World News

Raleigh man crosses English Channel with helium balloons

Posted May 28, 2010 4:30 a.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2010 7:24 p.m. EDT

— An American adventurer crossed the English Channel on Friday carried by a bundle of helium balloons, ending a quiet and serene flight by touching down in a French cabbage patch.

"Every kid has had this fantasy. If we can just get enough balloons, we can hold on and float off," Jonathan Trappe, 36, of Raleigh, said of his journey.

Trappe was strapped in a specially equipped chair below a bright cluster of balloons when he lifted off early Friday from Kent, in southeast England. About five hours later, he lowered himself into a French field by cutting some of the balloons away.

"It was an outstanding adventure," Trappe told Sky News television, which covered the adventure. "It was just an exceptional, quiet, peaceful experience."

The channel crossing wasn't a matter of just grabbing a few balloons.

"This is something he was wanting to do and planning to do for a long time," said Paul Wilder, Trappe's friend and fellow member of the Wings of Carolina Flying Club. "He's very passionate about what he does and very excited about it, but very organized and not the daredevil type."

Trappe says on his website that he made a scouting trip in March and gained clearance from French and British aviation authorities and from customs and immigration offices on both sides.

His equipment list didn't stop at balloons and a chair but included an aircraft transponder, oxygen system, aircraft radios, emergency locator beacon, in-flight satellite tracking and a radio tracker.

"He had all the correct authorization, and I believe he even gave something to the owner of the land where he came down by way of damages," said a spokesman for French police.

Last month, Trappe claimed the record for the longest free-floating balloon flight after spending 14 hours blowing in the wind over North Carolina and traveling 109 miles between Sanford and Fremont.

"He took off, and he floated around the airport for a while, then floated over Pittsbroro, and he was out of sight," Wilder said.

On another flight, Trappe's website says, he ascended to 17,930 feet, just below controlled airspace.

"There are risks, and we work to methodically reduce the risk, so we can have a safe and fun flight," said Trappe, who is certified for balloon flight by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. "Really, it's only about dreams and enjoying an adventure, and that's only enjoyable when it is safe."

Wilder said he's anxious for his friend to return to the Triangle and show him the ropes.

"I'd go for a tethered ride and try it out. I know if he's there, it's a safe ride," he said.