Posted On: Saturday - July 2nd 2022 7:24PM MST
In Topics:   General Stupidity  Music  California  History  Americans
You can only see one tier of his 3 or so tiers of balloons.
It was 40 years ago today.
Larry Walters cut the line away.
He was going in and out of cloud,
Gonna make his flight instructor proud.
So, may I introduce to you,
The tale you've heard for all these years.
It's Larry Walters' nutso lawn chair plan!
Just as with the D.B. Cooper hijacking that Peak Stupidity memorialized (TO THE MINUTE, mind you) 50 years later, we've got a soft spot for these gung-ho, semi-crazy Americans of yesteryear. That's especially the case when it involves aviation, OK, of a sort, at least.
This Larry Walters was a Los Angelino, and they could be crazy bunch, back before most of the States was diversified. My theory was that all those young mid-Westerners that came for Aerospace jobs or just to "find themselves" back in the day could have more fun, being a couple of thousand miles* from their parents and any tattletales.
As a boy, yeah, you think of these ideas the first time you get to play with a helium balloon. "Well, if not me, maybe a toad at least ..." However, you grow up and you notice that people don't seem to do these things even when they get more money than that allowance you got, and most know the reason: It's crazy!
On Friday, July 2nd of 1982, on a beautiful** southern California day Larry Walter executed his plan to head up from his place in San Pedro a few 30 feet or so and drink beer and eat sandwiches and come down, or maybe head toward the Mojave Desert (I don't know - I've read and heard various versions - in his lawn chair, borne by 43 helium weather balloons. He had plenty of lift.
This guy was pretty sharp and he HAD put lots of thought into this. Well, on the "how" anyway.. The "why" is that this is many kid's dream. OTOH Larry was a grown-up. He had arranged for his girlfriend below to call a few nearby airport control towers about this during his departure, he wore a parachute, he had water bags for ballast, a BB or pellet pistol for taking out some of the lift, an altimeter, and a battery-powered CB radio.
What went wrong was that, as he sat in the lawn chair, airborne over his yard but tethered to a vehicle, he had more of his plan to execute before the tether cable was to be released. However, it broke (contrary to the lyrics up top - sorry). There was some slack in it, and then the cable got a big impact load and SNAP. Larry in his lawn chair had a nice climb rate, and he got up to 16,000 ft. over busy Los Angeles airspace, the Long Beach area, before his conveyance leveled out. The pilots of two airliners, a Delta and a TWA jet, pointed this conflict out to air traffic control.
He got down with a little bit of trouble involving power lines, but safely anyway.
I won't go through the whole thing. A website called Groovy History has a pretty nice narrative of the story here, but, back then, late night TV guy David Letterman invited Mr. Walters on his show, as I screenshotted just above, so the reader, if he's gotten this far, will want to watch the 10 minute clip.
Unfortunately, though stable that fine day in his lawn chair over Los Angeles, later in his life Mr. Walters was not so much, or just felt he nothing to live for, so he shot himself in the heart, dead, 11 years and change after his crazy flight, in the Angeles Nat'l Forest, north of the city. That's a sad story, but I can say that hearing of this incident brightened up my day and must have done the same for millions of other people.
I don't have much more background on the guy, but Larry Walters seems to have been a real Los Angelino. Billy Joel sings more about the people that came out there to go find themselves in Southern California and lose their other selves. Los Angelinos is from his 1974 album Streetlife Serenade, but I know this great live version from his Songs from the Attic better.
"Going into garages for exotic massages, making up for all the time gone by."
Have a great Sunday, Peakers. Thanks for reading and writing!
PS; There's a 2003 Australian movie based on just the balloon & lawn chair concept but nothing else, that I want to see, called Danny Deckchair. That reminds me of the also mostly fictional movie that was based on the D.B Cooper story, Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.
* There are a couple of old ballads by 1970s pop artists about being homesick in Los Angeles, but one, Dan Fogleburg's Illinois off of Souvenirs got the milage wrong. No way is anywhere in Illinois 3,000 miles from LA. Songwriters!
The other song I recall is James Taylor's Hey Mister, that's me up on the Jukebox, off of Mudslide Slim and Blue Horizon. He sang:
"Southern California, that's as blue as a boy can be.
Blue as the deep blue sea, won't you listen to me now?
I need your golden-gated cities like a hole in the head,
just like a hole in the head, I'm free."
** Well, I'm assuming, since he wasn't instrument rated, or any other for that matter. Also, California is always beautiful, right? I never rains! Gave way to a westbound 747. Didn't stop before deciding what to do do...