Man uses balloons to fly from Mandela jail to Cape Town

Last Updated: Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 22:14

Cape Town: A South African man on Saturday successfully flew across the sea from Nelson Mandela`s apartheid island prison using helium-filled giant party balloons.

The six-kilometre (3.7-mile) crossing, to raise funds for a children`s hospital named after the country`s former president, was the first stunt of its kind from the historical site.

Matt Silver-Vallance, 37, took around an hour to float across the Atlantic Ocean from Robben Island while harnessed to a mass of multi-coloured balloons in grey, drizzly conditions with low visibility.

Making his way wearing a wetsuit, he floated a few metres above the sea, with controls for flight including bags weighted with water and an air gun and make-shift spear to pop balloons.

"Wow, that was crazy," he said, saying he felt "unbelievable" after landing in a rubber duck around 300-400 metres (yards) from shore once the balloons were released.

"Don`t try this at home," he quipped.

With no test run ahead of lift-off, a total of 160 balloons were inflated on the island early Saturday morning, with several popping ahead of departure.

Silver-Vallance popped around 35 more balloons during the trip to manage his equilibrium. A hard ground landing was ruled out as too risky.

The daring mission aimed to raise 10 million rand ($1.1 million, 852,000 euros) for the Nelson Mandela Children`s Hospital which will be built in Johannesburg.

"We`re trying to raise as much money (as possible) for the Nelson Mandela Children`s Hospital and we really see this project as a catalyst," Silver-Vallance said ahead of take-off.

The hospital will be part of Mandela`s legacy and the balloon run was a "small thing" to try to remind people of everything the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon had done, he said.

"The risks that I`m taking are tiny compared to the risks that he took," he said, adding he did not consider himself a dare-devil.

When asked what message he had for Mandela, an emotional Silver-Vallance said: "I think like most South Africans we all love him very much."

He said he hoped the flight "could bring a smile to (Mandela`s) face".

Later, after the flight, Nelson Mandela was discharged from hospital after being admitted 10 days ago for a bout of pneumonia.

The Nobel Peace Prize recipient spent part of his 27 year imprisonment on Robben Island which is now a museum.

There have only been 12 previous such balloon flights in the world -- two of which were fatal -- according to Silver-Vallance, who now lives in Britain.

"I think this is the first one in Africa," he said.

Ahead of take-off, he said Mandela was a huge inspiration at home and around the world.

"So I think this is just a reflection of everything that he`s done."

The idea for the trip was planted seven years ago while watching astronauts on television and motivated by his work at a Cape Town children`s hospital.

The helium for the balloons was worth 70,000 rand and the balloons cost 90,000 rand. Both were donated.

AFP



First Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 22:14

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