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Monday
Apr082013

Balloon Man Floats from Mandela Jail to Mainland South Africa

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CAPE TOWN, South Africa) -- A South African man completed a fundraising stunt in which he used 160 colorful helium balloons to float from the island where Nelson Mandela was once jailed to the South African mainland.

Matt Silver-Vallance, 36, is a former paramedic from Cape Town who wanted to find a way to raise money for the future Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg.

Seven years ago, Silver-Vallance and his best friend were watching a video of astronauts bouncing on the moon and wondered how they could simulate that.

“[My best friend] literally made the statement, ‘Imagine if you could jump from Robben Island to the mainland,’” Silver-Vallance told ABC News from Cape Town Monday. “The idea is ridiculously simple in that you attach yourself to a bunch of helium balloons and you float off.”

He jokingly expressed frustration with the Pixar movie Up — in which an old man’s house floats away with a mass of balloons — using an idea that he and his friend originally came up with.

“In a way, it’s quite cool , though,” he said. “People can kind of relate to it.”

Silver-Vallance and a team that totaled about 100 people spent years working on the stunt for project Balloon Run.

“I’m just the idiot that decided to hang onto the balloons,” he laughed.

Silver-Vallance is 242 pounds and is 6-foot-4-inches tall. With the addition of his paragliding harness and a specially designed bar that allowed him to rotate 360 degrees, it took 160 balloons each five feet in diameter to carry him.

He would navigate up and down by pouring out water on board and popping balloons.

At the peak of the trip, he was floating more than 3,000 feet in the air. The distance from the island to the mainland was almost seven miles and the trip took about an hour.

The team supporting him in boats and rafts below communicated with him throughout and helped him navigate white shark-infested water, a nuclear power station and the flight restricted zone near the airport.

They also helped him execute a water landing, which was safer than touching down on land.

Silver-Vallance said that the initial, and rapid, shot into the air felt “not too good,” but after that he enjoyed the ride.

“When I stabilized, it was fantastic because it was literally like just dangling in mid-air on a very comfortable harness just looking at the view and looking at Cape Town,” he said. “I wanted to raise awareness for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, remind people of the transition South African has made from before apartheid to the end and pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and all he’s achieved.”

The project raised $10,000, but Silver-Vallance wants to raise more. The father of a 3-year-old who now lives in Rugby, United Kingdom, and works in the medical industry, says he’s got a few more “weird and wonderful” stunts up his sleeve.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio