Priest tied to balloons floats away

April 22, 2008 9:19:01 AM PDT
Searchers scanned the waters off Brazil's southern Atlantic coast on Tuesday for a Roman Catholic priest who disappeared after floating into the sky under hundreds of helium party balloons.

CLICK HERE for an AP video report.

Rescuers in helicopters and small fishing boats spent a second day seeking signs of the Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli, said the treasurer of his Sao Cristovao parish, Denise Gallas.

Carli lifted off Sunday afternoon from the port city of Paranagua, wearing a helmet, thermal suit and a parachute.

He was reported missing about eight hours later after losing contact with port authority officials. Authorities later saw pieces of balloons floating in the sea off the coast of Santa Catarina state close to where Carli last made contact.

"We have no reason at this point to believe he is not still alive. He may be floating in the ocean, on some isolated beach or on land somewhere," said Paulo Eduardo Neves, a commander of one of the fire departments searching for Carli.

The priest was trying to break a 19-hour record for the most hours flying with balloons to fund a spiritual rest stop for truckers in Paranagua, home to Brazil's largest grain port. Brazilian truckers often spend days waiting to unload in the port, especially during the busy soy export season now under way.

Parishioners were maintaining a vigil for Carli, confident that he would be found.

"Without a doubt they will find him alive," Gallas said. "He's alive somewhere out there."

A video of Carli posted on Globo TV's G1 Web site showed the smiling 41-year-old priest slipping into a flight suit and being strapped to a seat attached to a huge cluster of green, red, white and yellow balloons. He then soared into the air to cheers from a crowd.

According to Gallas, the priest at one point soared to an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters). He planned to fly to the city of Dourados, 465 miles (750 kilometers) northwest of his parish, but was blown in another direction. He was located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the coast when he last contacted Paranagua's port authority.

Carli reportedly had a GPS device, a satellite phone, a buoyant chair and is an experienced skydiver.

Seas were calm Tuesday in the area where Carli disappeared, and the ocean's temperature was a mild 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), rescue leader Neves said.

"Depending on his physical fitness and how badly, if at all, he was injured, he could probably survive in the water for at least five days, maybe a bit more," Neves said.