Balloon ride has controlled crash landing

By Don McAlavy, Local Columnist

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series. The first part was published in last Sunday’s Lifestyles section.

We were about to land, and were low on fuel. We had taken the ‘wind blows’ route while the chase crew (our rescue crew) had to stay on the roads. It was time to land and it would be a leap of faith.

“Another thing that I had not considered and took note of while in flight was that I had expected to feel the wind and a breeze. It was a bit of an epiphany for me to realize, we were the wind! It was the most peaceful experience anyone could have. If you ever wanted to feel God, that would be it. You weren’t pulled. You weren’t pushed. You were traveling in an uncatchable and untouchable current, and it was peaceful and calm. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, speaks of chasing after the wind as meaningless, an analogy to life without God because the wind is impossible to catch and an unrewarding task. It’s meaningless. That is true, and on that day I discovered you have to join the wind to feel the peace inside and reward of being at one with the wind. Even if you couldn’t see it or feel it, you knew you were part of it and it was defiantly there. As is God who directs our lives and we don’t always know it, see it or feel it. Like blowing in the wind he takes us were he wants us and guides us in our journey to be part of him or hit the ground hard: Quite the wake up call.

“The pilot picked a flat landing spot in an older corn field with some new plant life sprouting up. I was a little concerned about crops but more concerned about the velocity of the impact as we raced over the earth.

“When you get close to the ground or touch it, the pilot of the balloon can pull on some ropes inside of the balloon attached to the top. Some kind of a flap (I don’t know the name) that when he would pull the ropes, it opened up a hole at the crown of the balloon to deflate it.

“I could picture all the times I would let the air out of a balloon. Like a missile it would shoot out and race across the room winding around until it landed deflated on the floor. Good thing the hot air balloon didn’t have elastic walls, but nylon.

“He lowered the gondola closer to the ground as we zipped over the field. The young boy and I were trying to figure out how to brace ourselves for the impact by holding onto the basket edge. I tried to protect him with my body and the pilot did likewise for the two of us. He told us to hold on as we prepared for the crash. He pulled the flap down like a cork out of a bottle and the air rushed out of the top of the balloon as we hit the hardened dry New Mexico dirt.

“The field was full of dirt clods from plowing. The air did not escape fast enough as the wind pulled the balloon across the field over the bumps of the furrows and clods.

“Our controlled crash landing dragged us more than 50 feet along the ground bumping and rolling the gondola in a cloud of dust. After the initial impact the three of us were jostled around in the gondola, the young boy and I laughed at the thrill of the ride as we drug over the ground. We had to just wait for the air to completely escape and the wind to let go of the balloon before the ride ended in a cloud of dust. I felt like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip with a flurry of dirt swarming us just waiting to settle. So much for soft landings and gentle breezes.

“We crawled out of the gondola on our hands and knees, happy and exhilarated without any major injuries or damage to the basket that we could tell. We waited for the chase crew to arrive in the truck to rescue us from our crash landing.

“After the balloon was packed up the young boy and I were initiated by the crew. We were placed in a kneeling position with them behind us. We were welcomed back to earth with a hand full of dirt placed in our hair. Then a champagne bottle was uncorked and we were christened with it poured over our heads. They recited a poem to us as they did each step. They poured the champagne or beer on top of the dirt and rubbed it in real good for effect. There was no doubt that we were part of something bigger than us. Our balloon pin was pinned to our shirts. We were officially ‘ballooners,’ and we had the matted hair to prove it. I will remember it as the crossroads of my life. I look forward to telling my two little kids about it some day.”

Kim McAlavy Siewert is a physician’s assistant in trauma surgery at a hospital near Washington, D. C.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: