Long before the film “Up” graced the silver screens, a man set out to follow his life-long dream of flight with the aid of forty-three weather balloons, and on July 2, 1982, he finally succeeded.
Lawrence Walters, better known as “Lawn Chair Larry,” had dreamed of being a pilot in the Air Force, but was unsuccessful due to his poor eyesight. Instead, he became a truck driver in North Hollywood. Those who knew Larry described him as perfectly ordinary, and were stunned by his lawn chair adventure.
Despite his dream of piloting failing to materialize, Walters remained committed to soaring through the skies. He purchased weather balloons and helium tank (using the pretense that he was filming a television commercial), and attached the weather balloons to his lawn chair. He made certain to bring other necessities: a pellet gun, a parachute, and beer. His expectation was that he would float at a height of about 30 feet, and would spend time flying over the Mohave Desert. Instead, Lawn Chair Larry rapidly rose to 16,000 feet. He failed to head towards the Mohave Desert as expected, and instead began heading towards the Pacific Ocean. Temperatures quickly fell to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and Larry became numb from the cold. Now terrified, he called a mayday on his radio. Commercial airliners reported seeing Larry at this time.
Aware that he was in federal airspace, Lawn Chair Larry knew there would be legal trouble upon landing. He began shooting balloons in order to descend, but dropped his pellet gun. The balloons became tangled in a high-voltage power line, but the power company had already implemented an emergency blackout in anticipation of the danger. Larry was entirely unharmed.
Upon landing, Lawn Chair Larry was arrested, and eventually paid a $1,500 fine. He expressed no regrets, and was later awarded an “At-Risk Survivor” Darwin Award, as well as the top prize of the Bonehead Club in Dallas. Larry also appeared on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. He later committed suicide at age 44. His story has spawned many copycats, and Lawn Chair Larry remains a legend in the minds of many to this day.