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Case of boy trapped in balloon aircraft recalls man who flew around L.A. in lawn chair

October 15, 2009 | 12:26 pm

Balloon The terrifying case of a 6-year-old boy trapped in a hot-air balloon flying over Colorado today recalls the case of Larry Walters, who in 1982 made worldwide headlines by piloting a lawn chair attached to helium balloons 16,000 feet above Long Beach.

"It was something I had to do," Walters told The Times after his flight from San Pedro to Long Beach on July 2, 1982. "I had this dream for 20 years, and if I hadn't done it, I would have ended up in the funny farm."

According to Times reports, Walters rigged 42 weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair, pumped them full of helium and had two friends un-tether the craft, which he had dubbed "Inspiration I." 

He took along a large bottle of soda, a parachute and a portable CB radio to alert air traffic to his presence. He also took a camera but later admitted, "I was so amazed by the view I didn't even take one picture."

Walters, a North Hollywood truck driver with no pilot or balloon training, spent about two hours aloft and soared up to 16,000 feet -- three miles -- startling at least two airline pilots and causing one to radio the Federal Aviation Administration. Shivering in the high altitude, he used a pellet gun to pop balloons to come back to Earth. On the way down, his balloons draped over power lines, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes.

The stunt earned Walters a $1,500 fine from the FAA, the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas, the altitude record for gas-filled clustered balloons (which could not be officially recorded because he was unlicensed and unsanctioned) and international admiration.

He appeared on "The Tonight Show" and was flown to New York to be on "Late Night With David Letterman," which he later described as "the most fun I've ever had."

Walters, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, took his own life in 1993.

-- Shelby Grad

Photo: Associated Press

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