Free Life (balloon)

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Free Life
Type Roziere type hot-air / helium balloon
Manufacturer Mark Semich
Manufactured 1970
Registration N2079
Owners and operators Rodney Anderson
Last flight 20 September 1970
Flights 1
Total hours 30
Total distance ca 500 mi (800 km)
Fate Crashed / force-landed in the Atlantic, killing all aboard and leaving little identifiable wreckage behind.

Free Life was the name of the ill-fated Rozière balloon (registration N2079) that made the fourth attempt at crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The balloon was launched from East Hampton, New York on 20 September 1970, piloted by Malcolm Brighton, with Rodney Anderson and Pamela Brown on board.[1][2]


The adventure was thought up by Rodney Anderson and his wife, Pamela Brown. Pamela Brown was the actress daughter of Kentucky politician and attorney John Y. Brown, Sr. and the sister of Kentucky Fried Chicken entrepreneur and future Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown Jr. At age 28, she and her 32-year-old husband, commodities broker Rod Anderson, hoped to break records with the first manned balloon flight across the Atlantic. The couple planned to recoup the cost of the venture by writing a book about their experience.[3] When the pilot whom they had been counting on for the flight withdrew late in the game, the Andersons hired Englishman Malcolm Brighton, 32, whose ascent in the Free Life was to be his 100th - and his last.[4] Malcolm Brighton had built several balloons and became the main builder for the Bristol Belle, the name given to the first modern hot air balloon in Europe.[5]

The balloon[edit]

The Free Life attempt was the first use of a Roziere style balloon for an Atlantic attempt, built by Mark Semich, using a combination of helium and hot air. Below the spherical helium gas cell is a conical sleeve where air can be heated by burners in the same way as a normal hot air balloon. By varying the hot air temperature, altitude can be maintained without having to release helium or to drop ballast. The burners are principally used to compensate for the lack of solar heating at night.


After four years of planning and postponements, Brighton still had reservations about the balloon and in an interview, in which Brighton was asked what he thought of Free Life, he said

"I think I could have done better."

— Malcolm Brighton, The Free Life: The Spirit of Courage, Folly and Obsession

Even experienced balloonists, to whom Brighton had confided his plans to pilot Free Life, advised against it.

Despite this, the balloon was launched from George Sid Miller's pasture on Fireplace Road in Springs, New York on 20 September 1970. The weather was perfect; families picnicked and partied; the giant yellow, white and orange balloon, seven stories tall, was spectacular; spirits were high, and the 1,500 well-wishers seemed to share a sense of participating in something extraordinary, cheering their ascent.[6]

Disaster struck 30 hours after launch. A hot-air mechanism designed to maintain the balloon’s altitude at night failed on the second day of the flight. When the balloon encountered a high-altitude cold front and a severe rainstorm, they were forced to ditch in the Atlantic that night, about 600 miles southeast of Newfoundland. On 21 September came the last message from the Free Life. "We are ditching," it said. "We request search and rescue." The balloon went down in stormy seas off Newfoundland. Three Coast Guard cutters, a Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft and six United States Air Force and United States Coast Guard aircraft scoured the area for fourteen days. A few items from the balloon gondola were spotted, but the rescue effort was unsuccessful.

Up to August 1978, ten subsequent transatlantic balloon crossing attempts were made: In February 1974, while making one such attempt, Colonel Thomas Leigh Gatch, Jr. USAR also disappeared in his Light Heart superpressure balloon. Finally, on 17 August 1978, three Americans - Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman crossed the Atlantic by balloon, in the Double Eagle II.


In October 1972 Pamela Brown was memorialized by the opening of the Pamela Brown Auditorium, the first and largest theater in the newly built Actor's Theatre of Louisville complex.

A book commemorating the attempt was written in 1994 by Anthony Smith, noted science and travel writer, explorer, and lighter-than-air enthusiast.[7] Entitled The Free Life: The Spirit of Courage, Folly and Obsession, the book was awarded the W.W. Norton & Co. thirteenth Annual Editors' Book Award. Anthony Smith was not at the launch of the balloon in 1970, but he had taught Brighton to fly, and he had flown with him more frequently than anyone else.


  1. ^ Balloon Life: The Magazine for Hot Air Ballooning Archived October 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Richard Cawsey’s website
  3. ^ Actors Theatre of Louisville website
  4. ^ The New York Times, “The Day a Dream From Springs Crashed” by Mary Cummins, published: January 22, 1995
  5. ^ Bristol UWE News, Issue date: 16 November 2001
  6. ^ website
  7. ^ W. W. Norton & Company website

See also[edit]