Balloon race drifts near Clovis/Cannon

Balloon racers participating in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta lifted off from Balloon Fiesta Park Saturday. Courtesy photo.


Military officials were trying to contact a balloon team participating in the America’s Challenge cross-country gas balloon race Monday to prevent the balloon from encroaching into restricted air space, said a local airport manager.
“One balloon was flying about six miles southeast of here, and Cannon Air Force Base was trying to get in touch with them because they had dropped below radar,” said Stephen Summers, Clovis Municipal Airport director. “They were concerned about them getting into restricted air space. Balloons are at the mercy of the winds.”
Cannon officials confirmed the incident, but could not elaborate, said 2nd Lt. Jennifer Geeslin, Cannon public affairs spokeswoman.
“I can confirm that Cannon officials responded to a hot air balloon, but the people who actually responded could not be reached for comment (late Monday night),” she said.
Balloonists found themselves facing weather difficulties during the second day of the cross-country race.
Two teams landed in eastern New Mexico as two others jockeyed for the lead over West Texas, balloon officials said.
As of noon Monday, the U.S. team of Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo had edged ahead of Albuquerque balloonist Richard Abruzzo and co-pilot Carol Rymer-Davis.
Fricke and Cuneo, borne by wind currents, were about 50 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas, while the Abruzzo team trailed by about 25 miles, according to satellite positioning super-imposed on maps.
Several other balloons were clustered near the Texas-New Mexico border — among them the two that landed Monday morning.
A number of balloons from the race flew over the Clovis-Portales area on Monday, Summers said.
“I’ve seen five or six of them,” he said late Monday afternoon. “The last few were heading back toward Albuquerque. We have air disturbances going through here, and the winds have taken them the wrong direction. A lot of them were clustered around the Clovis area. They’ve been concerned about severe weather.”
None of the balloonists have landed in the Clovis area, however, Summers said.
“We haven’t had any land around the airport,” he said. “The last one I saw was over at Farwell, and it was being pushed back to Clovis.”
The U.S. team of Shane Robinson and Ron Martin came down 50 miles north of Roswell, while the German team of Astrid Gerhardt and Stephan Mueller landed 15 miles northeast of Roswell, trackers reported on the race Web site.
The key number is total mileage, and it doesn’t matter how much time it takes to cover the distance. Abruzzo’s team won last year, landing in Delaware to avoid heading out over the Atlantic Ocean.
CNJ senior writer Gary Mitchell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.