(Updates with balloonists landing short of goal)
By Dan Cook
BEND, Ore., July 14 Two men sitting in lawn
chairs tied to 350 helium-filled balloons failed in their bid on
Saturday to set a world record for the longest two-man cluster
balloon flight when bad weather forced them down well short of
A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people watched as
American Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta of Iraq lifted off on
Saturday morning from the parking lot of Couch's Stop & Go Mini
Mart in the Oregon town of Bend.
They soared into clear skies with light winds, perched
underneath balloons in the colors of the U.S. and Iraqi flags.
H a lf an hour later, they were a speck in the skies northeast of
Bend, drifting toward Idaho. The pair was equipped with
parachutes in case of emergency.
They had been seeking to make a trip of at least 500 miles
(800 km) and register the feat with Guinness World Records.
Couch, who had hoped to make it to Montana on the flight,
said before taking off that Lafta, an experienced skydiver,
contacted him a year ago and asked to join him on a cluster
balloon flight to raise funds for children orphaned by the
U.S.-led war in Iraq.
But bad weather brought the trip to an early end about 30
miles (48 km) from where it started. Previous flights had taken
Couch much farther, including a 2008 flight in which he drifted
235 miles (380 km) into Idaho.
A post at the Facebook page for the project said wind had
turned the balloonists around and pushed them back toward the
town of Prineville, Oregon, and that thunderstorms heading
toward the area were "simply too much" for the balloons.
A later post said the two men landed near Prineville.
To Couch, the real appeal of cluster balloon flight is the
sensation of being in the open air at 15,000 feet (4,600
"There is perfect peace up there," he said before the
Asked if he contemplated meaning-of-life issues as the
balloon rises above the earth, he replied: "I am a God-fearing
man, a believer in Jesus Christ. But I don't consider cluster
balloon flight death-defying. When people say that, it kind of
just eggs me on."
"Balloon flight is really quite simple." he added. You have
1,400 pounds (635 kg) of lift in the balloons, and 1,350 pounds
(612 kg) of weight and ballast. What goes up must come down."
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing By Cynthia
Johnston and Peter Cooney)