Larry Walters was a truck driver, but his lifelong dream was to fly. When he
graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a
pilot. But, unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. So when he
finally left the service, he had to satisfy himself with watching others fly
the fighter jets that crisscrossed the skies over his backyard.
As he sat there in his lawn chair, he dreamed about the magic of flying.
Then one day, Larry had an idea. He went down to the local Army-Navy
store and bought forty-five weather balloons, along with several tanks of
helium. These were not your brightly colored party balloons, these were
heavy-duty spheres measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated.
Back in his yard, Larry used straps to attach the balloons to his lawn
the kind you might have in your back yard. He anchored the chair to the
bumper of his jeep, and inflated the balloons with helium. Then he packed a
few sandwiches and drinks, and a loaded BB gun, figuring he could pop a few
balloons when it was time to return to earth. His preparations complete,
Larry sat in his chair and cut the anchoring cord. His plan was to lazily
float into the sky, and then, eventually, back to terra firma. But, things
didn't quite work out that way.
When Larry cut the cord, he didn't float lazily up; he shot up as if fired
from a cannon! Nor did he go up a couple hundred feet. He climbed and
climbed until he finally leveled off at eleven thousand feet! At that
height, he could hardly risk deflating any of the balloons, lest he
the load and really experience flying. So he stayed up there, sailing
for fourteen hours, totally at a loss about how to get down.
Eventually, Larry drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles
International Airport. A Pan Am pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy
in a lawn chair at eleven thousand feet, with a gun in his lap... now
a conversation I would have given anything to have heard! LAX is right on
the ocean, and you may know that at nightfall, the winds on the coast begin
to change. So, as dusk fell, Larry began drifting out to sea. At that
point, the Navy dispatched a helicopter to rescue him, but the rescue team
had a hard time getting to him because the draft from their propeller kept
pushing his home-made contraption farther and farther away.
Eventually, they were able to hover above him and drop a rescue line, with
which they gradually hauled him back to safety. As soon as Larry hit the
ground, he was arrested. But as he was led away in handcuffs, a television
reporter called out, "Sir, why'd you do it?" Larry stopped, eyed the man,
then replied nonchalantly, "A man can't just sit around!"