Date: Mon, 28 Apr 97 09:01:13 -0500 From: Miranda Barrows
I apologize for the long enclosure this week - but I thought this story was so amusing that I'd just go ahead and include all of it. For those who are too busy for such frivolity, just remember to leave time to grab some hot liquid and a toroid at the usual time and place this morning. -MM _________________________________________________________________ A FAILED pilot who took to the air in a garden chair strapped to 45 weather balloons has won the 1997 Darwin Award for "outstanding contributions to natural selection through self-sacrifice". Larry Walters, one of the few winners to survive his award-winning accomplishment, brought Los Angeles to a standstill in July 1982 when he decided to realise his dream to fly. Having been disqualified from the US Air Force because of poor eyesight, he became frustrated at watching jets fly over his back garden. He bought the heavy-duty balloons, each more than four feet across when inflated, and several tanks of helium from an Army-Navy surplus store. He attached the balloons to a garden chair he had anchored to his Jeep. After testing the machine to make sure it could fly, he planned to spend the afternoon sunning himself 30ft above his girlfriend's garden in San Pedro, California. He made sandwiches and loaded on board a six-pack of Miller Lite and some Coca-Cola. He filled water balloons for ballast and loaded his airgun so that he could burst them to descend. Then, taking his Timex watch and a two-way radio, he tied himself to the chair, loosened the rope and rose into the air. Within seconds, he passed the 30ft altitude he had hoped to reach, quickly rising to 100ft and then 1,000ft. He eventually levelled off at 11,000ft, frightened to shoot any of the balloons in case he unbalanced his makeshift aircraft. For 14 hours he floated above the city, cold and frightened, before drifting into the primary approach corridor of Los Angeles international airport. Fortunately, both a United Airlines and a Pan Am flight passed him and radioed air traffic control to say they had spotted a man with a gun at 11,000ft on a garden chair. Radar confirmed the existence of an object floating 11,000 feet above the airport. Emergency procedures swung into full alert and a helicopter was scrambled. However, as night fell offshore breezes blew Mr Walters out to sea. Wind from the helicopter blades blew the balloon further away, forcing the crew to position themselves several hundred feet above him. A rope was then lowered for Mr Walters to grab and the helicopter towed him to safety. Mr Walters was arrested by the Los Angeles police for invading Los Angeles International Airport airspace. He later told reporters: "A man can't just sit around." The stunt cost the former lorry driver =A31,000 in a settlement with the Federal Aviation Administration, which said he operated too close to the airport, flew in a reckless manner and failed to maintain contact with the control tower. "I only did it because it was my lifelong dream of flight," he said. Mr Walters was later approached by Timex, which featured him in an advertising campaign about ordinary people facing unusual obstacles. The 1997 Darwin Award is the first to be given to someone some time after they have committed the act that has gained them notoriety. Normally, it is given to someone who has "benefited the gene pool" by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid way before procreating. The 1996 award went to a man who embedded himself in a cliff after strapping himself to a solid fuel rocket normally used to give heavy military transport aircraft assistance when taking off from short runways. In 1995, a man won the award after he died when he pulled a Coca-Cola machine on top of himself in an attempt to gain a free drink. Mr Walters, who did volunteer work for the US Forest Service after his release, died on Oct 6, 1996, said his mother. "He would want to be remembered as the lawn chair pilot," she said at her home in Mission Viejo, California.