Lawn chair balloonist's flight ends earlier than he hoped

LA CENTER, Wash. - A lawn chair balloonist who set out to break a world record for distance traveled landed in a South Washington forest Saturday afternoon just a few hours after he lifted off in his homemade flying contraption.

Joe Barbera celebrated his 60th birthday by taking off early Saturday morning outside his home in La Center. He landed in a tree 24 miles away. He was not hurt, but his chair was stuck about 80 feet off the ground in the middle of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Barbera was able to reach his family by radio. Skamania County search and rescue teams got him safely down from the tree just before 5 p.m., about six hours after his landing.

KATU spoke with Barbera when he returned to his home on Saturday afternoon.

"Gravity happened," Barbera said. "Not too surprising. What didn't happen was wind. We kind of knew there was no wind today, but I wanted to do it because of my birthday flight anyway. We kind of gave up on the distance record because I wanted to do it today."

"It didn't go quite as planned," said Riley Barbera, Joe's son. "But he got in the air. That's really what we wanted."

Riley Barbera said Joe's chair was too heavy from the beginning, so he ditched some supplies to get off the ground. After that, his dad rose as high as 21,000 feet, which was much higher than he planned, so he purposely popped some of his balloons.

"He might not have set any world records, but he got to do some lawn chair ballooning," said Riley Barbera.

Barbera and his friends were busy late Friday night filling up 100 helium balloons that they attached to the 60-year-old's lawn chair. It's been a lifelong dream for the half retired, half unemployed engineer.

"I've been thinking about this forever," Barbera told KATU on Friday. "Little by little, I've been working on the details."

Barbera and his friends built it in his driveway in only one month. The planned liftoff was 4 a.m. Saturday, but Barbera took off about four hours later than he originally hoped.

His goal was to travel at least 268 miles, which would have been enough to break the world record. Barbera brought GPS trackers, video cameras, oxygen and sand ballast along for the ride. He planned on landing somewhere in Oregon, but landed in the middle of a dense forest.

"I was there for several hours," he said. "I took a nap."