Balloonists forced to abort flight

A petrol station owner and an Iraqi adventurer trying to fly from Oregon to Montana in tandem lawn chairs suspended from party balloons made a hard landing after having to abort their flight due to thunderstorms.

Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta were about seven hours into their flight when they were forced to descend, coming down near a reservoir about 30 miles east of their starting point.

But after they scrambled out of the contraption, it floated up again, flight organiser Mark Knowles said.

"They came down hard," Mr Knowles said. "The craft went back up. It's sitting up in the sky right above us."

Earlier, about 90 volunteers and several hundred onlookers counted down and then cheered as the pair lifted off from Mr Couch's petrol station. The duo safely cleared a two-story motel, a coffee stand and a light post.

"The interesting thing is, anybody can do this," Mr Couch, the veteran of several lawn chair balloon flights, said before the flight. "They don't have to sit on the couch thinking, 'I should have done it.' They can do it."

Mr Lafta, a mountain climber and sky diver, said he had shared Mr Couch's childhood dream of floating like a cloud. He sent Mr Couch an email two winters ago after reading accounts of Mr Couch's earlier flights.

"I want to inspire Iraqis and say we need to defeat terrorists," Mr Lafta said. "We don't need just an Army. We need ideology and to just have fun."