229. The Cluster Balloonist

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Cluster balloonists tie a bunch of helium balloons to a lawn chair, sit in the chair, cut the anchor rope, and go flying into the wild blue yonder. To land, they cut some of the cords attaching the balloons to the chair. A small group of daredevils has been enjoying this sport for more than 30 years.

They usually take a radio to communicate with people on the ground, a GPS device so they can be located, a parachute, and bags of sand or water that they throw overboard to go higher. "It's fun, but it's not for everyone," said Glenn Ford. "You have to dress warmly for higher altitudes. You should always take a life preserver and wear a helmet. And you need to take food and water for emergencies." Balloonists often soar up to 6,000 feet, and many have soared to 12,000 feet or higher.

A popular priest in Brazil decided to try cluster ballooning. Reporters from newspapers and TV stations interviewed and photographed him before take-off. He laughed and waved at everyone as his chair started rising. "I'll see you at one o'clock," he yelled to everyone on the ground. It was 11 a.m.

The weather, however, took a sudden turn for the worse. People could see the wind driving the balloonist toward the Atlantic. The bright balloons disappeared into the dark clouds. The next day, a pilot in a single-engine plane saw some balloons floating 10 miles out to sea. There was no sign of the priest. "This is unbelievable," said his best friend. "He was an expert sky diver. He had a life preserver, an inflatable life raft, and a GPS device. And, he was a priest!"


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