Jonathan Trappe Was Unable To Control The Balloons' Altitude
Jonathan Trappe’s dream of floating across the Atlantic Ocean beneath of cluster of helium balloons has ended in a safe landing, but on the wrong side of the ocean. Trappe landed his cluster balloon in a remote area of Newfoundland at approximately 1830 EDT Thursday, September 12, 2013. Trappe had launched at about 0800 EDT from Caribou, Maine and had been airborne for only about 12 hours on a flight that was expected to take 3-6 days.
ANN spoke to Kevin Knapp, a veteran gas pilot, who had the first duty shift in Trappe’s control center following the launch. According to Knapp, the cluster balloon was never able to achieve a stable float altitude and developed a severe yo-yo effect --- rapid descents with the aircraft hitting the surface of the water, followed by rapid ascents to altitudes as high as 21,000 feet or more. Trappe was unable to gain a steady hand on the errant balloon cluster, which at 3,000 cubic meters of volume, was the largest in the world.
Flight service expressed real concern over the inability to control the aircraft as they watched it repeatedly descend below their radar and then reappear climbing rapidly. Trappe and his team obviously had the same concern and with Newfoundland representing ‘land’s end’ before venturing out over the Atlantic, the decision was made to terminate the attempt.
Knapp tells ANN that Trappe was able to execute a landing after darkness had fallen and in low visibility. In fact, he says Trappe is uncertain if he is on the ground or possibly in trees, but he is down and safe. Trappe noted on his own Facebook page that he planned to spend the night in his gondola/lifeboat and had lowered the exposure cover. Knapp said it was raining in the area and storms were expected overnight, however the weather trajectories for winds aloft showed that in a perfect world Trappe could have reached Ireland in 94 hours.
Trappe posted on his Facebook page about 2000 EDT "Landed safe, at an alternate location. Remote. I put the exposure canopy up on the boat. Will stay here for the night."
Trappe has already made history as a cluster balloon pilot having been the first to cross Lake Michigan, the English Channel and the Alps before making this attempt at the Atlantic.
The first crossing of the Atlantic by balloon was accomplished in 1976 by the late Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman in their helium balloon Double Eagle II – so named because it was the second attempt by Anderson and Abruzzo. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones required 3 attempts to get the Breitling Orbiter balloon around the world for the first time, and the late Steve Fossett was not successful in his solo balloon circumnavigation until his 6th attempt in the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom.
(Image from YouTube video of Trappe's departure)