Priest missing after being carried aloft by balloons

A Roman Catholic priest who floated off under hundreds of helium party balloons was missing on Monday off the southern coast of Brazil.

Rescuers in helicopters and small fishing boats were searching off the coast of Santa Catarina state, where pieces of balloons were found.

Reverend Adelir Antonio de Carli lifted off from the port city of Paranagua on Sunday afternoon, wearing a helmet, thermal suit and a parachute.

He was reported missing about eight hours later after losing contact with port authority officials, according to the treasurer of his São Cristovao parish, Denise Gallas.

Gallas said by telephone that the priest wanted to break a 19-hour record for the most hours flying with balloons to raise money for a spiritual rest-stop for truckers in Paranagua, Brazil’s second-largest port for agricultural products.

Some American adventurers have used helium balloons to emulate Larry Walters—who in 1982 rose about 4,8km above Los Angeles in a lawn chair lifted by balloons.

A video of Carli posted on the G1 website of Globo TV showed the smiling 41-year-old priest slipping into a flight suit, being strapped to a seat attached to a huge column of green, red, white and yellow balloons, and soaring into the air to the cheers of a crowd.

According to Gallas, the priest soared to an altitude of 6 000m and then descended to about 2 500m for his planned flight to the city of Dourados, 750km north-west of his parish.

But winds pushed him in another direction, and Carli was about 50km off the coast when he last contacted Paranagua’s port authority, Gallas said.

Carli had a GPS device, a satellite phone and a buoyant chair, and is an experienced skydiver, Gallas said.

“We are absolutely confident he will be found alive and well, floating somewhere in the ocean,” she said. “He knew what he was doing and was fully prepared for any kind of mishap.”—Sapa-AP

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