Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Mr. Fish had a rough day.
After lifting off from Balloon Fiesta Park at about 7 a.m., the monocle and bow tie-adorned balloon was seen floundering when a southbound wind sent him into Downtown Albuquerque.
At least three other balloons experienced rough landings across Bernalillo County and Rio Rancho on Monday morning.
The fancy fish met his fate when he began running out of fuel and needed to make a swift landing. In the process, the gondola hit a tree, tipped the entire balloon forward, and the fish’s top hat was hooked by a streetlight, causing the envelope to wrap around a tree.
“It was a little bit scary,” first-time chase crew member Beau Taylor said. The crew was about a quarter of a mile away when they saw the well-dressed water dweller rocking back and forth next to Longfellow Elementary school.
“We weren’t sure if it hit a tree, hit a building, so we were a little bit nervous when we got here,” Taylor said.
An officer with the Albuquerque Police Department was working a vehicle crash nearby when he said he saw the balloon and thought to himself, “That’s not right.” He sprang into action, saw the chase crew, and escorted them with lights and sirens to Martineztown Park near Edith and Martin Luther King.
When the officer and crew arrived on scene, they found the balloon stuck on a large pine tree. Mr. Fish was not injured in the crash, and neither was the crew, who were in good spirits as they tried to free the balloon.
Taylor said the mood was calm in the back of the chase crew truck as the team watched the balloon nearing the highway and Downtown buildings.
“Once we found out that everyone was OK, that was the main relief,” he said.
The deflating envelope created a mini tent under the tree and cast a bright red glow around the lower branches.
When students from the elementary school were released for a morning recess, the crew held up the sides of the balloon and ushered the kids inside. They let out squeals and shouted, “Oh my god” as they stared up at the hooked canvas.
Before long, Albuquerque Fire Rescue arrived with a fire truck. First responders shimmied up a ladder to save the beloved balloon.
Pilot Rubens Kalousdian said the team had planned to take Tuesday off but, after Monday’s misadventure, they decided to return to the field Tuesday morning and give Mr. Fish another chance.
Three other balloons had rough landings Monday morning, according to a Balloon Fiesta spokesman.
One balloon and its gondola caught fire after landing in Rio Rancho near Southern and 14th Street.
“The hot air balloon appears to have had a hard landing that may have set forth a sequence of events resulting in a fire,” fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said.
The gondola caught fire and eventually it spread to the envelope, he said.
The pilot and passenger were taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Lt. John Castaneda, a spokesman for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, said the pilot and passenger were thrown from the gondola, but he did not know their conditions.
The banner identifying the balloon was also burned, and fiesta officials won’t be able to identify it until they get eyes on the envelope, Garrity said.
Balloon number 121 had a “hard landing on the field” and one passenger with a preexisting condition was treated by AFR and Lovelace at the park.
A fourth balloon had a run in with a cable line in Northwest Albuquerque.
“Banner #582 landed and its envelope may have draped over or grazed a cable line near Edith and Osuna,” Garrity said. “There were no injuries and no damage to the balloon.”
Monday was the third day of the fiesta. After Saturday’s morning launch was canceled due to fog, the Saturday evening balloon glow and Sunday’s mass ascension and evening glow went off as planned.
Journal photographer Roberto E. Rosales contributed to this report.