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American crosses English Channel in chair tied to helium balloons

American Jonathan Trappe set the world record for the first successful cluster balloon flight across the English Channel today.

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Another cluster ballooner, Kent Couch, made headlines in 2009. After watching a 2006 episode of the Discovery Channel TV show Myth Busters prove Walters’ feat was possible, “I thought, ‘hey! I can do that,” says Couch in a phone interview. So he did.

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Three years later, the gas station owner took off from Bend, Ore., in a lawn chair suspended from more than 150 balloons and flew 242 miles to Idaho, taking what he says is the distance record using cluster balloons.

Mr. Couch says that he received a call from Trappe for advice when Trappe was just getting into cluster ballooning. Of Trappe’s Channel crossing today, he says, “It was a good goal. It’s pretty neat.”

Couch says he was pondering a Channel crossing himself, but has now has his eyes on setting another distance record in July.

Is this safe?

Other cluster ballooning attempts haven’t been as successful.

In 2008, an attempt to break a flight record by Brazilian priest Adelir de Carli near the southern port of Paranagua, Brazil with 1,000 helium filled party balloons tied to a chair, ended in disaster. He went missing in April 2008 and his body was found three months later.

Trappe, however, says he takes safety and preparation seriously. He made sure his chair and balloon contraption was a federally registered aircraft. Though flight plans and a pilot's license is not necessarily required, he had both and cleared the details of his attempt with French authorities. On top of that, he is certified for balloon flight by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

It can be cold dangling from balloons at heights of around 7,000 feet. Temperatures can reach -15 C. Trappe dressed warmly and brought along an aircraft transponder, oxygen system, aircraft radios, emergency locator beacon, in-flight satellite tracking, and a radio tracker according to the Daily Mail.

"Because,” as he told the AP, “really it's only about dreams and enjoying an adventure, and that's only enjoyable when it is safe."

[ Editor's note: The original version misstated the nature of Adelir de Carli's cluster ballooning attempt. ]

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