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These balloons prove adage – ‘What goes up, must come down’

By Staff | Oct 20, 2008

Perhaps you noticed a short article in Saturday’s edition of the Mankato Free Press.

The item, on page three, concerned a hot air balloon hitting some power lines and crashing in flames. Both people on board were thrown to the ground and one of them was killed.

That balloon was part of the annual Albuquerque, N.M., International Balloon Fiesta. That event includes both hot air and gas filled balloon competitions.

Part of that event is the Annual Gordon Bennett Cup Balloon Race. The race is pretty simple. Take off from Albuquerque and see how far you can fly without stopping.

The balloon traveling the furthest distance, wins.

The balloon, which hit the power lines and crashed near Bernalillo, N.M., was not the only one dangerously close to electrical high lines.

On Thursday, Mike Enger of Blue Earth was checking out some hunting property he owns a few miles north of town. It was getting dark, nearly 7 p.m.

Enger looked up and saw a balloon of some type flying quite low, and very close to nearby power lines. He called the local authorities to report it.

At first he thought it was a weather balloon; he couldn’t tell if there was a gondola underneath or not.

He drove to the spot he thought it might have landed, and he was surprised to see it was a very large helium gas balloon with a gondola – and two passengers.

His next surprise came when he learned the two balloonists were German. One spoke some English, the other only German.

It was then he learned they were part of the Albuquerque race.

The two had been in the balloon for 70 straight hours, with little sleep. They had traveled 5,000 miles at about 85 miles an hour – in temperatures as low as ten degrees.

Needless to say, they were exhausted. Enger offered them a ride into town, although they stated they were prepared to walk into the city they had just seen as they flew over it.

He took them to a motel to stay the night. But before he left them, he spent a couple of hours visiting with them and learning about their adventures.

Wilhelm Einers was the pilot, and Ulrich Seel the co-pilot. Both are from Germany, and were proud to be representing their country in this American balloon race. They say there are five or six countries represented, besides the U.S.

The two did not win the race, but did end up in fourth place. Balloons also landed near Rochester and the Twin Cities. The winning balloon traveled nearly to Milwaukee, Wis.

This was Einers 12th race, and he has won it three times. Enger says the two Germans had really wanted to win it again this year, for the glory of their country.

Unlike a hot air balloon, the helium balloons eventually lose their gas and descend. They carry ballast, which they unload to get more lift.

The Germans were out of ballast and decided to descend in an open, recently harvested soybean field, rather than risk crashing somewhere a little further north.

The next day the two Germans packed up their gear into a support vehicle, which had been following them, and took off for home.

They had a nice visit in Blue Earth and may have earned the distinction of coming here via the most unusual means of transportation since the first settlers came in covered wagons.