- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2008

BEND, Ore. (AP) | Using his trusty BB gun to help him return to Earth, a 48-year-old gas station owner flew a lawn chair rigged with helium-filled balloons more than 200 miles across the Oregon desert Saturday, landing in a field in Idaho.

Kent Couch created a sensation in the tiny farming community of Cambridge, Idaho, where he touched down safely in a pasture and was soon greeted by dozens of people who gave him drinks of water, local plumber Mark Hetz said.

“My wife works at the City Market,” Mr. Hetz said. “She called and said, ‘The balloon guy in the lawn chair just flew by the market, and if you look out the door you can see him.’”

“We go outside to look, and lo and behold, there he is. He’s flying by probably 100 to 200 feet off the ground.

“He takes his BB gun and shoots some balloons to lower himself to the ground. When he hit the ground he released all the little tiny balloons. People were racing down the road with cameras. They were all talking and laughing.”

Mr. Couch covered about 235 miles in about nine hours after lifting off at dawn from his gas station riding in a green lawn chair rigged with an array of more than 150 giant party balloons.

It began after Mr. Couch, clutching a big mug of coffee, kissed his wife and kids goodbye, then patted their shivering Chihuahua, Isabella, on the head. Then, Mr. Couch rose out of the parking lot of his gas station into the bright blue morning sky, cheered by a crowd of spectators.

“If I had the time and money and people, I’d do this every weekend,” Mr. Couch said before getting into the chair. “Things just look different from up there. You’ve moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace, the serenity.

“You can hear a dog bark at 15,000 feet.”

“He’s crazy,” said his wife, Susan. “It’s never been a dull moment since I married him.”

Each of his balloons gives four pounds of lift. The chair was about 400 pounds, and Mr. Couch and his parachute 200 more.

“I’d go to 30,000 feet if I didn’t shoot a balloon down periodically,” Mr. Couch said.

For that job, he carried a Red Ryder BB gun and a blow gun equipped with steel darts. He also had a pole with a hook for pulling in balloons, Global Positioning System tracking devices, an altimeter and a satellite phone.

It was his third flight. In 2006, he had to parachute after popping too many balloons. Last year, he flew 193 miles to the sagebrush of northeastern Oregon, short of his goal.

“I’m not stopping till I get out of state,” he said.

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