Cluster Balloonist Launches For Atlantic Crossing

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From a brightly lit soccer field under foggy skies in Caribou, Maine, balloonist Jonathan Trappe launched his unique lighter-than-air system under a cluster of helium balloons at sunrise Thursday, on a quest to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The last pilot to accomplish a similar feat was Col. Joe Kittinger, who flew in 1984, and he was on the field all night long to offer advice and support to Trappe. It took a crowd of more than 100 volunteers all night to assemble the complex system, comprising 370 small balloons, a Portland Pudgy sailboat/lifeboat as gondola, dozens of bags of sand and water as ballast, and innumerable items of gear and equipment -- including a copy of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, several GoPro cameras, oxygen and survival gear, and a box of freshly cancelled balloon-mail envelopes, delivered to the site just before dawn, courtesy of the local postmaster.

Trappe said he expects to be aloft from three to six days, and the flight can be tracked online via several sites. By 8:30 Thursday morning, he was flying at 15,000 feet above the Canadian province of New Brunswick, with about 50 miles to go to reach the coast and the ocean beyond. More photos from the launch, including stunning air-to-air shots from above the fog layer, can be found at the Facebook page for Barcroft Media, and their Tumblr site also includes video. Late in the afternoon on Thursday, Trappe posted his first live update to his Facebook page: "In the quiet sky, above the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, traveling over 50mph -- in my little yellow rowboat, at 18,000 feet," he wrote.