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DRAMA at 75,000 FEET: Our Playmonaut's TERROR PLUNGE from EDGE of SPACE

Plucky Reg operative finally found in remote valley

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Pics We're delighted to report that our plucky Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) playmonaut pilot is safe and well, following his dramatic rescue yesterday from a Spanish mountainside.

What started as a routine test flight of the igniter for our Vulture 2 spaceplane's rocket motor, launched in perfect conditions southwest of Valladolid ...

The LOHAN team prepares to launch

The balloon just before launch

... and rising majestically above the plains of the province of Castilla y Leon ...

The view from the CHAV Picam on the ascent

... took a turn for the unexpected when the balloon burst at 23,000m, well short of the expected 32,000m.

Our new playmonaut - undeterred by the sad fate of his illustrious veteran predecessor, who was tragically lost at sea after an earlier LOHAN test flight deviated from plan - was at the controls of the Covert High Altitude Vehicle (CHAV) aircraft, slung under the main payload box. For a bit of fun, we'd decided to use the igniter to cut down the CHAV at the aforementioned 32,000m, after which it would glide majestically to earth.

The playmonaut in the cockpit of the CHAV aircraft before the launch

Well, that plan went titsup due to the premature emptying of our mighty helium-filled orb, so the plane came down with the payload somewhere in the mountains south of Avila.

Here's a map, with the red line showing the course of the balloon:

Map showing the track of the balloon

We lost the radio signals from the aircraft's onboard Raspberry Pi, and the main payload's Special Project Electronic Altitude Release System (SPEARS) control board and back-up PAVA tracker, as the whole shebang disappeared behind a mountain ridge.

With only the expected landing position to work with, we were obliged to drive as close as we could get, in the hope of reacquiring radio contact.

Cue a challenging drive up a dirt track...

One of our pursuit cars seen from the other as we ascend a dirt track

...and a sunset yomp by Dave Akerman and Rob Eastwood to a ridge from where they hoped to get a sniff of the payload. Remarkably, just as the sun was about to set, Rob managed to get a fix with a handheld antenna:

Rob Eastwood with the antenna

Obviously, a night-time rescue was out of the question, so the next day myself and Dave Akerman jumped back in the van and plotted a route to to take us as close as possible to the landing site, at 40.504211,-4.944428 (.kmz here):

The landing site as seen on Google Earth

Once we'd driven around 7km up the obligatory dirt track...

A view of the dirt track, as seen from the recovery van

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