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BEND, Ore. -- Kent Couch, owner and operator of Stop & Go Mini Mart/Shell here, is headed to Iraq to recreate his 2008 death-defying lawn chair balloon ride over 235 miles of the western United States.
In 2008, the single-store owner strapped more than 150 helium-filled party balloons to a specially rigged lawn chair and flew from the parking lot of his store to a field in Idaho. Now, Couch said he was approached by Iraqi daredevil Fareed Lafta to go to Baghdad for a Nov. 15 flight during a youth conference in the city's Green Zone.
Couch, who recently spoke at an educational session on independent retailers at the NACS Show in Chicago, told the Associated Press that he was "pretty sure I had hung up my hat on this" before Lafta called. But, he said the timing for another airborne adventure was right.
"Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the U.S. is pulling out, it is time Iraq really steps up and begins to dream about putting the country back together," Couch told the AP from the airport in Redmond, Ore. "I think between having a U.S. citizen and an Iraqi citizen launch together, where we are saying we are fulfilling our dream, it will encourage them to dream, knowing the sky is the limit if they just reach out and try."
This time, Couch plans to rig 300 balloons to lift the two men sitting in a pair of lawn chairs for an overnight flight of 400 miles at 25,000 feet, which will require oxygen masks. The flight was first reported by KTVZ in Bend, Ore.
The convenience store retailer has already shipped a pair of lawn chairs, the framework to support them and hundreds of party balloons to Dubai, where Lafta lives. Lafta has secured the visas and permissions they will need for their flight.
Couch's original lawn chair from his July 5, 2008, flight is in a museum. He tried to make an even longer flight to Montana last year, but the winds were too strong. His wife, Susan, is flying to Dubai with him, along with a film crew from Bend.
As might be expected, Couch said his biggest fear is floating into neighboring Iran, but he hopes to have favorable winds.
"I'm pretty confident we can make 25,000 feet," he said.