The Northwest Community Balloons Over Bend Children’s Festival kicked off Friday morning at Riverbend Park.
Hundreds gathered in the early morning to watch the balloons launch on what was a beautiful and cloudless Bend morning. One by one, starting at around 6:15 AM, all seven balloons safely took to the sky and headed out Northeast over the Deschutes River, flying towards Redmond. Winds at altitude were brisk, making it a challenge for ground crews to keep in front of their respective balloons. Shortly into the morning’s flight, several balloons touched down at the Skyview Middle School’s sports fields and re-launched shortly after to follow the pack.
“It was a beautiful flight,” pilot Chris Whitfield said, a four year veteran of Heaven-bound Ballooning. “A little faster than we’ve had this year,” the Albany, OR native added, referring to the wind.
Bend local, Eric Miller, a passenger on the flight, put his local knowledge to work and directed Whitfield’s chase vehicles while the pilot turned his attention to negotiating a landing spot in a tight field spotted with stumps and ponds.
The balloon gently bounced to a rest in a Tumalo field after a first attempt and brief touchdown were aborted. After hearing and seeing the balloons coming over Juniper Ridge, neighbor Andy Dunning came running with video camera in hand when it was apparent that two balloons were eying the property adjacent to his for their landing.
With ground crews not yet on the scene, Mr. Dunning found himself going from spectator to active participant as he drudged through a marshy field to reach the first balloon and keep it from skidding into the trees. A second balloon came in minutes later and dropped a line-bag to the ground, making for a much easier landing. Both ground crews were quickly on the scene and busy packing their balloons alongside a handful of nearby neighbors who were eager to help and get in on the action.
“It was neat that so many people came out, even the dog,” Dunning quipped. The festivities continue Saturday and Sunday at Riverbend Park in the Old Mill District.