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Ballooning love

Dalton Lewis Payne dips his new bride, Breanna Marie Ely, after exchanging vows beneath a hot air balloon on Saturday morning at Balloon Fiesta Park. The Albuquerque couple's wedding was officiated by Colleen Johnson. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Dalton Lewis Payne dips his new bride, Breanna Marie Ely, after exchanging vows beneath a hot air balloon on Saturday morning at Balloon Fiesta Park. The Albuquerque couple’s wedding was officiated by Colleen Johnson. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Everyone watching the penultimate mass ascension of this year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta had cold feet while walking across the frost-covered launch field. But one woman still managed to walk down the aisle and into the arms of her new husband.

Shortly after the green flag was raised Saturday morning – giving flyers the blessing to lift off – Breanna Marie Ely and Dalton Lewis Payne were married by a balloon pilot under a bevy of brightly colored balloons drifting over the park.

Spectators cheered and took photos as the couple from Albuquerque stood under a bulbous hot air balloon and exchanged vows.

The plan was for the two to hop in the gondola and be floated away, but the light winds blowing over Balloon Fiesta Park grew stronger and the pilot decided to keep this party on the ground.

“I don’t want to get up there and ruin her dress,” pilot Colleen Johnson said.

Hot air balloons begin to inflate during the mass ascension Saturday morning on the last weekend of the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Hot air balloons begin to inflate during the mass ascension Saturday morning on the last weekend of the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

For the last nine days, concluding Sunday, people have looked up to the sky with the same awe and wonder as the newlyweds, making for a pleasant event that fiesta officials said they are very pleased with overall.

“Our own success and popularity mean we always have room for improvement, and there are a number of areas we have noted that we need to focus on for 2020,” Ty Young, president of the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors, told the Journal.

“The weather was fantastic, with the few exceptions and challenging moments,” he said.

Children and families had a ball at Kid’s Day, even though the special shape balloons only put on a static display and didn’t launch. New balloons like the pink unicorn known as Allycorn caused boys and girls to jump for joy and scream and shout.

Even though Day One brought an ominous fog that kept balloons on the ground that morning, it turned out not to be a sign of worse weather to come.

The next four days saw clear skies, temperate mornings and favorable breezes that carried the balloons gently across the New Mexico horizon. Thursday morning’s mass ascension was canceled and so were most of the evening events when a cold front burst into the state, but on a freezing Friday the activity returned to normal and hundreds of balloons took flight.

Saturday brought near perfect conditions: cold air and light winds. The parking lots filled by 7 a.m. and the field was covered with people wearing puffy jackets and big boots.

The launch of balloons competing in the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race was delayed two days but launched Monday night. The American-Polish flying team of Andy Cayton and Krzysztof Zapart touched down in Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, winning the distance competition after traveling 1,614 miles in just over 58 hours.

Several balloons got into sticky situations during the first eight days. At least two balloons hit utility or power lines, and in one of those incidents the passenger and pilot were ejected from the gondola before it hit the line and caught fire. They sustained minor injuries. The beloved Mr. Fish balloon out of Brazil was hooked by a light pole Downtown but was rescued with the aid of Albuquerque Fire Rescue. Another balloon got caught on a tree when it landed in a dirt-covered area in Rio Rancho.

This was the first year fiesta safety officials brought metal detectors to park gates. Some worried that lines at the entrances would be longer and slower, but a spokesman for the Balloon Fiesta said that other than needing to restart a few of the machines on the first day, there were no issues. The park and ride system also underwent a change this year as tickets had to be bought in advance for a limited number of seats.

“We are very pleased with our improvements to our park and ride system and the implementation of metal detectors,” Young said.

The second Saturday was the only day the parking lots filled before everyone trying to get to the park could get out of traffic and onto the field.

Sunday is the last mass ascension of the 2019 fiesta. Pilots and crews are scheduled to launch at 7 a.m., with clear skies and light winds forecast.

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