- Associated Press - Sunday, July 15, 2012

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Hours into their lawn-chair balloon flight, two men made a hard landing after they were hit by hail and snow as thunderstorms swept into central Oregon — but their backyard aircraft floated away.

Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta were about seven hours into their flight Saturday when they descended, coming down near the community of Post, about 30 miles east of their starting point. But after they scrambled out of the contraption, it floated away, flight organizer Mark Knowles said.

“They came down hard,” Mr. Knowles said by cellphone. “The craft went back up. It’s sitting up in the sky right above us.”

A flight website tracker showed it continuing east across Oregon.

Mr. Couch, a gas station owner, and Mr. Lazfta, an Iraqi adventurer, were trying to fly from Oregon to Montana in tandem lawn chairs suspended from party balloons.

Mr. Knowles said the balloonists were pelted by hail and snow and buffeted by turbulence before reaching the ground but they were not injured.

“Everybody is walking around,” he said.

Mr. Knowles said he did not know yet how they would recover the craft, or whether they might try again.

“I think they need a little time to relax,” he said. “The landing was very intense.”

Earlier Saturday, about 90 volunteers and several hundred onlookers counted down and cheered as the pair lifted off from Mr. Couch’s Shell gas station in Bend.

Volunteers had filled 350 5-foot-diameter red, white, blue and black balloons with helium and tied them to Mr. Couch’s homemade tandem lawn chair rig.

The balloons were arranged in bunches to represent the colors of the U.S. and Iraqi flags. An American flag flew from the bottom of the framework supporting the chairs.

The duo safely cleared a two-story motel, a coffee stand and a light post, then floated about 30 miles north. Winds pushed them south before sending them east, the direction they wanted to go.

But thunderstorms in the region forced them to abort the flight, descending from an altitude of about 10,000 feet, Mr. Knowles said.

Before the flight, Mr. Couch said landing was the scariest part of his several lawn chair balloon flights. He descends by shooting out balloons with his BB rifle. His rig got away from him once but finally came down.

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