Keep Going for Safety

Larry Walters of Los Angeles is one of the few to contend for the Darwin Awards and live to tell the tale.

By Matt Forck

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 proven the thing works."

Walters' boyhood dream was to fly, but fate kept him from his dream. He joined the Air Force, but poor eyesight disqualified him from being a 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 Sears lawn chair. He purchased 45 weather balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store and tied them to his tethered lawn chair, dubbed the Inspiration I, and filled the 4-foot diameter balloons with helium. Then he strapped himself into his lawn chair with some sandwiches, Miller Lite and a pellet gun. He thought he would pop a few of the many balloons when it was time to descend.

Walters' plan was to sever the anchor and lazily float 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 Walters planned.

When his friends cut the cord anchoring the lawn chair to his Jeep, he did not lazily float up to 30 feet. Instead, he streaked into the Los Angeles sky as if shot from a cannon-pulled by the lift of 45 helium balloons, each holding 33 cubic feet of helium. He didn't level off at 100 feet or at 1,000 feet. After steadily climbing, he leveled off at 16,000 feet.

At that height he felt he couldn't risk shooting any of the balloons because he might unbalance the load. 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 the Los Angeles International Airport, where Trans World Airlines and Delta Airlines pilots radioed reports of the strange sight.

Eventually, he gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons and slowly descended. The hanging tethers became tangled in a power line, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Walters climbed to safety, where he was arrested by waiting members of the Los Angeles Police Department. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue asked him why he had done it. Walters 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."

I can't make this stuff up-it happened! Sometimes in our work, crazy things can happen, too. When these things occur, our health and well-being will be determined by the safety rules we choose to follow, the personal protective equipment we wear, the procedures adhered to and so forth. Work safe today so you can later laugh at any unusual event that might have affected your safety.


About the Author: Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a leading voice in safety. Matt keynotes conferences and consults industry on safety's most urgent topics such as safety awareness, employee engagement and motivation, cultural alignment, accountability and leadership. To learn more about Matt, book a presentation or download FREE safety tools, go to www.thesafetysoul.org.

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