Alaskan Cruisetour Photo Gallery

Day 8 (May 24, 1999) - Must Come Down...

Our proposed landing site. One of the balloons in our flight was already over the landing site, and would land a few minutes later, while the other was low and struggling in the same way as us.

Soon, it was time to leave the taiga, and make our way to someplace where we could land. The main requirements were proximity to a road and reasonably level ground with no obstructions. The problem is, we weren't going anywhere, and the ground below us satisfied none of that criteria. Up and down we went, trying to find any hint of a breeze blowing in the right direction. When we did find a breeze, it was either blowing us backwards, or it would peter out after a short distance. Worse yet, fuel was getting low, and our pilots were starting to sound decidedly concerned. While they both felt we could land safely somewhere, they were not anxious to try walking out or calling in a chopper rescue.

Fairbanks from several thousand feet up.

We had our landing site more or less picked out. There was a quarry not far from our location, but we weren't moving. Even if we could get moving, we still had to bypass some powerlines and a small lake at the quarry.

Eventually, we did find just a tiny bit of a breeze by gaining several thousand feet in altitude. This got us moving, but at the expense of the fuel it took to gain that altitude.

Companion baloon landing
The second balloon makes a safe landing in the quarry as we gradually descend to below tree-top height. We might make it, but first have to cross that lake.

Crossing the lake
We're getting there, but now we have to clear that embankment.

Eventually, we made it to the lake. Trying to conserve fuel, we skimmed just feet above the surface of the lake, and even skimmed through the water once. Our pilots were starting to sound confident of making it again.

But first, we had to clear a tall dirt embankment alongside the lake. We almost didn't make it. Whether we ran out of fuel trying to rise above the embankment or the pilots misjudged things, I'm not sure, but we ended up slamming into the embankment hard enough to knock us off our feet had we not already braced ourselves for impact. The basket seemed to hang in mid-air for a moment, threatening to dump us into the drink, but the forward motion of the balloon allowed us to bounce over instead. We hit the ground hard on the other side and came out right side up with the help of the ground crew. We were shaken (but fortunately not stirred), but we were all laughing as well and babbling about how much fun we had. It was 11:15pm.

Certificate commemorating my flight.

...of the hot air balloon trip.

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Copyright © 1999, Pete Hanson