Brazilian priest on balloon voyage goes missing

A Brazilian priest who rode a bundle of party balloons into the horizon to set a flight record has disappeared.

A Brazilian priest who rode a bundle of party balloons into the horizon to set a flight record has disappeared.

Rev. Adelir Antonio di Carli talks with a journalist before floating off using party balloons in Paranagua, Brazil, on Sunday. ((Renita Pelissari/Agencia O Globo/Associated Press))

Rev. Adelir Antonio di Carli took off Sunday from the coastal city of Paranagua in southern Brazil, buoyed by 1,000 helium-filled balloons.

Wearing a helmet, aluminum thermal flight suit, waterproof clothes and a parachute, he was attempting to break the 19-hour record of human flight by party balloons.

Eight hours after takeoff, di Carli was reported missing after he lost contact with authorities.

Rescuers said they have found the balloons floating in the ocean off the coast of southern Brazil but have seen no sign of di Carli, who planned to use money raised from his adventure to finance a "spiritual" rest stop for truckers in Paranagua, which is the country's primary grain port.

"Given his physical condition and the equipment he was carrying, I would say there is an 80 per cent chance that he is still alive," fire commander Johnny Coelho told Globo TV.

Coelho said the priest could be floating somewhere in the ocean or may have found refuge at a remote beach or coastal forest. He was carrying enough cereal bars and water to sustain him for five days and had a GPS device, satellite phone and buoyant chair with him, Coelho said.

A reporter with the newspaper Folha De Sao Paolo, Barbara Gancia, was less optimistic.

"What we're hearing now is that he did not know how to use his equipment, the GPS, and he was ill-prepared for his flight," she told CBC News on Wednesday.

She said that while di Carli had intended to drift inland, weather conditions forced him over the ocean. She said authorities have also found the chair he was travelling in.

Meanwhile, a flight instructor who expelled di Carli from flight school three years ago has publicly criticized the priest for his stunt, Gancia said.

"He called him undisciplined and an exhibitionist, and he was always bragging about his faith and how his faith was going to carry him and take him safely through his journey. And that's not what happened."

This was di Carli's second balloon journey following a successful four-hour voyage from the Brazilian town of Ampere to Argentina in January.

With files from the Associated Press