Loomis, NE Stratosphere Balloon EXPLORER Breaks Apart, Jul 1934
Big Balloon Crashes; 3 Leap Safe
Bag Rips Apart 11 Miles Up
Flight Ends in Nebraska After 10 Hours, 15 Minutes; 60,000 Altitude Believed Attained.
Holdredge, Neb., July 28 (A.P.)-A trip of daring army aviators, their exploration of the stratosphere cut short at approximately 60,000 feet by a damaged balloon, ended a perilous descent successfully on a prairie near this small town late today.
The three courageous airmen saved themselves by leaping overboard as the mammoth craft, its three-acre bag ripped end to end and fluttering in the wind and its gondola swaying, plummeted toward the earth from one mile up.
Fear Instruments Damaged
They floated to earth in their parachutes and were unscathed.
The wreckage crashed to the ground at 5 p.m. central standard time, 12 miles northwest of here.
Five thousand persons swarmed to the scene. Ropes were strung to hold them back while the three sky voyagers themselves seized axes and pried into the gondola to see if their precious scientific instruments had been damaged. Reports were current that most of them, together with the thin alloy sphere, had been smashed. The body of the cubicle was noticeably bent.
For 10 hours and 15 minutes the intrepid trio had been alert, but since 2:25 p.m., when ugly rips appeared on the upper side of the envelope, they had busied themselves with attempting to land their cargo of precious scientific instruments safely.
Maj. William E. Kepner, pilot on the adventure, telephoned his wife at Rapid City, S.D., where the flight began at 6:45 a.m., to inform her that neither he nor his colleagues, Capt. Albert W. Stevens and Capt. O.A. Anderson, were hurt.
Then he related the final episodes of the epic journey into the heavens. The world, via short wave radio contacts, had been informed of the breathless sky drama until communication had been cut at about 10,000 feet.
He said the Gondola tore loose from the flapping mass of fabric at 8000 feet. Then he reported to the seventh army corps headquarters at Omaha, Neb., he and his two companions clambered out on top of the eight-feet-by-four metal ball as it rushed toward the ground at sickening speed. They attempted to release the gigantic parachute with which the sphere was equipped but their efforts met with no success.
Splits Wide Open
The three of them, he added, then bailed out, using their individual parachutes.
“At about 5000 feet,” he recounted, “the balloon split wide open and everything headed for the earth., Then we began to pile out.”
“We had trouble getting free from the gondola,” he said, “and there was just enough time to leap safe as it hurled downward. The fabric of the whole balloon gave way. We don’t know why yet.”
The major and his aides reached the ground about a mile from the spot their cubicle plumped down. They quickly made their way to the farm home of Reuben Johnson, four miles north of Loomis.
They laughed about their experiences. They had made light of their predicament even when they were swinging in space 60,000 feet above sea level, hemmed in by intense cold and darkness and the uncertainty that revolved about the tears that appeared in the big bag. They had been calm while groups in contact with them by radio had balled their fists in anxiety as the airmen pronounced they were dropping “five hundred feet a minute.”