Larry Walker always wanted to fly, but poor eyesight disqualified him from pilot status in the air force. So he got an idea.
He hitched up forty-five helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair, strapped himself in with some sandwiches, a pellet gun, and a six-pack of lite beer. (That tells us a fair amount about Larry right there.) His plan was to hover 30 feet or so above the backyard for a few hours, then shoot enough balloons to come down.
But forty-five weather balloons holding thirty-three cubic feet of helium apiece do not settle for 30 feet. When his friends cut the cord anchoring his lawn chair to the ground, Larry did not level off at 100 feet. Nor 1,000. He stopped climbing at 16,000 feet (only in Los Angeles!).
At this height he was reluctant to shoot anything. He drifted with his beer and sandwiches into the airspace of LAX. (I told this story at a gathering once that included a Delta pilot who had been flying that day. He told me that every radio [email protected] reporting this man to the tower began with the same words: “You’re not going to believe this, but …”)
After several hours, Larry decided to risk shooting a few balloons and eventually descended enough to get tangled up in some power lines, where he was rescued. The FAA spokesman said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we figure out which part it was, a charge will be filed.” As they led Larry away in handcuffs, a reporter asked him why he did it.
Larry replied: “A man can’t just sit there.”
Larry may not score real high on the discretion scale. His story merited inclusion in The Darwin Awards, a book about people who through incredibly stupid acts elevate the IQ of the human race by eliminating themselves from the gene pool. Larry only got an honorable mention because he actually survived. But he’s right about one thing. A man can’t just sit there.
We must have challenge, risk, adventure.
John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).