Fundraiser gone terribly wrong

April 25, 2008

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s air force on Thursday suspended its search for a Roman Catholic priest who vanished after sailing into the air under a cluster of colorful balloons. The cleric’s family chartered a private plane to continue the hunt.

The Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli has been missing since Sunday, when he lifted off from the port city of Paranagua strapped to 1,000 balloons and wearing a helmet, an aluminum thermal flight suit, waterproof coveralls and a parachute.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, who declined to be named in line with departmental regulations, said the air force halted its search in the early morning.

“Over the past few days, air force planes flew over 5,000 square kilometers (1,900 square miles) of land and sea and found no trace of the priest,” the spokesman said.

But the navy continued to search using a helicopter and two boats, he said.

Denise Gallas, the treasurer of de Carli’s parish, said his family chartered a twin-engine plane after several parishioners said they had “premonitions” he had landed near a small town called Barra Velha on the coast of Santa Catarina state.

“We remain as confident as ever that he is still alive,” she said. “Our faith is unshakable.”

Jose Carlos Bom, a member of de Carli’s technical support team, said if the 41-year-old priest descended on land and was not badly injured, “he has a better than average chance of being alive because he has taken jungle-survival courses and is in excellent physical condition.

“However, if he is still out in the ocean somewhere, I am afraid the chances that he is alive are almost zero.”

According to Gallas, the priest hoped his flight would help raise money for a center where truck drivers could stop “to rest and receive the gospel.”

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