It is a story about a fairly foolish fellow from Los Angeles named Larry Waters. I cannot help but believe that his family is still in shock and a little embarrassed. Larry’s boyhood dream was to fly. So, when he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. When he was finally discharged, he had to satisfy himself by watching jets fly over his back yard.
One day, Larry had a bright idea – he decided to fly. He went to the local Army/Navy Surplus Store and purchase forty-five weather balloons and several tanks of helium. The weather balloons, when fully inflated, each measured more than four feet across. At home, Larry securely strapped the weather balloons to his “sturdy” lawn chair. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep and inflated the balloons with the helium. He climbed on for a test, while it was still only a few feet above the ground. Satisfied it would work, Larry packed several sandwiches and a six-pack of Miller Lite, loaded his pellet gun, figuring he could pop a few balloons when it was time to descend, and went to his lawn chair. He tied himself in, along with his pellet gun and provisions.
Larry’s plan was to lazily float up to a height of about thirty feet above his back yard, after severing the anchor, and in a few hours, come back down. Things did not quite work out that way. When he cut the cord anchoring the lawn chair to his jeep, he did not float lazily up to thirty or so feet, but instead, he streaked into the LA skies as if shot from a canon. He did not level off at thirty feet, but instead, leveled off at 11,000 feet. At this height, he could not risk shooting any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the lawn chair. He stayed there drifting for more than fourteen hours.
Then, Larry really got into trouble. He found himself drifting into the primary approach quarter of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A United Airlines pilot first spotted Larry. He radioed the tower and described passing a guy in a lawn chair with a gun. Radar confirmed the existence of an object floating 11,000 feet above the airport.
LAX emergency procedures swung into full alert and a helicopter was dispatched to investigate. Night was falling and the off shore breeze was beginning to flow. It began to carry Larry out over the ocean with the helicopter in hot pursuit. Several miles out, the helicopter caught up with Larry. Once the crew determined that Larry was not dangerous, they attempted to close in for a rescue. However, the draft from the blades would push Larry away whenever they neared.
Finally, the helicopter ascended to a position several hundred feet above Larry and lowered a rescue line. Larry snagged the line and was hauled back to shore. As soon as Larry was brought back to earth, he was arrested for violating air space. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue, asked him why he had done it. Larry stopped, turned, and replied, “Well, a man just can’t sit around.”
Stephen Davey told this story as the introduction to his sermon The God of Lost Causes at Wisdom for the Heart