Officials are still investigating the circumstances in which one of the balloons participating in the 16th Annual White Sands Balloon Invitational at White Sands National Monument flew east into the restricted air space of White Sands Missile Range.
Not only did the red, white and blue ReMax balloon fly into restricted air space, but it actually landed three and a half miles beyond gate 36.
The violation created a frenzy of involvement by an appointed balloon rescue team, the Border Patrol, range runners from WSMR and park rangers from WSNM.
"We received the call to respond at 10:30 a.m.," said Bill Butler, another balloon pilot who participated with the event Sunday. "We arrived at Gate 36, past the radar site. When we reached the balloon, the pilot and three passengers were still there with the balloon."
Butler said that all officials were very helpful and cooperative.
Shortly after the arrival of the rescue team, Balloon Meister Dave Chelgren arrived on the scene accompanied by two more Border Patrol agents, one of whom was the husband of one of the passengers, Butler added.
Butler explained from his perspective as a balloon pilot why he thought the violation may have occurred.
"I'm going to be professional about this and just answer that by saying the pilot of that balloon did not attend the safety briefing last Friday night," he said
The ReMax balloon is owned by Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque, who did not attend the event last weekend.
Butler said with the wind and weather being what it was last Sunday, he would have chosen an alternative launch spot.
"I personally chose to fly in town (Alamogordo) on Sunday because of the conditions at White Sands National Monument that would not have allowed us to safely go very far," he said.
Butler said he is very concerned about this incident, and feels many other pilots share the same sentiment.
"We need to keep a very positive relationship with the military and the Parks Service in this area so that we can continue to be allowed to have the White Sands Balloon Invitational at the monument," he said. "This certainly didn't do anything to enhance that relationship."
A call made to WSMR Tuesday confirmed the balloon was taken out of the area Monday.
"It did cross WSMR restricted air space," said Monte Marlin, director of public affairs for the missile range. "But where it came down was about five and a half miles west of Holloman Air Force Base in a remote eastern area of the monument."
Marlin said while the balloon did not actually land on WSMR property, it did make its landing in an area not conducive to ground traffic.
"It's a very sensitive area that can easily be harmed by ground vehicles," Marlin said. "It is in a very sensitive part of the monument."
Marlin said once all respective agencies had given clearance, it only took 40 minutes for WSMR air support to deploy and subsequently return the balloon to the helipad at the national monument.
"There have been very few incidents like this since the hot air balloons began to come for this event," Marlin said. "We are a part of this process, and we have always supported and assisted with this event each year."
Marlin was asked if repeated incidents of this nature could jeopardize the relationship the two military installations have with the balloon event.
"It's a bit premature to answer that," Marlin said. "All I can tell you at this point is that we have been and continue to support this event, but that this will be looked at very carefully."