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La Center man reaches 21,000 feet in flying lawn chair before treetop landing

Before takeoff, Joe Barbera does not yet know what heights his balloon lawn chair will reach - or about its graceful crash landing. (Photo courtesy the Lawn Chair Pilots Facebook page)

When Joe Barbera talked to his wife with his walkie-talkie from 21,000 feet above Earth, she said he sounded drunk.

Despite what his wife heard, “The lack of oxygen wasn’t obvious to me that it was a big deal,” Barbera told The Morning News on KIRO Radio.

Barbera had planned to fly over 200 miles in a lawn chair carried by balloons to celebrate his 60th birthday, but had only intended hitting an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Starting with “the most comfortable” lawn chair he could find at the local hardware store, he and friends stripped the seat of its extra weight and added insulation and a vent.

Things didn’t go as planned for the La Center man. Barbera started the day, stationed in Battleground, with challenges: First, some of the 100 balloons he was using to get his lawn chair in the air popped.

To overcome that problem, he ditched most of his equipment, including oxygen, supplies and even his shoes, so he could get his lawn chair in the air.

When the chair made it to 20,000 feet, it started dropping and Barbera was forced to pop some balloons before reaching his goal of sailing over Cascades. He brought along a long stick with a razor attached to the end to make it happen.

“I made the right decision to pop some balloons and I came down gracefully,” said Barbera.

Gracefully? He landed in a tree near the Lewis River. “If you ever look at the state of Washington, ending up in a tree is statistically likely.”

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross asked if his possibly record-setting chair might end up in a museum.

“Well, that depends,” he said. “It’s up in a tree right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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