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Mass balloon releases: don’t do it. Just don’t. Regular readers will recall many reasons why not, but in short, balloons on their way back down kill wildlife in nasty ways. Really, there are better ways to celebrate the launch of your new mobile phone shop than to throttle a turtle.
So anyway, in case you didn’t spot it, there’s a new, tragic, story concerning balloons and the marine environment that couldn’t have a more pointed moral. In April 2008 Father Adelir Antonio de Carli, a Brazilian priest, set off to break the world record for clustered balloon flight to publicise his plan to build a spiritual rest stop for lorry drivers. He affixed hundreds of helium party balloons to a chair and took off from the southern port city of Paranagua.
He is said to have reached 20,000ft before dropping to 8,200ft for the journey to Dourados, 465 miles north-west of his starting point. The priest took numerous safety precautions, including wearing a survival suit, selecting a buoyant chair, and packing a satellite phone and a GPS. However it seemed that he’d forgotton a vital part of his otherwise meticulous preparations. In a telephone call he made during the flight, he stated that if someone could just explain how to use his GPS he could relay his position to rescuers. He was reported missing about eight hours after launch after losing radio contact with the port authorities. The inevitable had happened. Tragically he was blown out to sea and, unable to tell his frantic rescuers where he was, he was lost. His body was not recovered for more than two months, in July this year.
One can only salute Father de Carli’s faith and optimism – if not his achievement. It might seem a little facile to link this one avoidable human death caused by balloons to the many other such deaths amongst sea birds and turtles. If Father de Carli wanted to draw attention to the cause of his truckers’ spiritual waystation, he was very successful – although he paid a high price indeed. But perhaps he wouldn’t mind too much if his loss is also used to gently remind us that, for many reasons, balloons are best kept away from the sea.