The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is set to start this Saturday, October 7, and will run through the 15th.


It is the biggest Balloon festival in the world and one of Albuquerque’s largest tourist attractions. The Fiesta has over 500 balloons that participate each year, thousands of visitors to the city, and millions of dollars into the local economy.

From the ground, ballooning looks like the most peaceful hobby in the world. From personal experience with our own Balloonfest (1986-2016 R.I.P.) I know that it can be a very bumpy ride. Especially when wind is part of the forecast.

At the 2004 Balloon Fiesta a “bumpy ride” turned into more of a “basis for a yet-to-be-made horror movie”. It involved a giant Smokey Bear head and an 800-foot radio tower.

Back in 2004, a hot air balloon shaped like the Forest Service mascot collided with and became entangled with a radio transmitter belonging to KKOB radio. KKOB is an AM Talk Radio station, so at least they knew immediately where to go to cover this breaking news story.

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In the basket of the balloon were three people: pilot Bill Chapel and two teenage boys as passengers.  The tower, which has all kinds of pointy metal parts, IMMEDIATELY punctured the balloon.

As the ruptured balloon was rapidly deflating it began to twist and wrap itself around the metal tower.  Any number of wires and beams could have, at any moment, severed the gondola from the balloon, sending all three occupants to certain death 600 feet below. Also, the whole thing could have caught on fire. It didn’t, though, because a fire would have been TOO ironic to happen to a Smokey Bear balloon.

But staying in the gondola was too risky.

So, with the wind blowing so hard that the ENTIRE TOWER WAS SWAYING the pilot and the two boys…CLIMBED OUT OF THE BASKET ON ONTO THE TOWER! Again, they were 60 stories above the ground.

It took two…TWO…full hours for the three to climb down the tower on a maintenance ladder. Once they reached the bottom, their ordeal STILL wasn’t over. Because the tower was energized, there was a chance the survivors would be electrocuted as soon as they set foot on the ground.

The pilot and the two boys had to stay on the tower until the radio station could turn off the power.

But, all three survived. And, because there were TV crews from every station in a 100-mile radius, the entire ordeal lives on in episodes of “Disaster-Caught-on-Camera” reality shows to this day. Like this one…

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