Brazil priest flying party balloons lost at sea

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian priest is missing after he drifted out to sea while trying to set a record for a flight using helium-filled party balloons, authorities said on Tuesday.

Father Adelir Antonio de Carli began his flight suspended in a harness-like seat from 1,000 balloons of various colors on Sunday in the southern port of Paranagua. He had intended to fly 20 hours due west but unexpected winds carried the 42-year-old Roman Catholic priest out over the south Atlantic on a southeasterly course.

Denise Gallas, coordinator of the parish where de Carli worked, said he was last heard from Sunday evening when he used his cell phone to give his coordinates.

“He was already over the ocean then,” she said.

De Carli, who flew around 55 miles (90 kilometers) before losing contact, had wanted to draw attention to the work of his parish in Paranagua, which targets mostly truck drivers who transport goods to and from the port.

Rescue workers searched the coast farther south, in Santa Catarina state, on Tuesday by boat and plane in the hope of finding de Carli alive.

“We found bits of balloons all along the coast,” said Joao dos Santos Junior, deputy fire commander in the coastal town of Sao Francisco do Sul.

De Carli’s seat was lined with air-tight pockets that can be pumped up and there are several islands in the region that he could have washed up on, dos Santos said.

“The search will continue for some time,” he said.

The chaplain, who had reached an altitude of more than 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) in his contraption, carried water, cereal bars and energy capsules.

During a test flight in January he was blown across the border to Argentina.

Reporting by Raymond Colitt and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Bill Trott