Alum’s Epic Balloon Flight Falls Short

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It was supposed to be a flight like no other, one for the record books. But fate—in the form of ever-troublesome technical difficulties—intervened.

On Thursday, Jonathan Trappe, BBA ’00, launched himself into the atmosphere supported by 370 balloons and a lifeboat. His quest: to become the first person ever to cross the Atlantic using helium balloons, also called cluster balloons. He already holds the record for longest cluster-balloon journey, having crossed the English Channel in May 2010, and the Alps in September 2011.

Trappe is a real-life Up adventurer who once even flew a balloon-hoisted house as a homage to the fantastical Pixar film.

“When you launch a balloon, part of the wonder is that you do not know where you will land,” Trappe writes on his website. “You are carried with the wind, towards destinations unknown. It is a wonderful adventure, and it is the most pure form of flight.”

Unknown destinations, indeed. A mere 12 hours after launching from Caribou, Maine, in a sea of fog and flying at least as high as 18,000 feet, Trappe was forced to execute an emergency landing in Newfoundland, Canada. The cause? “A technical issue,” reported the blog tracking his progress. A dispatch on his Facebook page announced the news to the thousands tracking his trip: “Hmm, this doesn’t look like France.”

It was a deceptively cheeky response for someone who suddenly found himself in a remote location with no viable means of transportation.

“Honestly did not know if I would survive that landing!” he later admitted in a message to Barcroft Media, the firm handling his communications during the trip.

Trappe’s feat drew the attention of at least one notable fellow adventurer: Richard Branson, who tweeted a message of support:

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Trappe’s lifeboat was stocked with water, Gatorade, food and an exposure canopy. Upon landing he posted on Facebook that he planned to stay the night in the wilderness.

Neither Trappe nor Barcroft Media could be reached for comment, so we’ll have to wait and see what’s next for the adventurer. But if his past comments and actions are any indication, he won’t be on the ground for long.

Before Thursday’s launch, he told the UK’s Daily Mail, “I’m just as afraid of dying as anyone. But I go forward in the spirit of adventure, doing something nobody has achieved before, and to live an interesting life.”

Photo: Jonathan Trappe in a previous cluster balloon flight. This image is a still from a video by EEA Sport Aviation.

 

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