One man, 200 helium balloons

2013-01-29 15:27

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World Heritage site Robben Island has long been seen as the ideal stage to test the human spirit and showcase its triumphs.

This is most certainly the case when it comes to Matt Valance, former volunteer paramedic for the Western Cape Ambulance Service. Matt is the intrepid aviator of the Robben Island Balloon Run, a daring attempt to fly from Robben Island to the mainland of Cape Town using only a cluster of helium-filled party balloons.

Why would anybody want to cast themselves 600 metres above sea level - the equivalent of a 50-storey building – strapped to a bunch of helium balloons and drift over the ocean at the mercy of Cape Town’s wind?

Consider the fact that the African continent only has four hospitals dedicated to the care of children - nearly 450-million children to be exact. 

Matt and his team’s stunt is aimed at raising R10-million for the building of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, a project initiated by the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and earmarked for the land adjacent to the university of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. This 200-bed academic and paediatric referral facility will serve children across Southern Africa and “no child will be turned away due to inability to pay.”

Matt will be one of just 13 people in the world who have attempted the feat of cluster-ballooning, as it’s known amongst fellow adrenalin junkies. Not all those attempts have been successful – two of those people have perished in the process, so the stakes could not be higher on this daring stunt.

When the conditions are just right, Matt will be strapped to a paragliding harness, which will be attached to approximately 200 four-foot diameter helium-inflated balloons. His ascent and descent will be controlled by either jettisoning ballast or deflating a balloon.




In order to ensure that he doesn’t become a tasty snack for one of the great white sharks that are often spotted near Robben Island, Matt has an internationally experienced team who will be helping him every step of the way.  Mike Howard his flight operations for the Balloon run, jokingly said there was no exact science to the stunt, adding that you could use anything from a bb gun to a knife to pop achieve the descent.  But his humour belies his expertise in this area. As flight operations manager for the Balloon Run and  pilot for Emirates Airline, Mike holds the Guinness World Record for performing the highest cluster-ballooning flight at an astounding  5791 metres.




Also part of the support team to help raise funds is legendary rugby personality Bobby Skinstad, as well as international rugby players who are helping Matt in his endeavour to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. Jean de Villiers, captain of the South African rugby team, along with both New Zealand and Australian captains, has donated his rugby jersey to the cause. These jerseys, which include the Springbok Captain’s inaugural jersey from the Rugby Championship, will be raffled off to raise additional funds. This symbolic gesture of support follows the famous post 1995 Rugby World Cup match gesture of solidarity between Mr Nelson Mandela and the then Springbok Captain Francois Pienaar.

The month of April has been set aside as the window period for the stunt, as it provides the best weather to gain a gentle, consistent wind crucial to the success of the stunt.

Sibongiseni Mkhize, Chief Executive Officer at Robben Island Museum, is optimistic about the success of the initiative. “I think it’s a very ambitious project but I think it’s
achievable,” he comments. “The history of Robben Island has shown us that nothing is too difficult, as long as people work together, have a common goal and determination to succeed.

Donations can be made to the cause at www.balloonrun.com. To keep up with Matt’s planning and all the Balloon Run news, follow him on Twitter @Balloonbloke or on Facebook.com/RobbenIslandBalloonRun.





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