BEND, Ore. — An Oregon gas station owner and an Iraqi adventurer trying to fly from Oregon to Montana in a lawn-chair balloon rig were forced to abort the flight Saturday because of thunderstorms.

About six hours into the flight, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta descended from 10,000 feet because of the weather, flight organizer Mark Knowles said.

The website tracker showed them about five miles south of the town of Prineville, about 30 miles northeast of their starting point. The pair initially floated about 40 miles north before winds sent them back south, then east, the direction they wanted to go.

“Thunderstorms are around them,” Knowles said by cellphone. “We’ve got visual contact.”

Earlier, volunteers filled 350 5-foot diameter red, white, blue and black balloons with helium and tied them to Couch’s homemade tandem lawn chair rig. The balloons were arranged in bunches to represent the colors of the U.S. and Iraqi flags. An American flag flew from the bottom of the framework.

About 90 volunteers and several hundred onlookers counted down and then cheered as the pair lifted off from Couch’s Shell gas station. The duo safely cleared a two-story motel, a coffee stand and a light post.

The rig included 800 pounds of ballast – red Kool-Aid in 40-gallon barrels. Besides a GPS, navigation gear, satellite phone, oxygen, two-way radios, eight cameras, and parachutes, they were carrying two Red Ryder BB rifles and a pair of blowguns to shoot out enough balloons to come to earth when the time is right.

Expecting to float at 15,000-18,000 feet, where temperatures drop to near zero, they also packed sleeping bags to stay warm.

Electronic gear was powered by a solar panel. A flare gun was tied onto the framework for emergencies. They also carried the ashes of a family friend to spread over the high desert.

Lance Schliep, an appliance repairman, helped Couch with the latest design, made entirely from items bought at local hardware stores and junk from Couch’s garage.

“It’s about as redneck as you can get,” Couch said.

Lafta, a mountain climber and sky diver, said he had shared Couch’s childhood dream of floating like a cloud. He sent Couch an email two winters ago after reading accounts of Couch’s earlier flights.

“I want to inspire Iraqis and say we need to defeat terrorists,” Lafta said. “We don’t need just an Army. We need ideology and to just have fun.”