Up and away! Students' lost weather balloon found 160 miles away

Up and away! Students' lost weather balloon found 160 miles away »Play Video
From left to right, Matthias Weislogel, John Cameron and Eric Goessen unpack the Styrofoam box of their weather balloon that carried a camera and check for damage.

TUALATIN, Ore. - The Tualatin High School robotics team thought someone had stolen their weather balloon project, but it turned out it wasn't stolen but in the hands of the Gilliam County Sheriff's Office.

A KATU News reporter traveled to Condon, Ore. Thursday to retrieve the equipment as well as to interview the sheriff. Upon the reporter's return to Tualatin, team members were happy to have their weather balloon camera back.

"This is incredible," said Matthias Weislogel. "This is really incredible. A day ago we were checking Craigslist and eBay, so this is really nice to have it back."

Like kids on Christmas morning, the group unpacked the Styrofoam box that contained the camera to survey the damage.

"I just thought it was gone forever," said John Cameron. "I thought if anything we would find it on eBay or Craigslist and now we have it, and it's just great to have."

They were hoping to get a panoramic shot of the atmosphere but were only able to get a couple useable pictures.

"A number of things – could have been too cold to receive images ...,” said Weislogel.

The team launched their weather balloon earlier this month and was tracking it using a GPS system. Weislogel said it reached an altitude of 120,000 feet, or about 24 miles, which was the third highest out of 14 other launches.

The last thing they knew it was flying high in the clouds. But where did it stop? Right on the county line between Condon and Heppner, more than 160 miles away from the Tualatin High School field it was launched from – the farthest any of the other balloons had traveled.

The equipment ended up in the hands of Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt after someone called about seeing a suspicious package along the side of a road.

"It sat here in the office, and I never got back to it," Bettencourt said.

He said he didn't really forget about it but "every day that I came in and looked at it but didn't know how to package it."

That was until one of his deputies saw KATU's story about the missing equipment Wednesday night.

Now that the robotics team has their gear back they just have to find out what happened to all of the images they were supposed to get.

The robotics team is planning on getting Bettencourt a gift for retrieving the cameras.