An ‘Impossible’ Float
Against impossible odds, on April 6th, 2013, Matt Silver-Vallance became the world’s 13th successful cluster-balloon aviator and the 1st in Africa. He ascended from Robben Island like a champagne cork; made a nail-biting journey across Cape Town’s Table Bay attached to a flotilla of helium balloons; and eventually reached the mainland shores; all to raise funds for the building of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital by revalidating Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “It always seems impossible, until it is done!”
It took years of planning, permission gaining from multiple authorities and perseverance for Matt to pull together the team of experts which would help him implement the impossible idea of floating from the prison that once held Nelson Mandela captive, across the cold Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Cape Town. His quest, to ignite a high value response to Africa’s lack of pediatric care facilities, captured the imaginations of people around the world.
‘It always seems impossible until it’s done!’
Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy has inspired humankind in countless ways. For one South African, that inspiration took a somewhat fanciful, and a very daring turn. On the 6th of April 2013, a former volunteer paramedic and Med Tech businessman, Matt Silver-Vallance, who had never piloted anything before, stood on the landing strip of Robben Island. Strapped to a 160 helium-filled balloons and equipped with rudimentary controls, Matt cut himself away from earthbound ties.
Matt wanted to raise a very large amount of money for a cause close to his heart – the development of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. The problem was that he was ‘just an ordinary person’. He realised that to raise awareness of such an important cause, he had to do something so extraordinary it would capture everyone’s attention and imagination. That’s how he came to find himself, rapidly ascending into the misty skies above Cape Town’s Table Bay.
Statistically cluster-ballooning is the most dangerous sport on earth; out of the 12 previous attempts, two of the pilots died. A cluster-balloon flight is completely unpredictable as you literally go where the wind takes you, and Matt’s team had to plan for the unexpected. Straight after take-off, Matt was climbing at 10 meters per second, and he was so high within just a few minutes that he was in real danger of entering the busy airspace over Table Bay. When his first fail-safe, an air-pistol to shoot balloons did not work, Matt worked to curb the excessive buoyancy by pulling each individual balloons down and popping them with his spear.
As he made the spectacular 7.8 kilometre crossing followed by a trail of navy and media vessels, the major news networks reported on his precarious course. Many thousands of people all over the world rallied to the call to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. But when he reached the shore that day, Matt had done more than accomplish his goal of raising a large amount of money. He demonstrated that, no matter how ‘ordinary’ we think we may be, we all have big dreams that we actually can implement.
The Robben Island Balloon Run proved Matt’s methodology for finding high value solutions to what is thought to be ‘impossible’. As a Creative Humanitarian, Matt believes that a blend of ‘Da Vinci’ style creativity, effective partnerships, technology and intention can be employed to solve pressing problems and bring about positive social benefits.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, which is being built in Johannesburg, will provide not just much-needed high level paediatric care, but also invaluable research, training and strategic planning. Africa has the highest percentage of its population under 15 years but only four dedicated paediatric hospitals.
Matt is an inspirational speaker who is currently working on upcoming projects that will continue to transform the impossible into implementation and raise vital awareness and funding for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.