I watched the “balloon boy” live and was glued to the TV, like many others, while the balloon that the world thought was carrying an endangered six year old drifted several thousand feet in the air. The balloon floated around Colorado, at a height of up to 7000 feet, for over two hours and finally landed on a field ………. but there was no kid. Since then we know that it was a hoax and “balloon boy’s” parents were just trying to generate publicity with the goal of getting their own reality show.

What I did not realize was that 17 years ago in 1982 we had another incident in which “Lawnchair Larry” actually “took off” using helium ballloons – and what he did was no hoax. The far-fetched but true story came about because Larry Walters, a California truck driver, had this dream of ascending above ground in a contraption of his own making using helium balloons. What transpired was something that went well beyond his wildest imagination and was to become a legend of sorts!

The contraption that Larry used was to hold him in position while the balloons took him up was a lawn chair! Larry’s intention was to ascend to a modest height of about 40 feet – but the best laid plans sometimes go wrong and he ascended to a height of 16,000 feet! In the process, he caused consternation as he floated into the air corridors of Los Angeles Airport!


Larry had apparently dreamed of flying but his poor eyesight prevented him from joining the Air Force as a pilot. So Larry did the next best thing – he tied himself to a lawn chair and with the aid of helium balloons took off!

On July 2, 1982, 33 year old California truck driver Larry Walters, proceeded to his San Pedro backyard and armed with a parachute, a pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches in case he got hungry, cold beer so that he could imbibe while enjoying the view and a camera. He strapped himself into his lawn chair and having already attached helium balloons to the chair, his girlfriend and others filled the balloons with helium. The cords holding “Lawnchair Larry” to the ground were cut and he took off!

This is where the Larry’s plans went awry. He started ascending much higher than planned. He was wary of using the pellet gun to shoot any of the balloons for fear of becoming unbalanced and falling out of the chair. He continued ascending and soon reached a height of approximately 16,000 feet. He drifted over the city of Long Beach to the amazement of people on the ground watching him. In due course he gradually drifted into the main approach corridor of Long Beach Airport. A startled pilot who radioed the tower, “I’m starting my descent at 16,000 feet and I just passed a guy in a lawn chair with a gun.”


Larry using his CB radio, informed authorities that he was fine and did not need assistance. After being in the air for over an hour he started getting really cold and he started floating towards the Pacific ocean so Larry was faced with a dilemma: either continue drifting towards the ocean or take a chance and start shooting some of the balloons with his pellet gun with a view to bringing it down gradually. He started descending and all seemed well until his pellet gun fell overboard and he drifted into power lines which caused a 20 minute blackout in parts of Long Beach. But Larry finally reached the ground in one piece and wasw none the worse for the experience. A reporter asked him why he had done it and Larry replied, “A man can’t just sit around.”

Larry was immediately arrested by the Long Beach Police. Lieut. Rod Mickelson said after he stopped laughing, “I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. The guy just filled up the balloons with helium, strapped on a parachute, grabbed a BB gun and took off.” Authorities were a little baffled about what to charge Larry with. Since he did not have a pilots license they could not suspend him. He was eventually charged with “operating an aircraft within an airport traffic area without proper communication with the control tower”.

Dubbed “Lawnchair Larry” by the press who widely covered his story, Larry Walters received some notoriety from adventure. He apperared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman”. He made a few appearances as a motivational speaker. He was also featured in a Timex print ad. The Smithsonian asked Larry for his lawn chair to put it on display but Larry had already given it away to an admiring young fan.

His story ended sadly because in 1993, at the age of 44, Larry Walters committed suicide in the Angeles National Forest. But he did live his dream and and when someone once asked him about the flight he said, “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm. I didn’t think that by fulfilling my goal in life — my dream — that I would create such a stir and make people laugh.” He never married and had no children.

3 Responses to “Before “Balloon Boy” there was “Lawnchair Larry””

  1. saira says:

    what an interesting story…i enjoyed reading about lawnchair larry. can’t stand the balloon boy drama.

  2. Vishal says:

    Yeah a truly interesting nd an adventurous 1….

  3. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text
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    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something
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