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US man flies 193 miles in deckchair

Hits 11,000ft in helium balloon stunt

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An Oregon man has undoubtedly set some kind of record by travelling 193 miles in a flying deckchair, the Bend Bulletin reports.

Kent Couch, 47, spent eight hours and 45 minutes travelling from Bend to La Grande suspended beneath 105 four-foot helium balloons, reaching a maximum altitude of 11,000 feet. He admitted: "It's scary. There's this sense of, 'What the heck am I doing? Are you crazy or what?'. But I played with my mind, I told myself, this is a good thing."

Couch was, despite the apparently foolhardy nature of the venture, well prepared for his trip. The balloons' lift was countered by 20 gallons of water which he could release to go up. To come down, he'd rigged a system which allowed him to let out some of the helium, enabling a smooth descent. This is pretty important, it seems, because on a previous "cluster balloon" flight last September, he'd precipitated a rather too rapid fall to earth by shooting the balloons with a BB gun.

To avoid a high-speed impact with the ground, Couch had then been forced to throw "nearly everything he had off his chair, including food and drink and the BB gun". He subsequently parachuted to safety.

This time around, he suffered no similar scares. As well as an improved ascent/descent mechanism, his high-tech deckchair set-up also included GPS, two-way radio, instruments to measure his altitude and speed and "assorted drinks and snacks".

Although Couch had originally planned to reach Idaho, he eventually failed to leave his home state, although he did this time manage to land without resorting to his parachute - albeit with a bit of a bump, since a higher than desirable landing speed forced him to jump from the chair as it hit the ground.

By coincidence, the adventurer landed in his parents' home town. His wife Susan, who'd been in one of three pursuit vehicles chasing her hubby, said: "They [the parents] were stressed about it. If we surprised them that would be quite funny, and an incredible coincidence."

Susan has the final word on whether this will be her other half's last cluster balloon stunt. Couch admitted: "It's up to my wife. I'm not saying I won't do it again, but I told her I'd let her decide if I did it again."

Susan is reportedly considering deploying her "wifely privilege" to put a stop to Couch's escapades, but said she'd agreed to participate in this trip "because I know he'd be thinking about it more and more, it would always be on his mind. This way, at least he's fulfilled his dream".

The Bend Bulletin has extended coverage and photos of Couch's flight here. ®

Bootnote

Thanks to Chris Winpenny for the tip-off. He says: "I must be working too hard as this seems like a sensible thing to do, especially if you see the photo in the link." Agreed.

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