Balloon tale more than hot air

WHEN four-year-old Sam Evans let go of his Thomas the Tank Engine birthday balloon he had no idea what might happen.

Laurence Cawley

WHEN four-year-old Sam Evans let go of his Thomas the Tank Engine birthday balloon he had no idea what might happen.

But yesterday the Stanton schoolboy got a letter from a 10-year-old saying his balloon had been found - in Belgium.

The helium-filled balloon had travelled all the way from his home in Stanton across the North Sea to Belgium, a distance of about 320km.

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The fact it had survived the journey has left his family astonished, because it was only half-full of helium when he released it into the air on June 16.

The only problem is the letter, sent from Ghent, is written in Flemish, so Sam and his family don't know what the letter says.

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His mother Julie said: “It was a balloon from his birthday and we stuck his name and address on it. To be honest, it was half flat and weighed down by the sticky tape so I am so surprised it got as far as Belgium.

“It was great to get a reply. It seems to have been sent by a 10-year-old boy in Belgium. But I can't understand the rest of it because it is in Flemish.

“From the post mark it seems it was sent from Ghent - a place I visited once, it is very pretty.”

Sam only found out about the letter when he got back from school and the family are desperately hoping somebody with a knowledge of Flemish can come to their rescue to tell them what it says.

A spokesman for Bury St Edmunds-based Wizard Balloons, which runs hot air balloon flights, said the fact Sam's balloon was made of foil had probably made all the difference.

“Helium is a very buoyant gas and foil balloons are pretty strong. If it is fully inflated it will stay up for days. They will slowly rise and the winds aloft are much faster than at ground level so they can go some distance. Eventually the helium will slowly release and it will descend back to the ground.”

Sam's balloon landing marks the latest event in a long-standing relationship between Suffolk and Belgium. An influx of Flemish weavers during the medieval period helped make Suffolk one of the wealthiest counties in the land on the back of its cloth trade.

Anybody able to help translate the letter can contact Mrs Evans on 01359 250577.

The weird and wonderful world of balloons:

- Last year four-year-old Alice Maines, of Flixton, Manchester, released a balloon at a fair which flew 6,000 miles to China.

- The first hot-air balloon experiments were by Jospeph and Etienne Montgolfier in France in 1782.

- The World Record for the most parachutists to jump from a balloon in one go was set in 2003 by the Paraclub Flevo in the Netherlands.

- In 2002 adventurer Steve Fossett travelled 20,602 miles in his balloon Bud Light Spirit of Freedom.

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