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Weather stops tandem lawn chair balloon flight

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, right, and Bend, Ore., gas station owner Kent Couch lift off Saturday, July 14, 2012, from Couch's gas station in Bend, Ore., as they attempt to fly some 360 miles to Montana. The flight is a warm-up for a future flight planned in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2008
    Kent Couch rode a lawn chair tied to more than 150 giant party balloons after taking off from his gas staition in Bend, Ore.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Oregon gas station owner Kent Couch and Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta lift off Saturday, July 14, 2012, from Couch's gas station in Bend, Ore., as they attempt to fly some 360 miles to Montana. The flight is a warm-up for a future flight planned in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)
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BEND, Ore. >> An Oregon gas station owner and an Iraqi adventurer trying to fly from Central Oregon to Montana were forced to abort their flight to Montana on Saturday due to thunderstorms.

About six hours into their flight, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta started to descend from an altitude of 10,000 feet because of the weather, flight organizer Mark Knowles told The Associated Press.

The website tracker showed them about five miles south of the town of Prineville, about 30 miles northeast of their starting point. The pair initially floated about 40 miles north before winds sent them back south, then east, the direction they wanted to go.

"Thunderstorms are around them," Knowles said by cellphone. "We’ve got visual contact. I can’t see their faces."

Earlier, volunteers filled 350 5-foot diameter red, white, blue and black balloons with helium and tied them to Couch’s homemade tandem lawn chair rig. The balloons were arranged in bunches to represent the colors of the U.S. and Iraqi flags. An American flag flew from the bottom of the framework supporting the chairs.

Just before liftoff, they had to ask children in the crowd to return four balloons to provide extra lift.

About 90 volunteers and several hundred onlookers counted down and then cheered as the pair lifted off from Couch’s Shell gas station. The duo safely cleared a two-story motel, a coffee stand and a light post.

The rig included 800 pounds of ballast — red Kool-Aid in 40-gallon barrels. Besides a GPS, navigation gear, satellite phone, oxygen, two-way radios, eight cameras, and parachutes, they were carrying two Red Ryder BB rifles and a pair of blowguns to shoot out enough balloons to come to earth when the time is right.

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