In A Nutshell
In 1982, 33-year-old truck driver Larry Walters finally realized his dream of flying—by tying 42 weather balloons to a lawn chair and soaring 4,800 meters (16,000 ft) into the sky. After floating about 16 kilometers (10 mi), from San Pedro, California to Long Beach, he shot out some of the balloons with a pellet gun and landed safely, where he was promptly arrested.
The Whole Bushel
Countless television shows and movies have used the plot device of floating away tethered to balloons, most notably Pixar’s Up. It seems impossible, the pipe dream of a teenage boy or a lunatic, but in 1982, a man named Larry Walters found his 15 minutes of fame and inspired a nation when he tied 42 helium-filled weather balloons to a lawn chair and took off into the sky.
He did not go unprepared. He carried with him on his journey a camera, a pellet gun, a parachute, beer, sandwiches, and a CB radio. Friends watched in amazement as the chair floated quickly away.
His landing was a little tricky; he’d brought the pellet gun to pop balloons and allow himself a controlled descent, but he dropped it after popping only a few. He slowly sank, eventually becoming caught in some power lines and causing a brief blackout in Long Beach. He was arrested by the police department when he climbed to the ground. Walters was fined $4,000 by the FAA for violations of the Federal Aviation Act, but after an appeal, the charge was dropped to $1,500. He because famous after the incident, appearing on The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman. He was able to quit his job as a truck driver and give motivational speeches about following dreams, and he was even in a Timex watch ad. When speaking about the incident, Larry said “People ask me if I had a death wish. I tell them no, it was something I had to do.”
Unfortunately, in the years following his flight, Larry’s life fell apart. He and his longtime girlfriend ended their relationship and demand for speaking engagements dried up. He worked as a security guard and volunteered for the US Forest Service, patrolling the San Gabriel Mountains. On October 6, 1993, he hiked into the Angeles National Forest and committed suicide, shooting himself through the heart. He left no note.
In the years since, Larry’s flight has inspired imitators, including Kent Couch of Oregon, who flew 385 kilometers (240 mi) in both 2007 and 2008, and Adelir Antonio de Carli, a Brazilian priest who plunged into the ocean during a flight in April 2008 and died. On July 4, 2008, the lower half of de Carli’s body was found floating in the ocean. On the 20th anniversary of Lawnchair Larry’s stunt, Mythubusters successfully replicated the feat.