This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
A little before 8 PM on a hot July day, Daniel Boria was sitting in a lawn chair much like many other Canadians across the country. But unlike everyone else, above him hung 120 large balloons filled with helium, while thousands of feet below him sat the Calgary Stampede grounds. Boria took a breath, leaned forward, and slipped out of the light green lawn chair and began to hurtle towards earth.
All in an attempt to promote his cleaning product.
"We just wanted to be as loud as possible without having a big bloated advertising budget like the other companies that we're competing with," Boria told VICE.
Boria explained how he started the company, All Clean Natural, a year ago with $90 [$70 US] and a product he made himself, and has since turned it into a company with over $1 million [$785,000] in sales and over 20 employees. He wanted to take the company to the next level though, and to do that his company needed to become known. He needed a stunt. He needed to do something flashy.
He needed balloons.
His initial idea was just to do a typical skydive, but that quickly proved to be an issue. He couldn't find a way to reach the altitude and jump in a normal fashion.
"We called every pilot, every helicopter pilot, and every hot air balloon pilot. I even pitched it to a hot air balloon pilot meeting, but I didn't give them full details," he said. "Then the idea came up with the helium."
The idea brings about thoughts of Lawnchair Larry Walters, a truck driver who pulled a similar stunt in the early 1980s only to lose control and cause a power outage in Los Angeles. And, more recently, Adelir Antônio de Carli, a Brazilian priest, who died on a fateful flight in 2008. This type of cluster balloon stunt has been attempted multiple times throughout history (not to mention in ridiculously popular Pixar films), but fails more often than it succeeds.
Preparation of the stunt.
None of this deterred Boria. He did the math and found out that each one of these balloons could hold upwards of three pounds and multiplied what he thought would work with his weight. To round out his equipment, he headed down to his local Canadian Tire and picked out a lawn chair. He and his team then tested the chair by sitting in it while it hung from a pole in their company warehouse.
But for Boria, there was a bigger problem than the logistics of balloons and lawn chairs: The man had never skydived before. (Which is something you typically need to know before hucking yourself off a Canadian Tire special into the wild blue yonder.) So, to remedy this, Boria flew himself down to Arizona and got his skydive license in two days. He then completed 30 jumps in Alberta before the stunt to prepare.
Figuring out how to get to the site also proved to be a problem. Obviously you can't steer a lawn chair that's being lifted by a bunch of balloons, so Boria had to utilize other means to get to his destination. He attached a GPS to his contraption—which obviously isn't going to do shit all when you have no control—and got ready for some diligent planning the day of the launch.
"We looked at wind directions on the last update right before launch time and we realized they were all coming from the north blowing south," said Boria. "So we decided to launch four or five kilometers north of the Stampede."
They went to a golf course north of the grounds they had scouted earlier and set up the equipment. Then, the moment of truth happened. Several of his employees let go of the balloons attached to Boria's seat and let him float off the ground and into the sky. This point was the most treacherous for Boria. He was wearing a parachute, but he would not be able to deploy it properly until he reached an appropriate altitude. So, at this point, the higher he went, the safer he was.
"There were a few frightful moments," Boria said. "The first thousand feet were pretty scary, [because] we just took off and weren't exactly sure what was going to happen."
"Being in the air was incredible. I was looking up at the balloons and one would blow up and the whole chair would shake," he went on to say. "I would look down and my feet were dangling off the side. It was the same view as you would see from your window when you're in a 747, but I was looking around, and I was just on a lawn chair above the clouds."
The plan was working out until the very end. Boria was traveling south with the wind during his entire journey, but 30 seconds before he hit his jump site, an errant wind blew him slightly off course. Even with his parachute, Boria couldn't make up for this lost ground.
"About halfway through my descent, I knew I wasn't going to make it," he said. "It was the most heartbreaking moment of my life."
So when Boria touched terra firma, it wasn't the triumphant landing among the Chuck Wagon grounds he'd anticipated. Instead, he ended up in a sleepy little suburb a kilometer away. To add injury to insult, he had also hurt his ankle in the landing. Police found Boria within minutes, and after attending to his ankle he was arrested and is facing a mischief causing danger to life charge. Police have said that his co-conspirators could also be facing charges.
The reason for the harsh charge can be tied to the fact that once Boria jumped, there still was the small issue of 120 balloons filled with helium floating through the air. The contraption finally touched down about 70 kilometers near the town of High River. Police argue that on their way down they, or the chair, could have caused serious danger to both a person and property.
When Larry Walters left the ground in 1982, it was because he always dreamed of flying and wasn't allowed into the air force due to his bad vision. Adelir Antônio de Carli floated upwards to try to raise money for a cause in which he believed. Jonathan Trappe crossed the English Channel with cluster balloons in order to prove that it could be done. Boria's stunt lacks the endearing nature that the others possess. Multiple times during our interview, Boria stopped to plug his company, and that, in a nutshell, is why he did this.
Boria is a salesman.
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