Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stupid News - Skydiver's helium balloon takes off without him

Stupid News - Skydiver's helium balloon takes off without him

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Saskatchewan - A French skydiver's latest attempt to set a new free-fall record ended when his ride to the sky left without him.

The helium balloon Michel Fournier was going to use Tuesday to soar to the stratosphere detached from the capsule he was going to use to jump from 130,000 feet.

It happened after the balloon was inflated on the ground at the airport in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The balloon drifted away into the sky without the capsule.

A disappointed Fournier left the capsule and walked to the hanger. He was hugged by members of his supporters.

"It was like having a hammer over my head," he said later. "When it doesn't work like that you just cannot think of anything. You just say, `How come it didn't work?' "

The launch team members said static electricity may have caused a small shock which set off one of five charges designed to release the capsule from the balloon after the jump.

Fournier isn't giving up, saying he'll try again in August.

The balloon cost almost $400,000 and Fournier was said to have already exhausted his finances. But he said he'll bring two balloons next time.

Fournier, 64, had planned to make the attempt Monday, but had to postpone his plans because of weather conditions.

Attempts in 2002 and 2003 ended when wind gusts shredded his balloon before it even became airborne.

Fournier hoped to break the record for the fastest and longest free fall, the highest parachute jump and the highest balloon flight. He also hoped to bring back data that will help astronauts and others survive in the highest of altitudes.

An army of technicians, data crunchers, balloon and weather specialists arrived recently in North Battleford, a city of 14,000 near the Saskatchewan-Alberta line, for the attempt.

Fournier had planned to make the jump in his native France, but the government denied him permission because it believed the project was too dangerous. He then came to North Battleford, an agricultural and transportation hub northwest of Saskatoon.

Spokeswoman Francine Lecompte-Gittins said Monday's postponement was due to unfavorable weather.

Fournier, a former army paratrooper with more than 8,000 jumps under his belt, planned to be three-times higher than a commercial jetliner. A mountain climber would have to ascend the equivalent of four Mount Everests stacked one on top of the other.

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