Cluster balloonist on way home after aborting trans-Atlantic flight in Newfoundland

Jonathan Trappe takes off from Caribou on the start of his trans-Atlantic cluster balloon flight Thursday.
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Jonathan Trappe takes off from Caribou on the start of his trans-Atlantic cluster balloon flight Thursday.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 13, 2013, at 4:55 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — The balloonist who took off from northern Maine early Thursday morning on what he hoped would be a record-breaking trans-Atlantic flight is on his way home after falling roughly 2,500 miles short of his goal.

Jonathan Trappe was rescued Friday by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news crew in a helicopter after spending the night in a remote section of the western Newfoundland coast when he was forced to abort his flight around 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The flight ended about 12 hours and 350 miles after it began in Caribou.

Few details are available on what cut Jonathan Trappe’s cluster balloon flight short, but according to a post he made on his Facebook page, he was in a remote location.

“Landed safe, at an alternate location. Remote,” Trappe posted around 7:45 p.m. Thursday. “I put the exposure canopy up on the boat. Will stay here for the night.”

A topographical map of the area near where Trappe landed shows he was about a mile from the coast and about 5 miles from the nearest road.

When word of Trappe’s landing reached CBC Newfoundland-Labrador, reporter Lindsay Bird was dispatched to get the story, according to station evening news producer Brian Callahan.

“We had a reporter on the west coast who went to the scene in a helicopter,” Callahan said Friday afternoon. “What we were told is [Trappe] came to them from the [landing] scene.”

Callahan declined to comment further, saying Bird was still compiling her news story for broadcast on CBC.

Trappe likely ran into problems maintaining a level altitude in the face of temperature and pressure changes, according to an Aroostook County native and gas balloonist.

“These latex balloons are very reactionary to changes in the environment,” Sam Canders, a long-distance gas balloonist originally from Washburn, said on Friday. “You can have the sun heating them and then you get behind one cloud and when the shadow effect of the cloud causes the temperature hitting the [balloons] to drop, you can actually get negative lift.”

Canders, who has competed in distance gas-powered balloon races in this country and Europe, was watching Trappe’s progress on an online GPS tracking website.

“If you were watching the trackers you could tell he was fighting altitude over and over,” he said. “There was a great deal of fluctuations in his flight profile.”

On Friday Canders said he had not yet spoken directly with Trappe since the aborted flight.

Trappe’s epic attempt to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean using hundreds of helium-filled balloons instead of one large air-filled bladder began at 6:30 a.m. Thursday when he lifted off from a ball field in Caribou.

Several global positioning websites were tracking his progress, which at one time showed him to be at an altitude of 21,000 feet and moving at a top speed of 68 mph.

At 6:27 p.m., according to the website http://tinyurl.com/TrappeInReach, which posted updates every 10 minutes, Trappe was at 5,000 feet. Ten minutes later, the tracking site indicated he was at 150 feet, moving 0 mph.

At 4:27 p.m., Trappe’s GPS coordinates showed him to be at 18,500 feet over the Gulf of St. Lawrence and moving 58 mph. Over the next two hours those readings show a steady drop in altitude and speed as he approached the western edge of Newfoundland.

“I am really bummed for Mr. Trappe,” Caribou City Manager Austin Bleess said Friday afternoon. “He put a lot of time and effort and dreaming into this.”

Bleese was among the scores of volunteers who spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning volunteering to inflate the 370 balloons and assemble the “clusters.”

Despite the flight ending short of the balloonist’s goal, Trappe’s attempt ranks as a success as far as Bleess is concerned.

“He was smart enough to realize when something was not going right and to not take an unnecessary risk,” he said. “I am very proud of Jonathan Trappe.”

Proud and ready to do it all over again.

“If he ever wants to do it again I hope he comes back to Caribou,” Bleess said. “I will be the first one to volunteer to blow up balloons.”

Trappe is a “cluster balloonist” — think the Disney movie “Up,” in which the hero used thousands of small balloons to lift his house and float away to South America.

“I will use 365 individual balloons and I anticipate an inflation time of roughly 12 hours with 50 volunteers,” Trappe said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News last February. “The balloons are commercially available and are typically used for events such as open houses or for promotional purposes [and] it is fair to say that their manufacturers never intended them to be used for manned flight [because] they are toy balloons.”

Scores of volunteers had spent the previous night and early morning hours inflating and then assembling the 370 balloons into “clusters” and affixing them to the Maine-made “Pudgy” survival boat Trappe was using as a gondola.

“Hmmm, this doesn’t look like France,” Trappe posted on his Facebook page minutes before his announcement that he had landed.

Neither Trappe nor his media team from Barcroft Media responded to requests for comment on Friday.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/09/13/news/aroostook/cluster-balloonist-on-way-home-after-aborting-trans-atlantic-flight-in-newfoundland/ printed on September 19, 2014