Loomis, NE Stratosphere Balloon EXPLORER Breaks Apart, Jul 1934

Hole 50 Feet Long

Kepner gave a graphic account of the first drama broadcast from the stratosphere and of the grim battle against death and disaster.

He said he first sighted the rips in the enormous envelope at the peak of he ascent-60,000 feet. The cause he attributed to “either strain or inflation.”

“We looked through a window and saw a hole 50 feet long,” he related. “We sat and sort of waited to see if we were going to come down in the gondola at about a mile a minute and would have to get out.

“At that height a man cannot live. At 20,000 feet we opened out gondola and got out on top and looked around and thought then we might be able to land it and save the instruments.

“But the speed we were coming down-500 feet a minute although sometimes it was not over 300-had a parachuting effect which was too much for the balloon. It tore out all the lower part and just left the upper part like a parachute with a little hydrogen floating in it.”

Captain Anderson was the first of the trio to drop with his parachute. Captain Stevens jumped next but his sheet caught in the ripping envelope above. The mishap delayed him so long that Major Kepner, the last to bail out could not get away until the final critical moment. Anderson was able to free his chute only at an altitude of about 2500 feet.

Major Kepner expressed his sorrow to the society representatives that the junket into the heavens was “probably not as successful as had been hoped.”

The sponsors, however, extended their commendation to the major and his crew.

San Diego Union, San Diego, CA 29 Jul 1934


Stratosphere Log Tells of ‘Hard Pull’
(By The Associated Press)
(Time is Central Standard)

6:45 a.m.-The world’s largest balloon, with Maj. W.E. Kepner and Captains A.W. Stevens and O.A. Anderson aboard, soared aloft from Moonlight Valley in the Black Hills near Rapid City, S.D.

6:52 a.m.-The aerial voyagers radioed “Everything O.K.” from an altitude of 7400 feet.

8 a.m.-The National Geographic society headquarters at Washington reported receipt of a radio message giving the balloon’s position at the 14,000-ffpt stage. This was a drop from the 16,000 feet reported a few moments before, when one of the crew messaged, “We had a hell of a list.”

8:58 a.m.-Major Kepner reported to Chicago contacts that the bag has reached an altitude of between 15,000 and 15,460 feet. He said 77,000 feet was the ultimate goal. He stated they were having a “hard pull” and added: “Everything hasn’t gone perfectly.” The direction was then given as “Almost due south.”

9:40 a.m.-Major Kepner reported, “We are closing up,” indicating preparations were started to seal the gondola for the second lap of the ascent.