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Friday, September 14, 2007

Up, up and away

The horizon was hazy this morning as I motored east down Jack Wells Blvd.

The sky was softest blue. Scattered and horizontal clouds were naturally backlit, so the light golden glowed from behind as the sun continued its rise.

As I approached Clyde Fant Parkway, a hot air balloon popped up from behind the trees that lined Red River. Then another and another. Until there were five traveling slowly south along the river corridor.

I was especially interested since I knew colleague Stephanie Nethertan was in one of them.

Turning south on Clyde Fant, I stopped the car as I approached the high rise curve on the parkway and marveled at the sight of the balloons and the sky.

It may sound corny, but it was a spiritual moment.

But, I shivered as I remembered, too, the beautiful morning in Beaver Creek, Colo.

Husband Paul L. Schuetze and his sister, Alice Daniel of Maryland, had left early to go for a balloon ride. As morning turned to the noon hour and they had not returned, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that something was wrong.

As it turned out, though they were safe, things had gone awry.

When they departed, the wind was in the right direction, but after the balloon was up, the wind shifted and the balloon started drifting toward no man’s land. That would be the Rocky Mountains.

"The pilot called the tower at Eagle-Vail Airport, gave the registration number and told the tower they requested an clearance for an emergency landing for two balloons," recalled Paul.

A light moment came when the tower responded: "Well, where are you?"

"We are almost over your runway," answered the pilot.

There was a small private aircraft that had entered an approach for landing, so the tower told him to go around that they had an emergency landing for two hot air balloons.

Although the balloon Paul was in landed with no problems, the second balloon had more difficulty, with the balloon dragging the gondola sideways.

As soon as both were okay, though, the ground crews quickly cleared the runways.

Although relating the incident provides drama — and I was certainly relieved when they did arrive back — it was not as scary for the passengers as it sounds in the telling, said Paul.

"The pilot was thoroughly confident. He explained that a balloon is a registered vehicle with the FAA and if he declared an inflight emergency, the tower has to respond. Apparently, the man in the tower at this airport had never had an experience like this before," said Paul.

Although I did once ride a blimp coming through town — a magnificent experience — I have just never had the courage to go up in a hot air balloon.

But, I do appreciate their beauty.

And, this morning’s scene was spectacular.


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