Monday, December 10, 2007

Backyard landing

Deep joy, I have had the emergency services out a couple of times on landing in tight spots. Always very embarrssing. Not sure about the policemans attitude though. I think somebody there should take him flying quick so he can see whats involved.

Dropping in uninvited, with a roar and champagne
01:00 AM EST on Monday, December 10, 2007
By Tom MooneyJournal Staff Writer

A hot-air balloon makes an unscheduled, but safe, landing into the yard of Michael and Joan Donovan, of 940 West St. in Attleboro, yesterday morning, delighting neighbors.
The Providence Journal / Tom MooneyA chase crew member steadies the hot-air balloon so that Tom Perry and ballooning instructor Beth Hamilton can climb out of the wicker basket after their impromptu backyard landing.
The Providence Journal / Tom Mooney
-->From front, 9-year-old Samantha Rose; her uncle, Tom Perry, and a chase crew member push air out of the balloon so it can be packed up for the return to Rehoboth-based Balloon Fantasies. The balloonists had launched from Hill-Roberts Elementary School in Attleboro about 7:30 a.m. yesterday.
ATTLEBORO — Working on the what-goes-up principle, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a hot-air balloon to come down.
Michael and Joan Donovan just weren’t expecting one to drop into their yard yesterday morning.
And the local police — who dispatched seven cruisers, a fire truck and an ambulance after several frantic phone calls about a descending balloon in trouble over West Street — would have preferred that it drop in on any other town.
But for the three balloonists who emerged perfectly fine and happy from their wicker basket, it was a great flight and much ado about nothing.
“Worked out great,” said Tom Perry.
Perry, his 9-year-old niece, Samantha Rose, and ballooning instructor Beth Hamilton of Rehoboth-based Balloon Fantasies had launched into the gray sky about 7:30 a.m. from Hill-Roberts Elementary School in Attleboro with an intended landing spot at Attleboro High School.
But as all balloonists know, flight plans are susceptible to change.
At about 8:30 a.m., neighbors around West Street — a corner of town just west of Route 95 and north of Route 123 — heard a strange noise outside. To some it sounded like a sputtering furnace, to others a strange gust of wind.
They opened their doors to see a big yellow, gold and purple balloon slowly descending in the still air over the bare trees. A periodic tongue of flame shot into the open end of the balloon with a lion’s roar.
Gary Morse, who lives across the street from the Donovans, looked out the window in awe as the silent, slow-motion scene played across the pane.
“I was watching the whole thing, thinking to myself, ‘Okay, it’s going to hit those trees, those electrical wires, that roof.’ But there was nothing you could do — you had to wait to see what was going to happen.”
Cars along the road stopped and pulled over. A couple of drivers got out and yelled up to the balloonists — not more than 30 feet above the trees and still descending: “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” said Tom Perry.
“My feet are cold,” yelled down Samantha Rose, who was riding in a balloon for the first time.
As the balloon approached the wide-open backyard of the Donovans, inside their raised ranch Joan and Michael were wondering what that strange noise was they were hearing.
“We thought maybe it was the wind,” Joan said.
“I though it was the washer,” said Michael.
The balloon skimmed the tops of the trees along the Donovans yard before floating over the house and dropping into the driveway next to the backyard deck.
The Donovans, who live at 940 West St., came out in nightclothes holding cups of coffee — and smiling.
“Would you like some hot cocoa?” offered Michael Donovan over the sound of approaching sirens.
Patrolman John Hynes was not particularly pleased with the balloonists or their three-man chase team, which had been following the balloon in a pickup truck.
He walked into the driveway: “You all right?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah,” said Perry.
“You know we just had seven cruisers sent to you who came buzzing through the city thinking you’re in distress and your chase car never called us to say otherwise,” Hynes said.
The officer said the Police Department has received calls in the past from residents complaining that balloonists were “buzzing their houses” and waking the neighborhood. A case could be made, Hynes said, for disturbing the peace.
Hynes said federal regulations require balloons to stay at least 400 feet above the ground unless they are descending.
Perry said he was landing and had picked out the Donovan’s yard to land after the wind died.
The balloon would have had to cross Route 95 — no more than a quarter-mile away — had the balloonists tried to reach the high school.
Hynes asked that the balloonists or their chase team to call the police the next time they decided to drop in unannounced.
Back in his cruiser, Hynes said maybe it’s “balloon culture,” but “they check their common sense at the door.”
As the team packed away the balloon, Perry delivered bottles of champagne to the Donovans and an abutting neighbor — a common gesture of appreciation in instances of unscheduled landings.
Hamilton played down the police officer’s concern: “Most people are thrilled to see a balloon land.”
Michael Donovan certainly was.
“I’m glad I was here to watch,” he said. “The last time someone dropped in was last Christmas.
“It was Santa, with a lot of presents.”

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