Balloon Leaves Skydiver Behind


French adventurer Michel Fournier watched his dreams of a record-setting skydive drift away on Tuesday as the helium balloon that was to carry him to the edge of space slipped its moorings and disappeared into the Canadian prairie sky. At a news conference Tuesday, Fournier speculated that static electricity caused the explosive charges that would release the balloon from the pressurized gondola to go off, allowing the partially filled envelope to fly away solo. Television coverage shows the main part of the envelope suddenly rising from the ground at North Battleford, Sask., Airport and then the whole thing taking to the air, minus Fournier and the pressurized capsule that would have taken him to 130,000 feet. The balloon was later found 25 miles from the airport but it can’t be reused. The estimated value of the lost balloon is more than $200,000 and a spokesman for Fournier said he expects the adventurer will try to buy another one and attempt the feat at a later date. Fournier was hoping to go as high as 130,000 feet and freefall for most of that, reaching supersonic speeds on the way down. He’s spent about 20 years gathering the financing and creating the equipment necessary for the attempt, which would beat a 45-year-old record currently held by Col. Joe Kittinger, who jumped from 102,000 feet.