ST. PAUL (AP) -- The world seems a little smaller to a Woodbury boy after a helium-filled balloon he released found its way to a university student in the Czech Republic -- some 4,500 miles away.
Mark Schlotterback released the red balloon Sept. 9 from outside St. Matthews Lutheran Church in St. Paul.
Ever since kindergarten, the 10-year-old and his twin sister, Brooke, along with about 75 children, have taken part in the church's annual custom: releasing a colorful barrage of balloons with postcards attached, asking whomever finds them to send them back to the church.
Most of the time, of course, the balloons end up in nearby trees.
"We do it every year, and I've never gotten one back," Mark said. "One kid got one back from Detroit, Michigan, once, but we've never had any luck, so I just sort of forgot about it."
This year, a letter showed up at the church two months later. Inside was Mark's postcard and a letter from a 21-year-old psychology student from the University of Palacky in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
"I know you and your teacher will find it weird, but so do I," Jan Kratky wrote from his dormitory. "Your balloon surely had to be charged with some powerful magic because it wouldn't find a way here otherwise."
Kratky offered Mark another theory for the balloon's journey.
"I have thought it over and over and I came to a solution," he wrote. "There has to be an airport somewhere near the place you had set your balloon free. It had to board a plane and change its destination several times ... but it made a mistake and once it realized, it jumped out at the Olomouc airport -- just a few tens of yards from the place I live at the student dormitories."
Scientists provided another reason.
Assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay checked his computer for Sept. 9 and found conditions consistent with getting a balloon from St. Paul to the Czech Republic.
"There were high winds aloft, and the jet stream was close by, coming from the southwest to the northeast," Boulay said. "It would have carried the balloon over Greenland, then possibly turned farther south. Winds would have been about 160 miles per hour up at 45,000 feet, and it looks like it could have indeed happened."
James McQuirter, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, said the balloon likely ruptured early during the journey and that the postcard became something akin to the ultimate paper airplane, careening through the atmosphere until it landed in the heart of central Europe.
"All you've got to do is get it up there in the jet stream, and the postcard would drift up and down in space until finally ending up in the Czech Republic," McQuirter said. "It's possible."
Jane Hanson, Mark's mom and the church's musical director, said her family wanted to send Kratky a Christmas present.
As for Mark, he obviously won the balloon-lift contest. Each postcard included a note to would-be finders, saying: "The child whose card is returned from the greatest distance will receive a prize."
The church staff presented Mark a rubber-ball replica of the Earth.
"I guess this whole thing kind of makes the world seem a little smaller," he said.
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