Thursday, August 11, 2005

Balloon trip may face more than hot air!

Hot air could take on a whole new meaning if an adventurous balloonist brushes with the volcanic variety in his attempt to fly over Mt Ruapehu tomorrow.

Rick Walczak has flown all around the world, and makes annual flights in Japan and the United States.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, he’ll have a practice run with his first active volcano.
His encounter with Ruapehu is a warm-up for a future attempt on the much more active White Island, in the Bay of Plenty.

Ruapehu may have some steam eruptions or sulphur emissions, as well as 15-knot winds, to help prepare the intrepid balloonist.

He’s planning to go high, and try to avoid them.

He’s also wary of the broken and disturbed airstream he’s likely to find on the far side of the mountain.

Mr Walczak plans to take off from SH4 near National Park around 6.30am, taking advantage of the calm winds of early morning. He has been checking the weather carefully and expects a westerly wind.

Wind from another direction could enable him to traverse Ngauruhoe and Tongariro as well as Ruapehu, and he expects to get spectacular photos.

He wants to be on the ground near SH1 and Waiouru by about 10am, and well grounded by late afternoon, when a front is expected.

He’s planning to take his son Chris, 28, along as his Ruapehu co-pilot. He said it took a crew of about 15 to prepare such a flight. Tomorrow’s venture includes two helicopters, one to film and the other to hover nearby in case it is needed for a rescue.

If the weather is rotten, Mr Walczak said, he would return to his Carterton home and possibly try for the Ruapehu flight again later, but not for at least two weeks. Flights took a huge amount of organisation and New Zealand’s safety rules made that harder and harder.

Being airborne also cost thousands of dollars, and he was grateful for the Eggs Incorporated sponsorship of his “An Egg a Day is Now OK” balloon.

His previous flights in Godzone included one over Mt Taranaki and an attempt on Mt Cook that was foiled by bad weather. The White Island stunt was scheduled for late summer.

Mr Walczak said he had been an adventure pilot, mainly of balloons and Microlights, for 28 years. He took an early retirement from his job as an FX (foreign exchange) dealer, though a recent loss meant he might have to go back to work.

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