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Balloon Gets Stuck Aloft in Baltimore

Associated Press
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page A17

BALTIMORE, July 17 -- A balloon ride turned into a scary ordeal for 20 people Saturday when the aircraft got stuck high above the city, then was tossed around by high wind like a piñata for an hour-and-a-half before rescuers brought it down.

Four people suffered minor injuries in the mishap, which authorities said occurred when wind from an approaching storm caused a winch to fail as it retracted a cable attached to the balloon.


A hot-air balloon with 20 passengers aboard hangs over emergency vehicles in Baltimore. (Gail Burton -- AP)

"You really needed to hang on," said Kevin Phelps, who was on the balloon with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. "I thought the cable was going to break many times."

Phelps said everyone on the balloon was relatively calm as it swayed wildly from side to side.

The balloon was stuck 350 feet in the air near Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Rescuers were able to get the winch to work slowly -- about four feet a minute -- to bring the balloon down.

The giant, helium-filled, tethered balloon offers visitors a panoramic view of Baltimore and can accommodate as many as 30 passengers. It is based at Port Discovery, a children's museum, and operated by Balloon Over Baltimore Inc., a nonprofit group.

Alan Leberknight, president of the board of Balloon over Baltimore, said the aircraft had operated every summer since 2001 without incident.

He said the wind gusts caught operators by surprise. Operators had been tracking a storm coming from the south, but "other than that, nothing. It was a nice day," Leberknight said.

The balloon will be grounded until federal, state and city officials investigate the incident, Leberknight said.


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