Race Balloon Makes Surprise Landing In Harrison County - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Race Balloon Makes Surprise Landing In Harrison County

Bulldozers cleared a path, deep in the woods of Harrison County. They were trying to reach a bright, yellow gas-powered balloon, that was stuck about 50-feet high in the trees.

"We had to knock some trees down and we had to get the flammable Helium out of the balloon", says Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon.

Harrison County firefighters got the distress call around 11:00 am Thursday.

"34 years of public safety, and I've never seen anything like this," says Mixon.

The pilot and his co-pilot had no intention of dropping in on South Mississippi when they took off from Albuquerque Tuesday night.

"We were in a cross country balloon race," says the pilot Brian Critelli. "And as with any kind of air sport, you typically run out of fuel at some point, and we got low on fuel and decided to land."

Fuel, in this case, is sand, which helps the balloon rise and descend. The men were aiming for a clearing in the forest, but their drag line got snagged in the trees.

"This was just an unfortunate incident," says Critella. "Nobody was hurt, and we just landed in an uncomfortable spot. This is an extreme sport, gas ballooning. You push things like weather, and your equipment, but safety is always a concern. We just happened to land in your neighborhood."

"We were on the ground and people were coming up and saying 'are you ok?  Do you need anything?' This has never happened to me, so I'm glad I landed here", says his co-pilot Phil McNutt.

One of the firefighters who responded looked too happy. That's because he just came from entertaining some school children nearby.

"The first living soul I saw was a fireman. And the second living soul I saw was a clown dressed as a fireman, and I thought I'm not going to get out of here alive. It's deliverance or something," said McNutt.

The men admit the surprise landing was more exciting than the actual race. It was also a memorable experience for the firefighters.

"We're now qualified balloon rescuers," Mixon says with a laugh.

After traveling more than 1,000 miles, the men will spend the night in South Mississippi before heading home. The Mississippi Forestry Commission also helped with the balloon rescue.

By Trang Pham-Bui

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