Accident Super Pressure balloon 'Light Heart' unregistered, 21 Feb 1974
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 219009
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Type:Silhouette image of generic BALL model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Super Pressure balloon 'Light Heart'
Owner/operator:Colonel Thomas Leigh Gatch Jr.
Registration: unregistered
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Aircraft missing
Location:Atlantic Ocean, 1,000 miles west of the Canary Islands -   Atlantic Ocean
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Harrisburg Airport, Harrisburg, PA (MDT/KMDT)
Destination airport:Europe/Canary Islands/Spanish Sahara
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
Light Heart was a balloon constructed by Colonel Thomas Leigh Gatch Jr., USAR (13 September 1925 – disappeared 19 February 1974) for an unsuccessful attempt at the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by balloon. Gatch was the son of Vice Admiral Thomas Leigh Gatch (1891–1954) and grandson of photographer Helen Gatch (1862–1942).

Light Heart took off from Harrisburg Airport at 19:29 hours on 18 February 1974. By 21:00 the balloon was reported to have stabilized at 10,200 m (33,500 ft), having passed over Dover, Delaware and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Gatch reported that one of the ten helium balloons had burst during the ascent (at 20.45). While the balloon was able to continue in this condition, he had been forced to jettison water ballast to continue climbing and he was now able to cruise at no more than 11,000 metres (36,000 ft), rather than the 12,000 metres (39,000 ft) he had originally intended.

For the next sixteen hours Gatch maintained radio contact with passing airliners (at least two of which were diverted to avoid his craft). His last radio contact was at 12:50 on Tuesday, 19 February, with BOAC Flight 583. At that point, the balloon was 1,490 km (925 miles) NE of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Light Heart continued to drift southwards out of the main transatlantic airways, far south of Gatch's plotted course.

No further radio transmissions were received from Light Heart. The Liberian freighter Ore Meridian reported sighting the balloon just after dawn on 21 February. At that point, the balloon was at an altitude of about 305 m (1000 ft), approximately 1,610 km (1,000 miles) west of the Canary Islands and drifting towards Africa.

According to this report, eight of the ten balloons remained inflated. The gondola was designed to float in the event of a water landing and to be radar reflective. Notwithstanding this (or conjectures that the balloon might have landed in the Spanish Sahara) no confirmed trace of the 'Light Heart' or Thomas Gatch was ever found, after the Ore Meridian's reported sighting on 21 February 1974.

The US Department of Defense and the Spanish Army conducted extensive search operations both at sea off West Africa and in the Spanish Sahara. Search operations were called off in mid-March 1974.


2. "Private flight: transatlantic balloon attempt". Flight International. IPC Transport Press Ltd. 105 (3390): 263. 1974
3. Hamilton, Tom (2000). "Flying Under Pressure: Superpressure balloons are best for flying at one altitude for a very long time". Balloon Life. Balloon Life Magazine, Inc
4. '46 Memorial Article Project and his sisters, Nancy and Eleanor; Svein, Nancy (1990). "15885 Gatch, Thomas Leigh". WP-ORG Inc. at
5. "Photograph of Col Gatch embarking". Irish Times. Dublin. UPI. 20 February 1974. p. 5.
6. "Spain may call off balloonist hunt". Irish Times. Dublin. Reuters, UPI. 25 February 1974. p. 1.
7. "Private flight: balloonist lost". Flight International. IPC Transport Press Ltd. 105 (3392): 327. 1974. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
8. "Balloonist search is called off". Irish Times. Dublin. AFP. 9 March 1974. p. 7
10. "Balloon Is Headed For African Coast On Atlantic Flight", New York Times February 20 1974:

Revision history:

05-Dec-2018 07:45 Nomann Added
27-May-2022 00:39 Ron Averes Updated [Location, Damage, Narrative]
07-Sep-2022 22:34 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Registration, Operator, Other fatalities, Location, Phase, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]

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