One man, 200 helium balloons

2013-01-29 15:27

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

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 To keep up with Matt’s planning and all the Balloon Run news, follow him on Twitter @Balloonbloke or on

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

SHARE: publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside Travel


#FindYourEscape with Traveller24

Your insider guide to exploring South Africa and the world...
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.