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Storms hit pilots flying in chairs at 14,000ft

TWO men who were flying on chairs suspended by helium-filled party balloons have described how thunderstorms grabbed control of their homemade machines.

The adventurous pair were floating 14,000ft above the US state of Oregon when the incident happened.

"It was so nice, so beautiful, so peaceful, for the first three hours of the flight," said Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, who joined lawn chair ballooning veteran Kent Couch in an attempt to fly from Oregon to Montana as a warm-up for a future flight over Iraq.

"It felt like a wind raced up, grabbed the balloons and squeezed them," said Couch.

"Ten of them popped at one time. It sounded like a string of firecrackers being let off."

Couch said Lafta asked if they should use the parachutes they had strapped on before climbing into their lawn chairs.

"I said, 'I don't want to. I'm not ready to jump yet,'" Couch said.

With an eye out for an open spot to land, they started shooting balloons with the rifles they carried by their chairs.

Banging along the ground, they released two clusters of red balloons to prevent the craft from floating off, then jumped off.

Despite the setback, both men plan to go ahead with their flight in Iraq, attempting to break an altitude record this October from a site to yet be determined.

hnews@herald.ie