(1982, California) Larry Walters of Los Angeles is one of the
few to contend for the Darwin Awards and live to tell the tale. "I
have fulfilled my 20-year dream," said Walters, a former truck driver
for a company that makes TV commercials. "I'm staying on the
ground. I've proved the thing works."
Larry's boyhood dream was to fly. But fates conspired to keep him from his
dream. He joined the Air Force, but his poor eyesight disqualified him from
the job of pilot. After he was discharged from the military, he sat in his
backyard watching jets fly overhead.
He hatched his weather balloon scheme while sitting outside in his
"extremely comfortable" Sears lawnchair. He purchased 45 weather
balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store, tied them to his tethered
lawnchair (dubbed the Inspiration I) and filled the four-foot diameter
balloons with helium. Then, armed with some sandwiches, Miller Lite, and a
pellet gun, he strapped himself into his lawnchair. He figured he would
shoot to pop a few of the many balloons when it was time to descend.
Larry planned to sever the anchor and lazily float to a height of about 30
feet above the backyard, where he would enjoy a few hours of flight before
coming back down. But things didn't work out quite as Larry planned.
When his friends cut the cord anchoring the lawnchair to his Jeep, he did
not float lazily up to 30 feet. Instead he streaked into the LA sky as if
shot from a cannon, pulled by the lift of 45 helium balloons, holding 33
cubic feet of helium each.
He didn't level off at 100 feet, nor did he level off at 1000 feet. After
climbing and climbing, he leveled off at 16,000 feet.
At that height he felt he couldn't risk shooting any of the balloons, lest
he unbalance the load and really find himself in trouble. So he stayed
there, drifting cold and frightened with his beer and sandwiches, for more
than 14 hours. He crossed the primary approach corridor of LAX, where
startled Trans World Airlines and Delta Airlines pilots radioed in reports
of the strange sight.
Eventually he gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons, and slowly descended. The hanging tethers tangled and caught in a power line, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Larry climbed to safety, where he was arrested by waiting members of the LAPD. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue asked him why he had done it. Larry replied nonchalantly, "A man can't just sit around."
The Federal Aviation Administration was not amused. Safety Inspector Neal Savoy said, "We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, a charge will be filed."
DarwinAwards.com © 1994 - 2012
Submitted by: Ed Greany, Douglas Walker, Walter Hecht
Reference: UPI, Stabbed with
a Wedge of Cheese by Charles Downey
Larry's efforts won him a $1,500 FAA fine, a prize from the Bonehead Club
of Dallas, the altitude record for gas-filled clustered balloons, and a
Darwin Awards At-Risk Survivor. He gave his aluminum lawnchair to admiring
neighborhood children, abandoned his truck-driving job, and went on the
lecture circuit. He enjoyed intermittent demand as a motivational speaker,
but said he never made much money from his innovative flight. He never
married and had no children. Larry hiked into the forest and shot himself
on October 6, 1993. He died at the age of 44.
3 July 1982
18 December 1982
Excerpt from Robert Fulghum's Book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Los Angeles Times
Ed Greany adds:
am a member of Crest
REACT, a non-profit organization that monitors CB Channel
9 for emergencies. I have the entire event recorded on cassette,
while Larry and Santiago REACT Unit 66 were in CB contact. He
was not rescued by a helicopter, as you inaccurately report (see our previous version)
but came down of his own actions and became entangled in power
lines. He later committed suicide. He recorded a song called
"Lawn Chair that Flew" c. 1982 ASCAP and gave me a personal
copy. I invited him to be a guest speaker at a later REACT Council
meeting in Corona, CA. The CB recording is not Copyrighted,
and you may have a copy by sending $2 to cover duplication to:
Ed Greany c/o Crest React
P.O. Box 395
Corona, CA 92878-0395
Ed says, "I prefer cash as it is simpler,
but any medium is okay."
An informative article by alanboyle.