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A BALLOON CATASTROPHE.
I Prom the Anjus, April 15.1
The sensational event of yesterday was tbe balloon ascent of M. Henri l'E strange, and the marvellous escape of tbe aeronaut from destruc tion. L'Estrange was advertised to ascend
in the balloon ' Aurora,*1 and a large number of persons assembled at the Agricultural Society's Ground to witness the event. In order to secure a full inflation of the balloon, the Metropolitan Gas Company laid on a special six-inch main* Shortly alter 11 o'clock the operation of filling the balloon was commenced, and so strong was the pressure on the main that without any assistance from the centrifugal pump, which was in readiness, the balloon was inflated ia the course of about thirty minutes. It is known, however, that in conveying the balloon from the Horticultural Hall to the grounds several holes had been made in the calico, and them had to be repaired by M. L'Estrange before tbe balloon was fully taut and ready for tbe ascent. He made the repairs hurriedly, and used a plaster to effect them, but he said he would ** chance it.' A few minutes after 3 o'clock the work of attaching the ;ar or basket in which the aeronaut takes his place was commenced, and at twenty minutes to 4 o'clock the adven turer took his place in the car, and proceeded to tie up the orifice of the balloon with a pocket-handerchief, the valve check passing through the orifice so secured into the car. This proceeding has been much commented on u unusual, and to it some people attribute tbe accident. M. L'Estrange at once gave tbe signal to let go, and almost immediately the balloon shot up into the air with surprising velocity. The aeronaut, however, did not appear to be at all alarmed, and waved his adieur to the assembled multitude with perfect sang froid. When about half a mile from the earth he threw out of the car a number of handbills, which floated in the atmosphere for a consider able distance, and when he had ascended to a still greater height he was observed to throw out the contents of a bag of sand. The balloon still continued to ascend, and the car and its occupant were quite un recognisable without the aid of a glass, when the balloon itself was seen to suddenly open on one side and commence to descend with terrible velocity. Almost instantly the silk parachute attatched to the centre of the balloon opened and checked the speed at which the balloon was descending, but still it was of bo rapid a nature that the majority of those looking on were of opinion that M. L'Estrauge would be dashed to pieces. The crowd watched the descent with breathless anxiety, and seeing the direction in which the balloon . fell a rush was made for the spot. On reaching the place it was found that M. L'Estrange was buried beneath the debris of the balloon, the netting and portion of the linen of which was canght in a fir-tree at the rear of Government House. The car had fallen to the ground by the side of the tree, and M. L'Kstrange, overcome by the violence of the shock, waa unable to extri cate himself from the folds of the material of which the balloon was constructed. This was, however, promptly remedied, and the fearless aeronaut waa rescued, apparently but little injured. The time occupied in this rapid ascent and still more speedy descent was as near as possible nine minutes. Amongst the excited crowd there were soon circulating at least a dozen statements as to the cause of the accident. M. L'Est range's story is aa follows : — He states that having in Sydney been supplied with gas of each inferior quality he tmd not been able to ade quately calculate the buoyancy of the balloon when inflated with tne Melbourne gas. When starting he went up with remarkable rapidity, and everything appeared to be going well, when he passed through a stratum of clouds, and thinking that he would meet with further atmospheric resistance he emptied out a bag of ballast. The effect was to cause the balloon to shoot up with great celerity, and almost im mediately afterwards he heard an explosion as if of a large cannon, and on looking up he saw that the balloon had burst. He then commenced to descend with terrible velocity, but the parachute opened out and somewhat checked bia speed. He had the presence of mind to throw every thing oat of the car, and having done so be quietly awaited bis fate. Expecting every minute to be dashed to pieces, he swiftly descended, and the car struck the earth, giving him a violent shock, while the balloon was canght npon a tree. M. L'Estrange explains that immediately after throwing out tbe bag ot* sand be found himself in a new and highly rarefied atmosphere. He was just going to open the valve and allow a quantity of gas to escape, when the balloon exploded. Under ordinary circumstances, when inflated the balloon was supposed to carry a weight of 1,469 lb., and that with the weight ot the material, 1,070 lb., left 399 lb. to spare for ballast and passengers, but with the Melbourne gas it is believed th*t there was at least 700 lb. to spare, and the consequence was that when the balloon was let go it shot up with unexpected force and speed. M. L'Estrange attributes the disaster to the fact that tbe gas waa of a much lighter quality than that for which his calculations were made, and also that he miscalculated the density of the higher atmosphere into which he ascended. His sensa tions after the balloon collapsed were, as may well be imagined, of a very dreadful nature. He had ascended to a height of nearly a mile and three-quarters from the earth, and he felt that, falling from that height, death wonld be inevitable ; but having thrown out the ballast, and endeavoured as far as possible to gather up the remains of the balloon, he commended himself to a higher Power. Con sequent upon the velocity with which he descended, the wind came whistling and screaming through the bottom of the car, and he feared that the parachute would fail him. It split in several places, bat still re mained tolerabiv effective. On reaching tbe ground, although sustaining a fearful shock, be realized tbe fact that he bad escaped with his life. The folds of the balloon, however, pressed closely upon him, and be was in dread of suffocation, but finding a small hole in the linen he placed his mouth to it, and was enabled to obtain air by that means sufficient to snstain himself UBtil assistance arrived. On being rescued M. L'Estrange was placed in a cab and taken to his residence, and later in the evening he visited several places in the city. In consequence of the rumours circulated as to the fate of the aeronaut — whose escape the eye witnesses of the disaster could scarcely be in duced to believe— Messrs. Hiscocka & Hayman induced him to appear upon the stage at St. George's Hall, where be met with a most enthu