November 7, 2023 – Croatia, full of adventure. Though an old story, we were reminded of an absolute gem that we feel went a little underappreciated and deserves to be shared again. How would you like to learn (or be reminded) about the world’s first underground hot air balloon flight? Because that happened – in Velebit’s Mamet Cave in Croatia, almost ten years ago.
With the aim of additional promotion and with a special emphasis on the promotion of active tourism, the Croatian Tourist Board supported an interesting and unique undertaking on a global scale back in 2014.
Exactly a decade after Felix Baumgartner’s iconic base jump in the Mamet Cave sent shockwaves around the world, another daredevil venture unfolded within the same abyss on Velebit Mountain. Ivan Trifonov, a seventy-year-old Austrian with a Croatian passport, etched his name into history by becoming the first person to successfully fly a hot-air balloon underground. Trifonov, an experienced hot-air balloon pilot, boasted an impressive record of four Guinness World Records at that time, and his astonishing journey into the Mamet Cave, touching its bottom, and emerging unscathed indeed became his fifth record, as no one had ever dared such a feat before.
Trifonov’s daring escapade was far from ordinary. To navigate the subterranean challenges of the Mamet Cave, he required a specially designed hot-air balloon that differed significantly from conventional models. This balloon was intentionally smaller than usual, giving him the manoeuvrability required to navigate the cave’s narrow passages and low ceilings. What made this feat even more remarkable is the fact that Trifonov didn’t employ the basket for his ride. Instead, he sat atop two gas tanks linked together with steel pipes, a daring move that added to the uniqueness of his journey.
The Underground Hot Air Baloon Flight
The Mamet cave is 206 meters deep, in the shape of an inverted funnel, with an impressive cave entrance about sixty meters in diameter. It is located above Obrovac in the area of the Velebit Nature Park. The first written information about it dates back to 1929, and the first descent to the bottom began on July 5, 1968, when the pit was topographically and photographically recorded, and a blueprint was created that is still used today.
With its intricate network of tunnels and chambers, presented an unprecedented challenge to Trifonov. The cave, known for its mesmerizing stalactite formations and breathtaking beauty, had never witnessed such a feat of human daring. For years, it stood as a testament to the untamed forces of nature, but Trifonov’s audacious venture would forever change its status as a playground for adventurers.
Trifonov’s journey involved descending deep into the cave, manoeuvring through narrow passages, and finally touching the cave’s bottom. This was a nerve-wracking endeavour, as any misstep or miscalculation could have had catastrophic consequences. The low ceilings and uneven surfaces within the cave posed significant challenges. However, Trifonov’s exceptional skill and courage enabled him to navigate the cave’s treacherous terrain successfully.
Emerging from the depths of the Mamet Cave, Trifonov had not only etched his name into the annals of extreme sports history but had also provided a new dimension to the world of hot-air ballooning. His feat exemplified the unrelenting spirit of human exploration and the ceaseless quest to push boundaries and break records.
Both Felix Baumgartner’s jump and Ivan Trifonov’s audacious flight into the heart of Mamet Cave undoubtedly served as a special kind of promotion for Croatia and helped put the Mamet cave on the world map for adventurers.