US & Canada

US pilot forced to end Atlantic cluster balloon flight

Jonathan Trappe in his helium balloon ship
Jonathan Trappe in his helium balloon ship

A US man has been forced to abandon his bid to cross the Atlantic in a lifeboat suspended by some 370 helium balloons because of technical problems.

An online post confirmed Jonathan Trappe had to quit his attempt over Newfoundland, but was "safe and well".

Mr Trappe lifted off from the city of Caribou in the state of Maine amid heavy fog at dawn on Thursday.

He previously completed successful cluster balloon voyages across the Alps and the English Channel.

Mr Trappe, an IT manager from North Carolina, had hoped to cover his "epic" 2,500-mile trip to Europe within six days.

But hours after take-off, the team overseeing his flight project confirmed the pilot's journey had been cut short and he was preparing to return home.

"Sadly Jonathan has been forced to abandon his quest early after experiencing technical difficulties over Newfoundland," the statement said.

"However, we are happy to report he is safe and well."

Mr Trappe confirmed that he had "landed safe at an alternate location" on Thursday evening and "put the exposure canopy up on the boat".

'Years of dreams'

The adventurer had spent months waiting for the perfect wind conditions to begin his journey.

"Weather is absolutely the most dangerous factor," he said minutes before take-off.

"It's the only thing that will carry me across, but bad conditions could also ruin the attempt or endanger my life."

Some 150 volunteers had helped to fill the balloons with helium on Wednesday evening.

At sunrise, Mr Trappe ascended from a softball field in Caribou, near the Canadian border, in a scene reminiscent of the animated movie Up, in which a house attached to cluster balloons travelled across the skies.

He had chosen a lifeboat as his travel vessel in case he was forced to land over water.

On Thursday afternoon, the pilot posted a message on Facebook saying: "In the quiet sky, above the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, traveling over 50mph - in my little yellow rowboat, at 18,000 feet."

The balloonist had been relying on weather data from the same meteorologist who advised daredevil Felix Baumgartner on his record-breaking skydive from space last year.

Before starting his journey, Mr Trappe said it took him "two years of work and years more of dreams" to prepare for his journey.

"My heart could never live a long life the way it is beating now," he wrote on his website.

"I have been looking at an epic challenge - one that honestly may prove to be beyond me - and I've changed my entire life to make it happen."

But he also spoke of the dangers involved in his record-breaking attempt.

"Five people have lost their lives attempting to cross these waters in a balloon, and two non-pilots were lost into the oceans flying cluster balloons," he said.

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