Before we leave the Air Force and War Museum in Texel, I spy what I first assume to be a life boat.
A closer look determines it to be the “Dutch Viking“, which is the cabin of a transatlantic high altitude balloon that set a record for the transatlantic crossing on 02 September 1986.
Captain Henk Brink, his wife Evelien, and Major Willem Hageman, an F-16 squadron commander in the Royal Dutch Air Force comprised the three person crew.
They departed from St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada just before midnight on Saturday and touched down in a Dutch wheat field 51 hours and 14 minutes later.
In the Youtube video (Dutch language only, linked at the bottom of this post) Henk explained their near disastrous ending to the journey: sudden swirling winds made the balloon tilt to one side, at quite an angle to the gondola, this in turn meant that the heat from the burners went up the outside of the balloon and they lost a lot of height very quickly. Since the balloon at that moment was close to crossing over the town of Velsen close to Amsterdam, they had to make a decision about how best to avert a crash landing in the town centre.
They carried bags of lead balls as ballast, the usual method of using these was to toss out handfuls of these balls at a time, but since their situation at that point was dire and time was of the essence, the decision was taken to dump 19 bags in their entirety.
Two of these bags crashed through a roof of a steel plant and another through the roof of a fish factory, amazingly no one was hurt but damage caused was considerable.
The drama was not over however: on landing the gondola of the balloon flipped end over end, and whilst Willem and Evelien were securely strapped in, Henk wasn’t and he was thrown out into the field, injuring his hips.
After being airlifted to hospital and checks done, it was pronounced that nothing serious was broken, he just had to rest for a while since his hips were badly bruised.
The flight broke the record of 53 hours for a transatlantic crossing, marked the first time that Europeans had made the crossing and Evelien became the first woman to make the crossing in a balloon.
In essence this text is my translation of the Dutch commentary in the video, even if you don’t speak any Dutch, it is well worth going to time stamp 04.36 in the video where the view from the edge of space, the amazing curvature of the earth is a wonder to behold.
They also talk about needing to descend to 10 000 metres before getting into busy European airspace, it required a special maneuver where they needed to all wear their parachutes for safety reasons.
I’m guessing that that was a nerve wracking part of the trip! Four F14 fighter jet colleagues greeted them as they crossed the border.
I read in the information here that the balloon itself was 15 stories high and the gondola /lifeboat is not your average balloon wicker basket size either, so I can see why they were concerned about crashing into the town of Velsen. It just goes to show that air craft come in all shapes and sizes, even 15 stories high!