1982 Honorable Mention
Confirmed True by Darwin
(1982, California) Larry Walters of Los Angeles is one of the few to contend for the Darwin Awards and live to tell the tale. “I have fulfilled my 20-year dream,” said Walters, a former truck driver for a company that makes TV commercials. “I’m staying on the ground. I’ve proved the thing works.”
Larry’s boyhood dream was to fly. But fates conspired to keep him from his dream. He joined the Air Force, but his poor eyesight disqualified him from the job of pilot. After he was discharged from the military, he sat in his backyard watching jets fly overhead.
He hatched his weather balloon scheme while sitting outside in his “extremely comfortable” Sears lawnchair. He purchased 45 weather balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store, tied them to his tethered lawnchair dubbed the Inspiration I, and filled the 4′ diameter balloons with helium. Then he strapped himself into his lawnchair with some sandwiches, Miller Lite, and a pellet gun. He figured he would pop a few of the many balloons when it was time to descend.
Larry’s plan was to sever the anchor and lazily float up to a height of about 30 feet above his back yard, where he would enjoy a few hours of flight before coming back down. But things didn’t work out quite as Larry planned.
When his friends cut the cord anchoring the lawnchair to his Jeep, he did not float lazily up to 30 feet. Instead, he streaked into the LA sky as if shot from a cannon, pulled by the lift of 42 helium balloons holding 33 cubic feet of helium each. He didn’t level off at 100 feet, nor did he level off at 1000 feet. After climbing and climbing, he leveled off at 16,000 feet.
At that height he felt he couldn’t risk shooting any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and really find himself in trouble. So he stayed there, drifting cold and frightened with his beer and sandwiches, for more than 14 hours. He crossed the primary approach corridor of LAX, where Trans World Airlines and Delta Airlines pilots radioed in reports of the strange sight.
Eventually he gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons, and slowly descended. The hanging tethers tangled and caught in a power line, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Larry climbed to safety, where he was arrested by waiting members of the LAPD. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue asked him why he had done it. Larry replied nonchalantly, “A man can’t just sit around.”
The Federal Aviation Administration was not amused. Safety Inspector Neal Savoy said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, a charge will be filed.”
Lawrence Richard Walters, nicknamed “Lawnchair Larry” or the “Lawn Chair Pilot“, (April 19, 1949 – October 6, 1993) was an American truck driver who took flight on July 2, 1982, in a homemade airship. Dubbed Inspiration I, the “flying machine” consisted of an ordinary patio chair with 45 helium-filled weather balloons attached to it. Walters rose to an altitude of over 15,000 feet (4,600 m) and floated from his point of origin in San Pedro, California, into controlled airspace near Los Angeles International Airport. His flight was widely reported.Q. Who was the guy who flew above Los Angeles in a lawn chair suspended from helium balloons?
- On July 2nd, 1982, 33-year-old truck driver Larry Walters tied 45 six-foot helium-filled weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair, and launched himself into the skies above San Pedro, California, a seaside community about 20 miles south of Los Angeles. His northeasterly course carried him over the Long Beach Harbor, then crossed the approach path of Long Beach Municipal Airport. The contraption was reported to air traffic controllers by two airliners on approach to that airport. Walters said he had intended to soar to the Mohave Desert to see an upcoming Space Shuttle landing. But he decided cut the flight short after less than an hour when the rarified air at 16,000 feet left him chilled and lightheaded. Walters missed his intended landing target of a large grassy area in Long Beach, and instead came down tangled in some high-tension power lines. Walters was uninjured, but power was knocked out to a portion of the city when rescuers were forced to cut the lines to get him down.
Unable to suspend the pilot’s license that Walters did not have, the Federal Aviation Administration fined him $4,000 for operating an aircraft without an airworthiness certificate, and entering the Long Beach Airport airspace without making two-way radio contact with the control tower. Walters was eventually able to bargain the fine down to $1,500.
Walters was never able to capitalize on his brief fame. He was unsuccessful on the lecture circuit, and drifted into obscurity. On October 6th, 1993, Walters committed suicide in the Angeles National Forest.