QRP radio and balloon held hostage, the rest of the story


The subject line says it all. After our very successful balloon launch on June 19, 2010 a series of events took place that shocked local ham radio operators.

Let me go back to the day of the launch. The day was clear and sunny and high expectations were being felt by all participants at the launch site. With the balloon filled with helium and the QRP radio attached the balloon it went up without a hitch. The tracking was great and we followed the GPS up and across several miles of the local countryside. Having high hopes of recovering the balloon and radio package we waited intently listening to the data as it was sent back to our tracking station at Pinney Camp ground. What a great day! As the balloon traveled to our south west we tracked it from our camp ground vantage point. We felt that the balloon was going to go down in the area between the Land Between the Lakes. That would be the best thing for our land recovery operation. As the balloon came down it looked like we were going to have a water splash down. Off into the boat went Gregg Mann with his crew to do a water recovery. After going to the last known location near Kentucky Lake it appeared the balloon was lost. Our hope was that someone would find the balloon with the QRP radio attached and call the phone number listed along with the owners name.

A note saying what the radio is and the name and phone number of the builder is a must for any type of recovery hope.

Little did we know that the balloon was down on the ground in Benton County, stuck in a tree. After about a week the builder of the radio received a phone call from a person who stated his name was Christopher, asking if Gregg was home. The caller identified himself as a person who had located a balloon and the attached radio. The caller Christopher, said that the package had been observed being thrown from an airplane. The caller said he was a sheriff  in Benton county. Gregg requested the location where the radio could be picked up and the caller said he would call back later. A few days later the same caller called and told Gregg Mann that the person who first saw the balloon reported that they observed it being thrown from an airplane and that the balloon was going to be sent to Investigations at the main office of the sheriff.

Christopher also said that the local airport was called to check on any flights in the area. The caller then told Gregg Mann that the sheriff's office would be in touch with him. After several days Gregg called the Head Sheriff of Benton County and tried to explain what the balloon and radio were about. The sheriff Tony King told Gregg that he was going to contact the E.P.A.. and the F.A.A.

regarding violations that he felt were involved with the release and recovery of the balloon. Thinking that this would be a good idea Gregg called the Nashville office of the F.A.A. and talked with the person who gave the OK to launch the balloon in the first place. (Rules regulating the launch of airborne devices are required to be cleared with the F.A.A. in the local area where the balloon is

launched) After discussing the problem with the F.A.A. a decision by the F.A.A.

officer was made to call the Sheriff of Benton County advising him that no violations had occurred during or after the launch of the balloon in question.

In September of 2010 the sheriff of Henry County called Gregg and told him he could come to the Sheriff's Office in Benton County and pick up the balloon.

Pictures of the recovery of the balloon and the local Benton County Jail are attached to this story. What a great time we have when we play with radio.

That's it for now, and I just can't wait to launch another balloon. Ham radio is too much fun.

John, KM6NN