdad sometime in the future.

"My target is to inspire young people, especially in the Mideast," Lafta said. "I want to tell them, ‘I didn’t give up. Keep standing. Smile. This is the way to defeat terrorists.’"

Couch said receiving Lafta’s email in the dead of winter, at a time he was bored, inspired him to go aloft again.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.